Don’t You See?

Heritage Presbyterian Church

April 26, 2020
3rd Sunday of Easter
Scripture reading – Luke 24: 13-35

To begin today’s sermon, here is a recent news article:

Insider On-Line Magazine, March 19, 2020

A group of friends spent 25 days rafting in the Grand Canyon with no outside contact — and returned to find the world in the midst of a ‘disorienting’ pandemic

[Story by Kelly McLaughlin]

A group of rafters who spent the last 25 days camping on the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River emerged to a confusing world completely enveloped by the coronavirus when they finished their trip on Sunday.

The group of more than a dozen rafters set out on the trip on February 19. Their phones were off as the novel coronavirus spread across the United States, causing a new normal in which people hoarded toilet paper and were told to stay indoors indefinitely.

A 29-year-old man from Rancho Cordova, California, who was on the trip, told Insider that he was paying attention to the virus before he left because his mother and brother both have health problems.

The novel coronavirus became a pandemic while the group was on the river.

When the crew left, on February 19, Wuhan, China, had been put under quarantine, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention had issued a “Level 1″ travel advisory to parts of Asia, meaning travelers should “practice usual precaution.”

But when the group finished the trip, they were met by a rafting company employee in Flagstaff, Arizona, who gave them an update on the world: 

  • the novel coronavirus was now a pandemic.
  • Italy was on lockdown.
  • Supermarket shelves were empty.
  • Sports leagues had been suspended. 
  • The stock market had plummeted, and people were advised to stay indoors.

The adventure group turned on their phones, and there was immediate confusion.

“Why would a respiratory virus cause people to buy all the toilet paper? How did this get out of control like this?” they recalled thinking. “It’s disorienting. So much to process.”

Isolation on the Colorado River prepared the rafters for social distancing. 

According to one traveler, being on the Colorado River away from most of society, “prepared us to continue in that fashion,” when arriving back home and practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“But it has been very difficult not being able to see the people I’ve missed, and if I do, not being able to hug them or anything,” he said.

“Some people wouldn’t like this but I loved that blissful ignorance. It allows you to enjoy the beauty of life.” For him, the last week was the rarest form of adventure — precious stolen days to postpone a dire reality.  We had so much fun. We lived in the moment. We were some of the only people in the world who had no idea. I liked it better then.”

Since getting back, they’ve been trying to reconnect with friends as best they can, listening to podcasts, and reading the news.”

Imagine that!  You are gone for a little while, you return to the “real world,” and discover that the world had changed – and now you have to deal with it.  Imagine how that must have felt!

Did they know something was wrong when they saw the park ranger at the end of their journey?  Was he wearing a mask and that gave them their first unsettled clue?

That situation compares in an odd sort of way to the story of Jesus encountering those two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Those two men think they know all that has happened, and they are devastated by it.  They are leaving Jerusalem, possibly for good, possibly to return home, back to the old grind of their former lives.  Then as they are walking, they encounter this odd figure…this man who was a stranger to them.  This stranger asks an odd question, “What are you discussing as you are walking along?”  This stranger might as well have said, “So…what’s new, fellas?”  

The reaction of those two “fellas” was to be expected: they were incredulous.  Why didn’t this guy know what had happened?  Why didn’t he recognize that they were grieving?  Why didn’t he get it?  What was wrong with him?”

In the South, we might have said, “Where you been, Son?”  

The sense of “something is missing in this picture” is obvious in both accounts.  The rafters had missed all the news about the coronavirus pandemic, and this…stranger must be the ONLY guy in the Holy Land who didn’t know all the news from Jerusalem.  When something like this occurs, it usually takes those involved in it a minute or two before they can even begin to explain.  The obvious information that has been missed is taken for granted by those who were there, but sometimes there are others who don’t know.  And how to explain it in a way that makes sense without making the listeners feel stupid for not knowing?

In the news article, the rafters only needed the park guide who met them in Arizona to explain what had happened.  As soon as all of them turned on their cell phones for the first time in three weeks, they knew very quickly what they didn’t know.

In the case of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, they thought they were the ones who knew the important information – the betrayal, crucifixion, and death of Jesus of Nazareth.  As they told this stranger what he apparently didn’t know, it was as if a dam had burst, and all the pent-up pain at the loss of their beloved Teacher came spilling out. 

But it turned out that the two travelers were the ones who didn’t know the really important information!

Jesus took his time explaining their errors  – that the Messiah must suffer and die, and that they were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had declared.”  Jesus also reframed the big picture for these two disciples: all was NOT lost; the prophets had foretold all of this; everything happened for a reason.  Jesus must have been quite skillful at clarifying their misunderstandings because despite his initial blunt language, they urged him strongly to stay with them and not continue down the road to wherever he was heading.  

They were listening, their hearts were hungry for more information to help them process what they already knew about Jesus.  

Their bottom line was, “All is lost.”

Jesus’ bottom line was, “All has changed forever!”

They only needed one more thing: a sign to explain why their hearts had been burning while Jesus explained everything to them…something to make them see what they were missing.  When he broke bread with them, their eyes were finally opened, they saw and recognized him, and Jesus disappeared.

Now what?

Now that they knew the whole truth, the first thing they did was to hurry back to Jerusalem – even though it was not evening, and traveling at night was not that safe.  Yet, they knew they could not wait until morning…they had to return and tell the others what they had seen and heard.  This was not news that could be kept to themselves – even for one night.

Now let’s stop and think for a moment: during the past few weeks, have there been any times in which our own hearts have burned with some knowledge about how the Lord is moving and working and doing new things among us?  Or are we too focused and almost grieving at all we have lost?

During the past few weeks, have there been any moments when our own eyes were opened and we recognized Him and his good work?  Such as when a church choir gathered outside the pastor’s widow’s home to sing to her since there could be no funeral, no church service, when their pastor died of coronavirus?  Or when police officers and sheriff’s deputies drove to various homes and sang happy birthday to old people and little kids and teenagers who missed out on major celebrations?  Or when computer software allows first grade children to meet and greet each other – and even listen to their beloved teacher read their favorite book to them?

Open your eyes, Christians!  Recognize Him!

Are you reading those edgy articles on the Internet that speculate that all this pandemic stuff is nothing but God’s wrath and punishment on us for turning away?  Or are you wondering for yourself, as I often do, how we can do an even better job reaching out to those around us who are completely unchurched?  

Do you miss the interaction of being in church because you like the people, the music, the big pretty ballroom, the simplicity of our worship services?  Or do you miss it because it helps you worship the Lord when you are surrounded by your church family and your own loved ones?  

Has your heart burned when you realize that church and worship is a lot more than just gathering together in a pretty building?  That building a church doesn’t necessarily mean building a structure?

Jesus reminded those two travelers on the road to Emmaus why he had come – to save the people.

Perhaps Jesus is also reminding us today in our current situation that his original purpose had not changed one bit.

He came to save us.  He suffered and died – and rose on the third day.

Open your eyes, Christians…don’t you see?  The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.