God Already Knows

Year A
Acts 2:14a,36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Cleopas and his companion… some think perhaps his wife… because of not being named… were leaving Jerusalem on the first Easter… headed towards Emmaus… which some think may have been the site of a Roman garrison… built around a pool of water… these two have heard stories about the empty tomb… they have all the facts… but little to none of the meaning… they know about some other disciples who ran away from the cross… but by walking towards Emmaus… they’re also walking away from Jerusalem…

Their hope… that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel… seemed not to be fulfilled… many believed that Jesus had come only for the Israelites… and there had been a collective desire… that he would free them from Roman oppression… and as they walk along… Cleopas and friend feel crushed… feel dejected… but what they hoped for was never what Jesus was sent for… because Jesus was sent through Israel… to be for all people… and so they can hardly believe it… when seemingly clueless Jesus asks… What are you discussing with each other while you walk along

And it’s fascinating… that the text says that… their eyes were kept from recognizing him… at first… I thought that might mean that Jesus wore a disguise… and that’s why they couldn’t tell who he was… though nowhere in scripture are we ever given a description of Jesus’ physical appearance… or perhaps… I thought… God has clouded their vision… like evening cataracts… and they just can’t tell who this man is… or recognize his voice… or perhaps… I thought… God has done something like what God did when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart… to ensure the Israelite’s release…

But no… John Shea writes… they don’t recognize him… because they have forgotten his characteristic gesture… the person of Jesus is summed up and symbolized by an action… an action he did with them… and told them to do with one another… an action  that is key to the mystery of his suffering… and his redemption… they have forgotten this eucharistic action… and it’s not until he performs it… again… in their presence… at table… that they recognize him… that is… re-cognize him again…

For a long time now… when the Gospel is proclaimed… Deacon Kim reminds us that This is God’s Story… and most of you respond with This is Our Story… and one of the things I try to do each week… is talk about how the scriptures apply to today’s world…

On Friday… Governor Whitmer extended the stay-at-home order until May 15… on Friday… Bp. Satterlee sent an email reflecting that order… and “strongly advising” congregations to not meet for in-person Sunday worship until at least May 24… and I’m waiting for Bp. Hougland’s response…

At one end of the spectrum… are those who don’t even want to go out until there’s at least one virus test for each person… and an approved vaccine… and at the other end of the spectrum… are those who question whether we’re even in the midst of a pandemic… or if it’s as serious as is being reported… but somewhere in the middle… are those who don’t necessarily feel afraid… but who are… as best as they’re able… being guided by common sense… good hygiene… and following CDC guidelines to avoid contracting or spreading the virus… whether they have symptoms or not… especially to those with serious underlying medical conditions… 

And so we find ourselves at a kind of convergence… between personal liberty… and mutual accountability… and government responsibility… 

And there are far too many stories of individual selfless-ness… and selfish-ness… to tell in these few minutes… but one thing is clear… while the initial comments about COVID-19 called it the great equalizer… because it seemed to be an equal-opportunity pathogen…  it has exposed the stark and shameful social and economic injustices in our country… where the marginalized… and poor… are far more likely to contract the disease… and are far less likely to have access to health care and the resources needed to recover from it… or the resources to stay at home… or maybe even have a home…

In the winter time… we’re encouraged to gather the resources we need… and be prepared for snow and ice and slippery road conditions… most people would agree that that’s our responsibility… and if we need them and don’t have them… well… we might find a Good Samaritan… or we might not…

But in a pandemic… in an emergency like this… we seek best practices…  we benefit from a comprehensive and consistent national approach… one which includes enough flexibility to respond to the changing patterns of infection… and the sharing of resources… and cumulative medical data… and when we don’t have that… many more get sick and die than otherwise might…

Today’s Psalm tells of someone who was close to death… they wrote… the cords of death entangled me… the grip of the grave took hold of me… I came to grief and sorrow… then I called upon your holy Name… O God… I pray you… save my life…

This psalm could have been prayed by my brother-in-law… after he spent close to ten day… on a ventilator… in a Chicago hospital… because of COVID-19… or by my 92 year old aunt… who was in hospital with pneumonia… because of COVID-19… or her grandson who was terribly sick at home for almost two weeks… because of COVID-19… and all of us… cut off from each other…

Our Christian history is filled with stories and people who were… and felt cut-off from those they loved… and what they knew…. Abraham and Sarah were asked to leave everyone they knew and all that gave them comfort… and sojourn to a foreign place… the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt for more than 400 years… the Israelites and some prophets were taken into the Babylonian Exile… but God redeemed it all…

The two travelers… on the Road to Emmaus… were telling Jesus… about what had happened to Jesus… Cleopas and his companion… were telling God… about what had happened to God… how often have we told God… what God already knows… about what’s going on… do we believe that God cares what’s going on… of course… but do we pray that God would would just rescue us from ourselves… or do we work with God in creating the solutions we seek… which for many of us… arise out of the heart for those we know and love…

Our reading from Acts today… our reading from 1 Peter… and the Gospel… all refer to the human heart… about how they were cut to the heart… that they should love one another deeply from the heart… and that they wondered… were not our hearts burning within us… but I pray that we don’t continue to be… as Jesus asked on the Emmaus Road… slow of heart to believe… ultimately… through God’s love for God’s creation… through death and resurrection… and by being taken… blessed… broken… and given… there is nothing that God can’t redeem… but we co-create Heaven on Earth for all people… when our minds… and our hearts… are traveling on the same road… not away from… but towards Jerusalem…

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family; though he relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and is finishing the final year of a practicum to become a Spiritual Director.