A few years ago, in France, an interesting idea contest drew people’s attention. This contest asked people just one question: What is the most effective way to go fast through heavy traffic? Many nonsensical ideas were shared. “Call a helicopter.” “Leave your car and just run.” “Wear your Ironman suit.” “Stay home until the traffic jam disappears.” But the idea that won the first prize in this contest was this. “Go with someone you love.”
What do you think about this idea? I thought it’s quite French, it’s no surprise that the answer is so romantic, isn’t it? Anyway, the idea does make sense. When you are on your way to a destination with someone you love, you don’t recognize how fast time goes by. You feel like even the distance gets magically shortened. Stress and worries disappear when you enjoy small moments of chitchatting, sharing lives, and even singing.
And you know what? This simple idea works so well not just when we go through heavy traffic, but also when we go through turbulent times in our lives. With someone we love…and if I may add one more qualification…with someone we trust, we can carry on and get over our hardships better. Going with someone we love, following someone we trust…no doubt, this must be the best way to go through the wildernesses in our lives.
In today’s Gospel story, we find two disciples of Jesus walking down the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem. It’s not heavy traffic that they experience on the road, but it’s their heavy hearts. The seven-mile road to Emmaus seems so long because three days ago, they lost Jesus—their friend and teacher they so dearly loved. His disgraceful death as a criminal was too shocking to them. Although they heard in the morning from Mary Magdalene that Jesus was resurrected, they couldn’t get it. And still they can’t believe it. It’s so confusing, and they need some time away from everything. So they decide to go out and walk away from Jerusalem, from the place of tragedy.
On the road to Emmaus, however, the two disciples encounter once again the sad reality that they have to admit from now on: the absence of Jesus. For the last three years, they traveled with Jesus. But now they are walking the road without Jesus. And this is their new normal. Their journey with Jesus was never easy, but the journey was joyful and fruitful because they followed him. On the journey, they found the meaning and purpose of life and their gifts; they witnessed miracles and wonders of God’s kingdom; they were in full of hope for new life. But now, Jesus is no longer with them. The farther they walk on the road, the deeper they feel the absence of Jesus in their lives. They might weep bitter tears. Their heads might be down. They might shuffle and kick some dusts and stones.
But at that moment, a strange person approaches the two disciples and begins to walk with them. The disciples feel that their footsteps get lighter and their travel gets easier as they listen to this wise person explaining why Jesus had to die and now lives again. So when they get to Emmaus, they grab him to stay with them a little longer. At the dinner table, this person takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples. Then their eyes are opened and recognize the person who is actually Jesus. But Jesus suddenly vanishes from their sight. The disciples say to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”(Luke 24:32)
It’s a moment of grace in their turbulent time, in the first Eastertide. The resurrected Jesus personally comes to the disciples and gives them the confidence that even death cannot take away the faithful company of Jesus from them. Now, they are deeply aware of the enduring presence of Jesus in their lives until the end of their journey. Now, they are deeply aware that they can still follow Jesus from there. And now, the road to Emmaus, this road of brokenness turns into a road of healing and nourishment. The road of bewilderment turns into a road of revelation and understanding. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples once mumbled in hopeless voice, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” But now they return to Jerusalem, find other disciples, and shout with joy, “The Lord has risen indeed” (Luke 24:21;34).
In our lives, what kind of roads have you gone through? A road with heavy traffic and accidents? A stony and rocky wilderness road? Or an easy breezy and nicely paved road? Then, what kind of road are you walking now? I know, some of us feel desperate walking on a desert road. And some of us feel unsafe walking on a treacherous cliff-side road. And how about our future? We don’t know what kind of untrodden road, what kind of new normal will unfold in our lives. We cannot predict anything.
However, in today’s Gospel story, I hope you find one everlasting truth. The one who walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is walking with us today. The resurrected Jesus is closely walking beside us today, so whatever road we take, we can keep following him. On any way of our lives, he will be there with us and remind us that he defeated the power of death and despair. He will be there with us and make our hearts burning with his Spirit and with his light of resurrection. He will be there with us and assure us of the promise of new life and turn our despair into hope, our new normal into new wonder. Truly, this Risen Lord is the one we can trust and we must follow! He is the most intimate travel companion on our ways of life. And this is what we believe.
Faithful friends in Christ, do you love Jesus? Look into your heart. With confidence, take a look around and find Jesus inside and beside you. The one, who died on the cross and has risen, is surely with you today. The one, who walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, is walking with you today. I am so sure that he is more than happy to travel with you, suffer with you, encourage you, and share burdens and joys with you on the road. What is the best way to go through heavy traffic and any wilderness in our lives? We may go with someone we love, and follow someone we trust. In this Eastertide, let us not just go for a walk with Jesus but go on a journey of lifetime with him. Let us keep on trusting in Jesus and following him through whatever road we take. May the Risen Christ closely walk with you and graciously reveal his enduring presence to you. May Christ be always the light on your path and make your heart strangely warm and burning with his life-giving love and care. Amen.
With the Risen Christ
– Eastertide Sermon Series –
From Easter to Pentecost, this 50-day period of time is called Eastertide in our liturgical calendar. Eastertide, which simply means the season of Easter, was traditionally a time of learning, especially for the newly baptized members of the church; they learned about their new identity as members of the Body of Christ. And for other members, it was a time to deepen their understanding of Christian faith and discipleship as the followers of the Risen Christ. So, during this Eastertide of great fifty days, I would like to invite all of you to continue this good tradition of the church and think about the way we faithfully live as the resurrection people. After Easter, what should we do, what should we keep on doing with the Risen Christ here and now? In this Eastertide sermon series, Keep On, I would like to share some of my reflections with you. So please stay tuned, and you are more than welcome to share your own reflections with me and other members.
Last week, we celebrated Easter. We sang with joy, “Christ the Lord has risen today” and “Up from the grave, he arose.” Yes, the Season of Lent, the season of penitence is gone. Our wilderness journey came to its end. Yes, the tomb is empty. Death has been defeated. The way of new life is wide open. Yes, now we have finally marched on from Lent to Eastertide, death to life, sorrow to joy. Glory to God, hallelujah!
And yet. Why does this transition feel so hard this year? Is it just me? Why do we feel like we are still in sorrow? Why does death appear to be still in charge in this time of resurrection? Yes. That’s right. We are still going through this crisis, this overwhelming reality of the Covid-19 pandemic. So even after Easter, we can’t just live happily ever after. Honestly, I feel quite confused. How can we handle this gap between the truth of resurrection and the ongoing reality of death? How can we live in the light of resurrection in this dark days of crisis?
This Eastertide is weird, we may say. But interestingly, in today’s Gospel story, I find, the first Eastertide the disciples of Jesus experienced was quite similar to the Eastertide we are experiencing now. The Gospel of John describes in detail what the disciples were doing on the day of Easter and the following days. And it’s clear that they were not in a mood for celebration at all. For them, their days were full of fear and doubt, uncertainty and confusion.
Jesus died on the cross, and the disciples locked themselves in a house. The Gospel says that they did it “for the fear of the Jews.” They had to do this, because they were the disciples of Jesus the crucified, the enemy of the state. It means that they were also suspected of complicity in the attempt to stir up the crowd and overthrow the current religious and political orders. I have no idea whose house it was or where the house was. But for sure, they gathered together in that house, shut the door tightly, and perhaps sealed the windows too. They didn’t want to be noticed by anyone around. They were on lockdown in the house.
To them, there came incredible news. Mary Magdalene testifies, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). But they couldn’t believe it. To be precise, they couldn’t accept and process it. Think about this. They were the ones who betrayed Jesus, their friend, their Lord. They left him alone and couldn’t stand up for him or do something for him. Whenever they thought about what had happened to Jesus on Friday and his horrible death, they were weighed down by the intense emotions of remorse and sadness. They knew they would never be free from these heavy feelings haunting them.
So the disciples locked themselves in the house—not just their bodies but also their souls. And into this very house, into their time of fear and confusion, Jesus came. He came in even through the locked door. And he said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). As if nothing serious had happened, he greeted them, “shalom.” Then, Jesus showed his wounds to the disciples. And their hearts were finally filled with joy and hope. Jesus breathed his breath of life, the Holy Spirit, into their hearts. And their hearts were unlocked by the wave of the Easter joy.
Today’s Gospel story tells us that a week after, when the disciples were gathered in the house again, Jesus visited them again. This time, he came for Thomas who did not believe in his resurrection yet. Even after hearing the witness of other disciples, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). So Jesus came to Thomas, showed his wounds, and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Then Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:27-28).
This is what happened in the first Eastertide. Fear and doubt locked down the house of the disciples. Uncertainty and confusion made them shut the doors of the house and of their hearts. Reading this story again and again, I thought, this first Eastertide was quite similar to the Eastertide we are going through now. We hunker down in our houses. The veil of fear and doubt still covers our hearts. Uncertainty and fear prevail. The light of resurrection is dim and flickering. The overwhelming reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and its brutal impact confuse us, make us doubt. It’s hard to remain in the Easter joy and stay hopeful.
But my faithful friends in Christ, in times like this, let us remember Jesus, our Jesus who found the disciples in the house and came to them when they needed him most. Let us remember, even the locked door, even the closed hearts couldn’t stop Jesus from coming in. He came through the locked door, through those closed hearts, and showed how much he loves his disciples; he showed his scars of self-giving love and marks of self-denying sacrifice. He came in and healed the wounds of the disciples and revived faith in their doubting hearts. And he breathed the Holy Spirit into them to make them whole. Jesus, resurrected from death, continues to save the disciples with his love and raise them up with a new assurance of faith and fresh vision.
In this time of despair and sorrow, just like the disciples did, we might think that Jesus is not here with us anymore so lock ourselves in our own places of silence and darkness. But I truly believe that in this time and into this place, Jesus is coming. He is surely coming, no matter how tightly we lock the door. He is coming with the light of Easter, and this light will unlock our hearts. He is coming with his Spirit of life, and this Spirit of the living God will revive us and heal us. My friends, do you believe this?
Therefore, Easter people, keep on believing. Keep on believing in the power of resurrection and in the life-giving love that conquered death. Keep on believing in Jesus Christ our Lord who always comes to us and liberates us from the shadows of fear and doubt, uncertainty and confusion. Keep on believing that nothing can stop him from coming to us, and nothing can separate us from his love. May the Spirit of our Risen Christ always guide you and revive your faith through this Eastertide. Amen.
We have seen the death; the coronavirus death toll surpassed 10,000-mark last week. And now it has surpassed 20,000-mark. It’s not easy to fathom this surreal number. But what’s more tragic is that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg because there are so many unidentified deaths and misclassified deaths in the absence of available testing.
We have seen the death; the coronavirus related death of our friends, coworkers, their family members, and our family members, our neighbors. The pain of loss and grief breaks us down and leaves empty holes in our hearts. And there come fear and sorrow, fill us with the dark and bitter foretaste of death.
We have seen the death; the economic death. Numerous people have been laid off, closed their businesses, worked reduced hours, lost their new job opportunities. They suffer from financial crisis. And it’s frustrating that we don’t know how long this tragedy will last. This can possibly make many people’s lives a little less than dead.
We have seen the death; the spiritual death. Social distancing and self-quarantine increase anxiety and feelings of loneliness and isolation. Many people suffer from weariness of heart, depression, a sinking feeling that everything is falling apart. These mental effects can drag anyone to the edge of graveside and give them a walk-through of death.
Death is close to us than ever before. And in this time of hopelessness, we are fearful and helpless behind closed doors.
According to today’s Gospel story, they have also seen death. The disciples saw the death of Jesus…then, the death of their hope, their faith, and their spirit. Jesus’ death was not normal at all. It was the most painful and humiliating death imaginable. Jesus was crucified as a criminal, as an enemy of the state. And it means that the disciples are also in grave danger—danger of being accused of complicity in the attempt to stir up the crowd and overthrow the current religious and political orders.
Death is close to them than ever before. And in this time of hopelessness, they are fearful and helpless behind closed doors.
But in this real presence of death, something strange happens. It’s on the third day after Jesus died. Mary Magdalene visits the tomb of Jesus. And she finds the tomb open and Jesus’ body is not there. Receiving this striking news, Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb and get in there one after the other. There, they only see the linen wrappings and cloth that once covered Jesus’ body. They can’t figure out what’s going on. So they just return home.
But Mary still lingers there weeping outside the tomb. And before leaving the place, she bends over and looks into the tomb one more time. Then, she sees the angels. They ask her why she’s sad and weeping, and Mary answers, because Jesus is taken away. In a wonder, she turns around to leave the tomb. But right there, she encounters the resurrected Jesus. With exuberant joy, Mary immediately goes to the disciples and announces the amazing good news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)
“I have seen the Lord!” In the aftermath of the horrendous death of her good Lord and friend Jesus, Mary has deeply suffered a loss. But at the tomb, at the dark domain of death, where her hopes and dreams were buried with Jesus, she meets the Lord, the resurrected Jesus. At the tomb, Jesus comes to her, calls her, and opens her eyes to recognize him. The radiance of new life shines out of death. The way of new beginning unfolds beyond the dead-end of life.
“I have seen the Lord!” On this Easter morning, even if you might join this worship service with a heavy heart, mumbling, “I have seen death,” now may the good news of Mary be yours, “I have seen the Lord!” On this Easter morning, even if you might feel death is close to you than ever before, now may our Lord come much closer to you than death and dwell in your heart with his Spirit of life, with his light of resurrection.
On this Easter morning, when every one of us is simply facing the matter of life and death, I have no sophisticated message or words of wisdom to deliver. What I can only testify is the simple testimony of Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” I have seen the risen Lord, because he still is in my heart and because he still is in your heart. And because he lives, we know, even the worst things this crisis can throw at us are no match for the love of God that sustains us through each step of our lives now and the ones to come. Because he lives, we know, nothing—neither grief, nor fear, nor sickness, nor unemployment, nor social distancing, nor even this pandemic—can separate us from the life-giving love of Christ that overcomes the power of death.
Faithful friends in Jesus Christ, who are Christians? We Christians are the resurrection people, the people who believe in the ever-springing new life surging even from within the real presence of death. We are the resurrection people who believe that by the power of Jesus Christ, even the tomb, the dark domain of death, can always turn into the place of resurrection. With this resurrection faith, we can discover a possibility of something new even in the tomb, even in our deepest despair and suffering. And we can bounce back, always bounce back from ruins and wounds, into fresh spirit and joy.
The resurrection people, with the Risen Lord, can take courage to turn our dead-ends in life into new beginnings. The resurrection people, with the Risen Lord, can change this death-stricken world into a place of life, love, and wonder.
So today, let us live out our resurrection faith. Let us be the living proof of resurrection, the living proof of life-giving love here and now. “Here,” in this world, where the surge of death engulfs life, and “now,” at this very moment, when the surge of despair buries hope, let us be the resurrection people who bring forth the re-surge of life, the re-surge of hope, the re-surge of joy in the name of Jesus. Today the stone-shut tomb is wide open and the tomb becomes the site of resurrection. Death is not the final word for us anymore, but life is, because up from the grave, he arose. So today, let Mary’s testimony truly be ours. At the tomb, when and where death is close to me than ever before, “I have seen the Lord!” Christ the Lord is risen to day. Hallelujah. Amen.
Three years ago, Jee Hei and I had a chance to travel to Berlin, Germany, for about three days. We enjoyed the trip so much visiting many museums and historic places. And among all those places we visited, one place still remains deeply in my heart. It is the Chapel of Reconciliation located right on the street where the famous Berlin Wall once stood. What captured my heart in this chapel was neither its mesmerizing architecture, nor its modern sanctuary. It was this altar piece hanging on the wall of the sanctuary. Look at the picture.
The wooden altar piece shows the famous scene of the Last Supper. But as you can see, the face of Jesus is badly broken off. We can tell that’s Jesus only because we already know how the Last Supper usually looks. Then, how come this strange, even grotesque, altar piece is kept in this chapel?
This altar piece was from the Church of Reconciliation, the original church that stood from 1894 to 1985 right at the site of this current chapel. Then, what happened to that church? It was during the time of the Cold War. Western Germany and Eastern Germany began to build the Berlin Wall. They both constructed their own barriers on their side at the same time. So, what we call the Berlin Wall was not just a single wall, but actually two walls running paralleled to each other. So between those two walls, there was an open ground, a buffer zone. Sadly enough, the church got trapped exactly within that space between the walls. No one could access the building except the border guards who used the church tower as an observation post. In 1985, the East German government decided to blow up the church building for security purposes. But the altar piece miraculously survived the demolition and could be rededicated to the current chapel later, even though the face of Jesus was totally broken off.
As soon as I saw the broken faced Jesus, I couldn’t move my feet. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the face of Jesus. To be honest with you, it was a little uncomfortable at first. I thought, people could get a replacement, a decent one with a complete face of Jesus. But that impression went away as I felt like I heard the voice of Jesus telling me something though his disfigured face. “Right here, I suffered with my church, with my people when they went through the coldest days of the Cold War. I was broken with them in the darkness and never left them alone.” The words hit my heart so deep. Jesus was broken because he was there in the midst of human brokenness, in the midst of the violence and division caused by worldly powers. There, I realized once more, the true meaning of our Lord’s passion and death. It was encapsulated right in that broken face of Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. A large crowd gathers to see Jesus’ holy face. As Jesus enters, they praise his name and shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9) The crowd is excited and so sure that Jesus is the one, the Messiah, the mighty leader who can immediately turn their unjust world upside down—take the kingdom back from the Romans, liberate them from the oppression, and restore their glorious days in a new kingdom.
From his face, the hopeful crowd is eager to find assurance. They look for a shimmering light of divine glory, a royal majesty of a king, and an unmistakable gleam of triumph…from his face. But in reality, Jesus’ entry is not exactly triumphal. It’s quite far from the so-called “Roman Triumph,” a spectacular public ceremony for a victorious military commander. Rather, his entry is just a small town parade. Jesus doesn’t wear a purple robe. He is just in his humble cloths worn out through his long and rough journey. He is not on a four-horse chariot but only on a poor donkey. Jesus doesn’t have a royal entourage or army to display his power. He only has his disciples, a disorderly bunch including a rebel, a tax collector, and some Galilean fishermen.
Watching this lowly entry, watching the meek and mild face of the gentle Jesus, the crowd feels frustrated. Still they are somehow cheering and keeping their expectation because they heard about so many miracles and great things that Jesus did. But it doesn’t take too long for them to turn their back from Jesus completely. As soon as the crowd realizes that Jesus will not satisfy their needs, as soon as they find that Jesus will not be that kind of leader they have wanted and waited for, some of them just return to their ordinary lives, but some of them get infuriated and shout before Pilate, “Crucify him!” They mock him and spit on his face.
And we all know the rest of the story, how he suffered and died on the cross. On the cross, his face was covered with blood coming down under the crown of thorns on his head. From his broken face, the crowd only saw disgrace and shame. However, for those who believe in him, his face is the holy countenance of God. His broken face is the face of divine compassion, the face of unconditional love. From that sacred face, we find the assurance that he always suffers with us in the midst of our crisis and walks with us through our mundane struggles.
Standing before the altar piece in the Chapel of Reconciliation…looking at the broken-faced Jesus, I remembered the prophet Isaiah’s words on the suffering servant: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:2-5).
Faithful friends in Christ, we Christians don’t believe in an otherworldly, apathetic god who just looks down upon us from heaven above. But we believe in Jesus who loves us so much that although he “was in the form of God…emptied and humbled himself, took the form of a slave, and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-9). This Lord we trust and follow is with us always in our suffering and endures our pain on our side even in the darkness.
Today, we are facing a crisis we don’t know when it will end; the number of confirmed cases, the death tall, the unemployment rate go up day by day. We hide ourselves and live in fear and despair. But even in the midst of this grave crisis, let us never lose our trust in Jesus and in his cross, never lose our faith in his compassionate love that comforts us, empowers us, and saves us. May the broken-faced Jesus visit you today and dwell in your heart. And may he firmly assure you once again that he loves you, and he is with you no matter what. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim