A Simple U-Turn
[Readings for today: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35]
Vivian Lewin, Lay Reader and Spiritual Director
In last week’s sermon, Jean Daniel shared the good news story of Thomas and how God answered his desire to see and believe the resurrection.
And this morning’s Gospel continues to linger, with the wisdom of a good pastor, on how even those who had already known and followed Jesus struggled to get their heads around the quantum shift that Easter represents.
Easter is only two weeks ago, now, but the way time passes during this “time of the great isolation” as someone described it, Easter might seem like yesterday… or like months back. And I don’t know about you, but… whether it’s the snow last week, or the circumstances this year, but receiving new life is a bit tough.
How can I be reborn—died and given new life with Christ—if my house and grocery deliveries and worries seem pretty much the same as they did three weeks ago? I know people who did create sourdough starter out of thin air and a bit of flour and water (a new leaven…miraculous!) or revisit some corner of their home discovering possessions they had scarcely looked at in years—much less used. Maybe some of us ARE living, in miniature, “out with the old, in with the new”. And maybe it feels like new life! After all, spring cleaning is part of Easter, isn’t it? Even if it’s still snowing? Or maybe the thought of such a shift feels more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Or maybe it feels like both, depending on the perspective of the moment.
I say this, because I find it comforting to hear I’m not alone in shrinking from facing the challenge of the moment.
In this morning’s Gospel from Luke 24, it’s still Easter Sunday and two of the disciples are simply leaving town… turning their back on Jerusalem and all the questions they have about what happened there… probably going back to where they had come from.
Of course we know what they don’t know yet, we know who this stranger is walking with them, so we enjoy the moment when Cleopas asks “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?” And we wait for their eyes to be opened.
There are many facets to this wonderful Gospel, and many sermons that one could preach on it. Today, I take three lessons from it:
First, we see the sublime gentleness of God, to walk with us and point things out without overwhelming us with the great I AM. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Jesus said. There’s no guilt trip, no reproaching the disciples that they are going in the wrong direction, nothing show-offy about Jesus in this story. The same tender patience with which Jesus addressed Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, and with which he granted Thomas’ request (which we heard about last week) is shown here, too. Ignatius of Loyola said that God is always courteous… he respects each person and does not bully or manipulate them.
Second, we see that God is present to the disciples first in the breaking open of the word, and then in the breaking of the bread. This first Sunday in fact gives us the model for our worship two thousand years later. When the altar party comes down the aisle at the start of the Eucharist, the Deacon carries the book of the Gospel high, and then lays it on the altar. The word is broken open and, by God’s grace, reveals God to us and feeds us. Exactly as Jesus does in this morning’s Gospel.
Finally, we see that the disciples don’t need to go through a whole rigmarole of contrition and repentance to change direction completely. It’s not a huge production. All they need to do is turn around.
And they DO, don’t they? The same guys who told the stranger to “stay with us because the night is at hand” just pivot. They leave that same hour and go back to Jerusalem. My point isn’t that they had a trip ahead of them in the middle of the night. I have a hunch that the miles simply flew by. I draw your attention to the economy of this movement—the U-Turn, and its spiritual significance.
Because this is one of the truths about life in the spirit. We don’t need to go through a big pity party or a song and dance. That’s really just adding an ego trip that will get in our way.
Remember for instance the Story of Naaman—the leper who came to Elijah to be healed in 2 Kings 5. You might remember that Elijah didn’t meet him in person—he simply sent word to him that he should wash seven times in the River Jordan and he would be made clean. But Naaman, a man of some standing, felt he was being brushed off and treated without respect. “Aren’t the rivers at home as good as this?” Fortunately, his servants recalled him to himself, saying “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”
When we find ourselves facing confusion, or fear, or real darkness, it’s helpful to remember this. All that’s needed is a simple U-Turn.
When I was little, and was bending over my homework or some other project, straining to see it… my grandmother would say “you’re standing in your own light”. We are called to the light, and the light is there—but sometimes we get ourselves into a corner somehow, and it’s really hard to see what’s going on. We don’t need to work ourselves up in order to make spiritual progress—to see things rightly…. we can be in the exact same place—but everything will look different!
And the invitation to turn to the light is with us at every moment.
Now, speaking of moments, in this NEXT moment we are invited to share with other Christian and Jewish congregations a moment of remembrance of Yom Ha Shoah, the holocaust. The words of this morning’s psalm come to mind. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his servants. (116:15).
Times like this are dark chapters in the history of our world, and our capacity to hold them in mind is itself redemptive. By simply turning to remember, through our attention and our prayers, we can lift even this darkness into the light of the one who is God-With-Us. Thanks be to God.
The image “Way to Emmaus” is a painting by Yuko Matsuoka.