Text for Preaching: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
has a story of spookiness.
the kind when uncle Bobby appeared
to someone, somewhere else
on the night he died,
or a still small voice in a dream
told you to do something
that ended up saving your life?
That kind of spooky.
They are the kind of story
we don’t tell just anyone
because we have to feel safe
that we won’t be judged lame-brained.
They are the kind of story
we tell at night around a campfire
or exhausted with grief
and all the guardrails disappear.
They are the kind of story
we always double-back on
to make sure it really happened
because even though we experienced it,
we can’t quite believe our experience.
We are double-minded about such stories,
literally. That is because we are double-minded.
It is that old Left brain/Right brain thing.
The Left brain is sequential,
linear and fact-finding.
To all such spooky stories
it applies analysis and explanation
that renders the story reasonable
or dismisses it as fantasy.
The Right brain is visual,
and intuitive –
accompanied by abundant emotion.
Spooky stories are not disquieting
to the Right brain
because it routinely hosts
the odd and mystical
along with the strange
Looking back at 20th century theology
it is laughable to read the Right brained Liberal theologians
explaining how Hebrew slaves
could actually have escaped
through a shallow sea that would
ensnare Pharaoh’s army in mud.
Or how a rich man could
get through the eye of the needle –
if the needle was actually the name
of a narrow passage in the rock.
In other words, they read the text,
feared what would happen
if it was pronounced non-factual,
and speculated about how it could still
be true even though it defied
all the natural laws we know about.
Standing between science on the one hand,
and intellectually discredited fundamentalists on the other,
it must have been a painful exercise
to squeeze something linear and logical
from all that spookiness
that appears in Biblical stories.
We have so much more freedom in 2020,
and not because our eyesight is 20-20 either.
After having lived with this Right brain/Left brain idea
for several decades now,
we understand they are an irreconcilable couple
and no amount of therapy
is going to fix their relationship.
Righty and Lefty
just do not see or experience life in the same way,
and as we know, perception is reality.
We cannot convince one another
of something we do not perceive.
You can call grass blue all day long
but if I see green, it is green.
Even the so-called re-education camps
of the worst regimes in human history
did not succeed in torturing people’s perceptions away,
rather, the captive and repressed
just gave up and pretended
while lying to save themselves more misery.
I received a text this week
from the grieving widow
of an old friend who died recently.
She told me that she had gone out at night
and looked up into the stars
and asked her dead husband
to please come into her dream
or in some way
show up in her life.
That very night, a friend of hers,
unsolicited, sent her a video
of an amazingly peaceful and sweet rendition
of the song, “I am sending you light.”
The Right brain says simply, “yep.”
The Left brain feels compelled
to talk about probabilities,
coincidence, and other explanations.
I used to want to harmonize the two strangers
and the first book I ever wrote,
which fortunately never saw the light of day,
was an effort to make the spooky
seem more reasonable.
Pish-yaw, such a silly effort.
On one level, and maybe only,
this pandemic is a wonderous event.
Here is what I mean.
Human society is ant-like
and we produce and toil as need be,
adding our little part to the greater whole
while never really perceiving we are part of a greater whole.
We think we are doing wonderfully unique stuff
without recognizing how many thousands
if not millions of other human beings
are doing exactly the same things.
We think we are rugged individualists
who are self-sufficient
and capable of soldiering on
even when everyone else is falling away
with failures and disruptions.
Then, all of a sudden,
there is no toilet paper in the store.
Suddenly, dairy-farmers are dumping their milk.
Without much warning, we are quarantined
because the hive has been infected
and it becomes very clear
to those at the top of the food chain
how dependent they have ALWAYS been
on those at the bottom of the food chain –
the ones who actually plant,
and make the food…
not to mention those who make and deliver
In normal times
our Left brains construct a reality
that fits a logical scenario
in which order, predictability,
and above all,
controls the life we live.
The Right brain paints pictures,
comes up with weird recipes
Righty operates on the margin
while Lefty defines and controls
the walls that define the hive.
Then something out of Left field –
sorry for the pun –
shatters Righty’s delusions
and here we are.
But my point is this:
always performs on the stage
of the Right brain.
There is no logical access to it,
not really and truly.
We can construct logical and rational
arguments for spooky stuff
but they always fall apart
within the mightier tools
surrounding them in the Left brain.
That is what ritual is about, I think.
Some people and institutions
treat ritual as if it is a Left brain function –
all about how to do a ritual correctly,
which ritual to use when,
and when the ritual is okay and when it isn’t.
But ritual treated as a Right brain activity
can be a key in the lock
that opens the door
to a hallway connecting both sides of our brain.
Worn and familiar prayer rituals –
walking the labyrinth,
visiting the grave,
a sacred meal –
whatever it is, can unlock a connection
in which the wisdom of both sides
meet in the hallway between them.
And the thing about the ritual is,
it is not a given.
We can do it a hundred times
and on the 101st the door opens.
Treating the ritual like a math equation
that must be done the same way
in order to deliver the proper sum,
will not open the door.
The door is not a combination lock
with the ritual as the combination.
Rather, the ritual
done over time,
entered into like the weather of a new day,
and with both trust and curiosity,
may soften us enough
to allow for the moment
and pretty much defies definition
which is why I’m stuttering through this sermon.
So I will quit
trying to do something
that cannot really be done.
Rather, I will just invite us
to see in the disruption
and the chaos
something we may have been missing
within life back there
on the other side of this divide.
While we may never be going back to normal,
as everyone keeps saying,
we can be sure
that whatever world arrives
“On the Other Side” of the pandemic,
we will construct it
in the ways we constructed
our old world. Lefty will see to that.
But we can,
if we remain a little soft and supple,
not become hardened
to whatever spookiness
emanates for old Righty.