3rd Sunday of Easter
Texts: Luke 24:13-35;
Acts 2; 1 Peter
TESTIFYING TO A GOD WHO SUFFERS WITH US
I have a confession to make: my official graduation from seminary came a bit late because I hadn’t finished one paper. It was for a class on theodicy, the question that asks: if God is all-powerful, then why is there so much suffering in the world? This has always been an important personal question for me. Why is there so much suffering, and what does that say about who God is?
Jesus is walking down the road to Emmaus with two disciples on the first Easter evening. It is a crucial element in the Easter stories that people have trouble recognizing Jesus. His resurrection body is apparently different than his earthly body. So these two disciples are clueless that they are talking to Jesus about Jesus. They are still devastated by Good Friday and bewildered by the reports of Easter morning. They are probably in a similar place as doubting Thomas story in last week’s Gospel. They probably don’t doubt God’s power to raise Jesus, since they had seen Jesus raise people, like the boy in Nain and Lazarus. Their question, like Thomas’, is why? Why would God raise a so-called Messiah who was shamefully and disgracefully executed? After tentatively listening to them, Jesus senses this as he finally makes his reply, “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?”
“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer…?” This is the vexing question, right? The usual human response to suffering is to try our best to control our circumstances so as to not suffer. Isn’t the goal in life to maximize joy and happiness while minimizing suffering? Don’t we spend much effort in our lives trying to engineer things such that suffering is at a minimum? And then why can’t God do that? If God is all-powerful, then why doesn’t God do what we do, only better? A suffering Messiah, a Suffering Servant of God, just doesn’t compute.
Again, Thomas realization in last week’s story is the same here. When Jesus returns the week after Easter, with Thomas present this time, Thomas makes the quintessential confession of faith: “My Lord and My God,” he says to Jesus. Yes, Thomas previous experience of God didn’t compute with a suffering Messiah. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, their experience of God doesn’t compute with a suffering Messiah, either. So it is their experience of God that needs to change, to be adjusted, when confronted with their Risen Lord Jesus.
How about us? Have our experiences of God been altered by a Crucified-and-Resurrected Jesus? In struggling to write that paper in seminary (and beyond), which turned out to be 100 pages, I don’t think I’d yet fully experienced those changes. I’m still undergoing those changes, helped along by people such as N.T. Wright, and his amazing insights into the New Testament picture of Resurrection. And suffering is a central theme in 1 Peter, the letter we are featuring this Easter season as our Epistle Reading. I’d like spend several weeks this Easter with you sharing some of the changes I think need to happen for us to undergo the change of our experience of God when confronted by a Risen Jesus.
This morning we simply begin with this amazing story of being on the road with Jesus to Emmaus. It begins with the realization from Jesus that our faith is most generally in a God who is like us, a God who controls circumstances so that happiness is increased and suffering is minimized. That’s what our lives are typically about, and so we assume that that’s how God operates, too. And so we typically experience God as blessing the most deserving with happiness and cursing the least deserving with suffering. And so what happens when suffering hits? We wonder why God is cursing us. Or, if we are relatively sure that we deserve blessings, then we start asking why God doesn’t fix things so that we don’t suffer.
On the road to Emmaus we meet a God who surprises us, shocks us. We meet a God who’s not a control-freak like us. We meet a God who’s on the road with us, enjoying what we enjoy and suffering what we suffer. We meet a God whom we can expect to be there with us especially when we suffer, a God of a suffering Messiah. We will need to go back through all of Scripture to meet this God again, even as Jesus went through all of Scripture with the disciples on the road, to reintroduce them to God. This morning, let’s be satisfied in realizing again who this God of Jesus is, looking back on our own lives to find those times when God was with us on the road, even if we didn’t know. Here to give testimony to such a story is Bev Dirkin.
Bev’s personal testimony about experiencing a God who suffers with us, through community which suffers with us, completed the message but is not shared here in this venue.
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, May 4, 2014