Sermon of the Week:
Passion and Compassion
Third Sunday of Easter #pcusa
Keywords: Zoom fatigue, Emmaus, Not Normal, Hospitality, Burning Hearts.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
The BBC news published an article on Wednesday
with a title that seemed to call out to me
with the kind of deep understanding and keen insight
that makes me wonder if they’re reading my journal
or can hear the voices in my head.
The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy, the BBC title declared.
I realize the irony about bringing this up, since we’re all using Zoom to worship right now.
We like Zoom for worship, because it is generally easy to use,
because people who don’t use the internet very much can call into it,
because it connects, most of the time, to facebook,
and it allows us to bring worship to you,
while those of us leading worship
are in different locations.
It is a true marvel of modern technology.
We don’t think that Zoom drains our energies during THIS hour.
This is a bit different.
Worship via Zoom might be work, for us who lead it,
but for all of us, it is rejuvenating, joyous time together.
This isn’t the same as meeting using Zoom, where we have work work to do.
It is that sort of time,
the schedule the call
have an agenda to work through
get the whole team online and lets get the meeting done sort of gathering
that the BBC is seeking to explain in that article. And they have a point.
Some of you might be retired, or doing work that doesn’t require meetings
or maybe you’re out of work, and would be delighted to have a zoom meeting right about now
but for many others, including myself,
work in the age of coronavirus
means getting accustomed to teleconferencing software like zoom.
Millions of students and employees have, all of a sudden,
found themselves to be on these platforms all the time.
We use Zoom for a lot of our meetings and our bible studies,
which is fine.
But it also can feel like a lot.
One day last week I had 6 zoom meetings, lasting about 6 hours
and I’m not complaining,
I’m truly grateful for the technology that allows many of us to work from home
without it, this economic slump we’re in could be a lot worse,
though we know that it only helps those of us who work in careers where we meet a lot:
you can’t zoom that leaky faucet repair if you’re a plumber
or go-to-meeting the restocking of the grocery store shelves
or webex the intubation of your next patient.
So this is all relative, for sure,
but the BBC article did touch a nerve.
If you’re spending a lot more time on video teleconferencing, like me,
you might be wondering why you feel so exhausted at the end of the day.
Well, the BBC says, that’s because of all the extra work we have to do
in these sorts of meetings.
Our bodies and minds are not built
for processing our human-to-human interaction through a screen.
We are, as Aristotle once called us, social rational animals,
and being with other people is part of who we are, social animals.
So, we human beings are finely tuned in such a way
that we can read the so-called non-verbal communication of others,
the subtle raising of an eyebrow
when we hear something incredulous,
the barely perceptible wrinkle near the lips
when we think we’re onto something,
the slightly audible inhalation
when we’re shocked but we don’t want others to know it…
these things don’t translate very well unless we’re actually with other people.
Or so says the BBC.
But you learn much of this in an introduction to Psychology course in college, too.
This sort of communication happens naturally, often subconsciously, when we’re together
And therefore there’s something lost
with many other forms of communication:
the telephone: you can hear many important non-verbals,
but you might miss the furrowed brow or the silent laughter,
text or email: emojis can help, but they’re not always appropriate when you’re writing your boss
and how many times have we read something in an email or a text
that totally missed what the other person was saying?
snapchats and instas and facebook messages and, yes, teleconferencing software…
maybe more opportunity to get the broader picture, through video and pictures,
but, this is the point, your mind has to work harder at it.
The BBC says that we tend to ramp up our attention span
during these sorts of efforts at communication
looking for those non-verbal clues that would be naturally apparent if we were right there.
Then there are the moments of silence, normal in a face-to-face discussion
where someone might be reflecting on what we were just talking about,
but which seems unnatural over teleconference, and people leap to fill the void.
These are the things that can exhaust us.
To make it better, the article advises
space out your calls, take breaks, connect to real people,
all really sound ideas
that can often be in tension with the work we still have to get done
and this ever bizarre and stressful time we are in, where we’re all home alone, together.
During some of my zoom calls this week,
I’ve been talking with people about how we seem to be hitting a sort of rhythm
where, sure, we might be having trouble remembering what day of the week it is
because we’re all in our houses all the time,
but maybe we’ve got the basics figured out by now.
We have a plan for the essential things:
we know how to go to the grocery store:
my mask is in the car, along with my hand sanitizer,
I am sure to bring my list so I can be efficient and get out of there in minimal time.
Beyond the boredom and ennui and anxiety about our loved ones and our jobs
many of us are making it through the days ok,
sure, we’re eager to get back to the way things were,
we’re just not sure when that will be.
But it helps to remember that none of this is normal, you know.
Zoom calls might help some of us do our work, but they’re exhausting.
If you’re in a more manual labor type situation, or you work at a bank,
or you’re a chaplain or a nurse: there are so many new things we’re dealing with
that the stress can really build up, for all of us
(even if we’re not able to name its presence all the time).
These are wild and chaotic days,
and even as we are seeking ways to order it
and make it manageable, and understandable,
it is ok also to just feel completely overwhelmed and spent.
We miss our friends.
We miss our family.
We miss going out and just being with people at the movies or a restaurant
or an art fair or a baseball game.
This story, Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus
found in the Gospel According to Luke,
has some of the same features as what we are feeling these days.
It’s not the same. No two tragedies are ever the same.
But there are some important resonances here.
Easter was three weeks ago, but since then we’ve been exploring these stories
that all happen on that same Easter day.
Last week, we talked about the disciples,
locked in their safe house, quarantined and isolated
because of their fear of the religious authorities.
That story began on the very morning that Mary found the tomb empty
So, too, this reading from Luke,
where the very same day,
two of his followers are heading back home.
It is the road to Emmaus, not that far away,
just seven miles or so,
a comfortable walk, but they’re preoccupied, distressed along the way.
I think we can all understand why.
The death of Jesus was a deeply tumultuous event.
This teacher that they had followed for years,
their friend, their leader.
They loved him. They believed in his cause.
They felt through him something that was new and different:
–acceptance for so many
(those stories about the blind gaining sight and the lepers being healed
are as much about welcome and acceptance
for people outcast by society
as they are about the actual physical healing)
–a call to help feed the hungry and serve the hurting
–the promise of God’s presence and love through our difficult moments…
They felt through Jesus something that was so new and different and lifegiving
and now it was gone.
Well, it felt like it was gone.
They were sure it was gone.
Jesus was dead.
So they were heading home, feeling sad.
They came across a stranger, who must have picked up on something in their demeanor
Sometimes our body language speaks louder than our words ever can
and he asks them:
What are you all talking about over there?
And they can’t believe it.
It would be like someone asking me, at the grocery store:
so, hey, what’s that mask all about, anyway?
why are you carrying around that purell in your pocket?
So I’m sure they shot the stranger a look.
You could probably see it in Cleopas’ eyes, you know. Incredulous:
Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem
who does not know the things
that have taken place there? Really?
And with that, they start telling him about their Jesus
a prophet, mighty, in word and in deed.
They had hoped he would have been the one to redeem all of Israel.
There is so much chaos right now.
Some women in our group went to go tend to his body. It wasn’t there.
Others went to go check it out. No luck. We are all so shook.
And the stranger, clued in now,
jabs them a little bit,
and starts to connect all of these things
with ancient prophecies and Jesus’ own teachings
“Beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them the things
about himself in all the scriptures.” Says Luke.
And apparently that was so engrossing, so mesmerizing
that it took up the rest of that seven-mile walk.
They get to the Emmaus stop, and the stranger intends to go on…
Won’t you stay with us. Its late. Lets get some food. You can head on tomorrow.
And he does.
And then they’re at a table, and he takes a loaf of bread
gives thanks for it, breaks it, and gives it to them….
It might be helpful to understand that these disciples,
all of them, Cleopas and this unnamed companion,
those back in Jerusalem locked in the room
all of the others, wherever they are, maybe, like Thomas,
out doing what he needs to do in that moment
all of them are in that same sort of place where they’re trying to just keep it all together, you know.
Their whole world has been turned asunder.
The deck just got reshuffled.
We might have some compassion for them.
None of this is normal.
They’re working hard to make it through the day, and aren’t quite sure what tomorrow will bring.
And boy, does that sound familiar sometimes.
Where are Cleopas and his companion going?
One tradition holds that they’re heading back home.
Maybe they’ll get back to fishing, if that’s what they had done. Or baking or carpentry.
Whatever. They’re heading back. This time with Jesus, it fizzed out. It was done.
We took a risk. Left what little we had. It didn’t work out.
No wonder they were sad.
Until that moment that Jesus changed all of that,
not so much through the lengthy and I’m sure quite erudite explanation of everything on the road,
but later, when they shared the same sort of meal that Jesus had shared with them before
the amazing power of sacramental food
and they SEE that it is JESUS with them
The women at the TOMB were right!
Christ is Risen! He is actually Risen!
It is you, Jesus!
And then he’s gone.
And they look at each other
and they say “were not our hearts burning inside of us
back there on the road, and now we have seen him, in the breaking of the bread….”
Maybe Peter is good enough at explaining all the details to get three thousand people to believe
but, for Jesus, it is a much more intimate encounter…
last week, he invited Thomas to touch the holes in his hands and his side,
and today, he is there at the table, the one who was once the stranger is now the host
feeding the disciples with more than just bread, but with a hope and a vision of something new
that will sustain them their whole lives long.
They ran back, that very night,
didn’t wait for the sun to rise again,
to go and tell the others.
But the others had had their own experience of the risen Jesus, too.
Simon saw him. Christ is Risen!
And just like that, a new dawn would rise.
There’s a lot I love in this story
but maybe the most important thing
is to note how none of it would have happened
if Cleopas and the other disciple
hadn’t learned something from all that time they had with Jesus.
If they had just said ‘goodbye’
as the stranger was heading on down the road.
If they had not opened their heart to an opportunity to share some hospitality at that moment
If they had decided that they were going to just go continue to be sad by themselves,
the moment of awareness and possibility would have been missed.
As it was, it was their expression of compassion and welcome
that set the table for the holy meal,
where their eyes were open, and their hearts were set ablaze.
Maybe that’s the word for us to hold on to,
on a day like today,
that it is through our acts of care and love and connection with others
even through Zoom, even at a distance
that it is through our acts of care and love and connection with others
that the very presence of God might be seen and known and alive among us.
So when we share the food we have,
when we are attentive to the needs of others,
when we allow ourselves to reframe our hopelessness within God’s larger story,
there we might see God, alive in our Risen Lord.
So may we know that our God can take our most chaotic moments
and surprise us
in all sorts of ways, through erudite, reasoned, impassioned explanations,
and through the humble, caring, mundane thing
something like the breaking of some bread
and, knowing that God can do this,
may we keep our eyes open a little more for it, each and every day,
and maybe our own hearts will burn with God’s passion
a sense that God will be with us, and together
we will not only make it through
but we will help make it better.
May it be so.
Image Credit: Fritz Von Uhde, Der Gang nach Emmaus (1891). Found on wikimedia at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fritz_von_Uhde_-_Der_Gang_nach_Emmaus_(1891).jpg (accessed 26 April 2020)