For a Time like this

April 26th, 2020       Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:13-35

We find ourselves at the end of a difficult week. One of the most difficult weeks in the history of our province. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself a little numb from all the emotions we can’t quite process: horror, outrage, grief, pity, anger, and so many others. To make things worse, we have to process these feelings on our own, in physical isolation from one another. I so much miss gathering with you in church, especially this week. If nothing else, this quarantine can remind us how important it is to gather together: that something deep and healing happens when we come together as church.

It is Easter season, and that forms a stark contrast to the events of last weekend. At a time when we are celebrating the victory of life over death, of love over evil, it seems that evil and death are suddenly raging unchecked in our midst. This kind of inhuman cruelty seems to make a mockery of the Easter gospel, seems to want to reduce it to a naive fairy tale out of touch with cold hard reality. Of course something like this shakes our faith in Easter; how could it not?

And yet we can also see it the other way around. When our safety and our peace of mind is so terribly violated, we see the Easter story with new eyes; and what we might just discover, is that this story of death and resurrection, our story, is told precisely for times like these.

Today’s story certainly doesn’t start from a place of naive cheerfulness. It starts in grief, and shock, and sickness of heart, as the two disciples on the road try to make sense of the terrible violence they have witnessed. Jesus, so gentle and truthful and wise, Jesus, in whom they had set so much hope, has been brutally murdered by the authorities. At a time like that, one needs to talk, to try to make sense, to try to redeem the memory of the victim. A lot of us have been having conversations like that this week. We can so readily understand their consternation when this stranger asks them what they are talking about. “Are you the only person in Nova Scotia who does not know about these things that have happened?” Then they begin to talk again, this time to the stranger, telling him about Jesus, what was so special and wonderful about him, and talking through again what happened, expressing that pain in words as though it made it less monstrous.

Notice how Jesus responds. He doesn’t do what we might expect, what would be easiest; he doesn’t say, “Look, it’s me, I have risen from the dead, that’s all over now, everything’s fine.” He doesn’t rush to take their grief away. He wants them first to understand. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’” He opens the Scriptures to them, and shows them why he had to go that path.

What he is saying to them is: don’t let this shake your faith, when something terrible happens. Your faith knows about things like this, about cruelty and evil and sin; the knowledge of these things runs through the Scriptures. Your faith knows the worst already; but it also knows that the worst is not the end of the story. Because your faith knows – it is woven through the Scriptures – of the redemptive power of love that will always prove stronger in the end.

So let me say the same to you today: our faith was designed for precisely such a time as this. You have all the resources you need to meet the challenge of these days, because our faith has prepared us. We know about the cross, yes, but we know also about the resurrection. We know about both, and that gives us the courage to grieve with our full hearts, and at the same time to stand up in hope to build a better life for our community.

As much as I have felt so weighed down with grief this week, I have also been so inspired by the reaction of our Nova Scotian community. What we are seeing is resurrection, the clear evidence that love is stronger than death. How powerful the killer must have felt, with his finger on the trigger. And yes, he could take the lives that fell into his hands. But how petty and pathetic his power looks now, compared to the grief and caring and love of an entire province. Evil has not won; we have not become more cynical or selfish or distrustful of strangers. Just the opposite: we have embraced those twenty-two people, strangers to most of us, with such warmth and caring. We cannot take away what they have suffered and lost; we cannot lessen the grief of their family and friends. But we can share that grief, and we have embraced it gladly, and we can and have committed ourselves to be more caring and generous and brave.

That is the Spirit of God at work, working resurrection before our very eyes. That is how God works – it is woven through the Scriptures and through all of history – taking what is broken and hateful and cruel, and transforming it into courage and compassion and hope. Thanks be to God!