Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
Our story this morning was Two Frogs by Christopher Buice. Swimming around and around, the two frogs, who’d accidentally jumped into a tub of cream, ended up making butter. They kept hope alive.
The story I told you wasn’t about a return from death. It wasn’t about bunnies laying eggs. But it was an Easter story!
Any story that is about keeping hope alive in the face of a situation that seems impossible to survive is an Easter story.
It is true that not many Easter stories include frogs, yet they all include unexpected endings.
I am guessing you didn’t come here this morning to hear about frogs going around and around.
Perhaps you thought you would hear the usual story about eggs and bunnies, and spring flowers; the Easter “miracle” story the way UUs tell it? Every year again and again we are “surprised” by the earth bursting forth with flowers and new green sprigs of growth and so we go around again—past death and into rebirth, onward in the endless circle of life.
Or perhaps you came expecting a 20-minute explanation of how our still mostly-Christian culture does Easter. You know, the sermon where I explain how most of the ingredients were originally Pagan and that there is really nothing new or surprising there. It’s all borrowed from other older and perhaps wiser religions.
Yet this Easter, I am going to ask you to listen again, or for the first time, to part of the biblical story; about what happens after things don’t turn out the way they were expected to.
The gospel of Luke tells us about two followers of Jesus who are leaving the city of Jerusalem three days after the crucifixion, after the Roman Empire and the religious authorities put to death the man these two and many more had admired.
It is an Easter story, because it tells of an impossible situation with surprise ending, an ending that makes the story a powerful one about hope.
“…the two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened.
While they were talking and discussing together, walking down the hot, dusty path, Jesus himself came near and walked with them. The gospel says their eyes kept them from recognizing him.
This person who they didn’t recognize said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stopped, stood still, and wept.
Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered the man, “Are you the only stranger from Jerusalem who does not know the things that happened there just three days ago?”
The man said, “What things?” And they said to him, “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… we had hoped that he was the one….
As they came near the village to which they were going, the man began to walk ahead as if he were going on. But they strongly urged him asking, “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 and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And suddenly their eyes opened and they recognized him; and then he vanished….
They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning while he was talking to us on the road?”From Luke 24:13-21, 28-32
Here were two that were convinced that they had landed in a situation that hadn’t turned out well, because a really, terrible thing had happened. They were not only shocked, but so sad. Surely the whole world knew of their anguish. How could this stranger who came up beside them not know that the worst possible thing that could happen had happened, and that they might themselves be in danger now. Maybe their heartburn was from fear.
How will we keep hope alive, when really bad things have happened and we find ourselves in what feels like an impossible, unsurvivable situation?
How can we go on, when we are sad and distressed?
Perhaps the miracle was that these two were hospitable to a stranger; they put their sadness and worry aside to think about his safety!
Perhaps the story is trying to tell us that keeping hope alive has to do with offering shelter to strangers; taking care of others’ needs even when we hurt, and we are sad.
When the two on the road took the stranger in and offered him hospitality, kindness, and concern for his well-being, he blessed them by blessing the bread they were about to eat together.
That is when the two travelers recognized him. As soon as they “saw” him, he disappeared.
Was he a ghost? Was he real? Does it matter?
Were there really two frogs in a tub of cream, churning butter, hoping to get out?
Have you ever experienced—after someone you loved, someone who was very present in your life, died—that they then out of nowhere appeared again, as if they were walking beside you?
The point is we get very preoccupied with our own stuff: with grief, with worry, whatever or “stuff” is, and that stuff can get in the way of paying attention to what our hearts are telling us: Keep swimming, keep swimming.
Keeping hope alive has to do with heartburn and hospitality, with remembering to do the basic motions of daily living.
These two didn’t hesitate to offer the stranger a place to stay, before they knew who he was.
When the stranger blessed the bread they were about to eat together, he did something that he had probably done with them many, many times. That’s when they knew who he was. That’s when they knew all would be well again.
They recognized him in the familiar everyday motions of breaking bread.
As soon as the two on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus with their eyes, he was gone. But when they thought about what had happened, they knew that their hearts had recognized him as soon as he came alongside them on the road to Emmaus.
“Remember, our hearts burned!”
The young frog was certain he was not going to survive. The older frog gave him what he needed to keep swimming; it surely made his heart burn, all that effort to stay alive, swimming hard enough to make cream into butter.
In the frog story, the gift was a chant…rhythmic/repeated words that kept the younger frog stroking around and around the tub. Music works like that, or rocking, or swaying back and forth in prayer, perhaps (or repeating “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”).
Perhaps parents have known since the beginning of time that rocking babies eases their fears, comforting them enough so that they sleep through the night to wake up tomorrow. Perhaps parents have known since the beginning of time that walking with your heart open to the presence of the ancestors—who live in your heart even though they are gone—will keep you going when times seem impossible to survive; moving back and forth, going through the motions of what it takes to keep moving through life despite suffering and death.
Sometimes the gift we get is a whisper that keeps hope alive, a reminder of what was, or a vision of what we have been promised will be. A memory or a dream that lives in our hearts, even when we cannot see our way out of the darkness.
Sometimes what keeps us going when things seem impossible is just our attending to the basics: food and water and companions—even if they are strangers—keeping us company for a while, showing us how to keep hope alive by just putting one foot in front of the other.
Eating and drinking in the company of others, invoking the memory of all those who have ever sat down to fellowship, to a meal, to accompany each other on the journey through this life, sharing hospitality and blessings, being with what makes life worth living brings us hope.
Inviting others into our sad and hurting places, letting them bless us with their presence; eating, drinking, walking, breathing.
We need each other to keep hope alive; we need rhythm, chant, prayer, walking on the earth; we need the practice of hospitality, of blessing each other to keep hope alive.
Otherwise, it becomes too much, and it really doesn’t matter what we do, or who we do it to. We live with despair, taking one blow after another until we just can’t get up anymore. Or we live in fear, running from threats, always trying to hide, moving from place to place, or going in circles in a panic, never able to turn the corner. Or we fight each other, hearts intent on killing and violence, when those we fear could be our companions, could be who saves us.
What’s your current impossible situation? Or what’s “our” current impossible situation as a people, as a nation, as creatures on this planet together? What might we practice to keep hope alive? What will make life better for all the humans and the creatures in impossible, hopeless situations?
Jesus taught us to love each other. He taught us to care for the poor, to share what we have, to love even our enemies, to know that God loves us—all of us—forever, no matter what.
Sometimes we get caught up in trying to see him. All we need is to open our hearts to the stranger, to practice hospitality. It is not about believing in the impossible; it is about keeping alive hope for the possible, even in impossible situations.
May you be blessed; may you be a blessing. May you practice giving life, keeping hope alive.