Tell the Rest of the Story

Pile of books on desk
Image courtesy of Joy J. Moore (c) 2023.

Dear Working Preachers,

It seems every week there is a headline or a happening that undercuts our best laid sermon preparation (Sometimes those interruptions come throughout the preparing week, and that’s what we’re here for). But, at least lately, it seems like I have to watch the news more—just to make sure I didn’t miss something that everyone else will have on their mind when they gather on Sunday.

And I don’t preach every Sunday. I have the luxury and leisure to dive deep and work with words, toss in some humor, and offer hope from the ancient wisdom of the people of God preserved in the Genesis to Revelation narrative. I sit back and work with the text and try to weave together a retelling of a grand story that will catch the attention of the folks running TED Talks. (well not them, but you know, we all want our sermons to capture listeners imagination!) So, we hone. We rehearse. And then … something happens.

We all have that moment. A moment when all our hopes were dashed, all our plans disrupted. It may be initiated by a phone call from a loved one, a violent death that holds captive the news cycle, or a political mover and shaker taken down by an influential minority with seemingly unlimited power. First, we hear the news. Then, we realize, it is the most talked about event in recent history. Its graphic morbid visuals etched into human memory forever. For the rest of their lives, people will rehearse where they were on that fateful day. How do you redirect that Twitter feed?

A couple is traveling together. They spent the morning hearing the news. Jesus is risen she said—but they had dinner plans across town in Emmaus and couldn’t change the reservations. These are people like us. Amazing how undisturbed they were by the news of the resurrection. People who believe you can mention Christ is Risen but still keep the world as it was yesterday. Not unlike us.

At the moment they are trying to get on with the routines of the day in the echo of confusing interpretations of the rumors from yesterday. The snares of death encompassed them; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on them. They suffered distress and anguish. You gotta love the Lord because he inclines his ear to hear their voice and their supplications (Psalm 116:1-3, sorta).

I love this text because I have played with the scene. Wanting to etch into our imaginations the moment like Lelio Orsi’s painting from the 16th century. My flare with words may have gotten in the way of the real story. This week I want to encourage you not to make my mistake.

You see, the moment isn’t the story at all. This episode is an on-ramp for the real story. It’s not what happens with the couple that should hold our attention. (I mean really, how many couples over the centuries have had similar discussion traveling home to lunch after their preacher proclaimed the life-altering news of God’s activity evident in human history?) So it was for this couple. Their leader had died, and they discussed concerns of ethnic representation, political appeal, and economic sensitivity. So caught up in politics and power they couldn’t hear the women’s announcement that God was up to something—the tomb was empty.

The couple were in a verbal sparring match, and a stranger was eavesdropping. Then the stranger joins them. AND this is the story. What happens next is why we gather week after week around a communion table under an altar. It’s to tell this story. Not about a couple conversing over clickbait captions but the compelling story Jesus tells because of the cross and the empty tomb.

With apologies to New Testament historical criticism, this walk, recorded in Luke, was experienced by these disciples in light of their entire encounter of Jesus The recollections they had were not limited to the narrative as would later be presented in Luke, nor Matthew, Mark or John. Their experience was seasoned with nuggets from each of these events. It would be their narration of these events that lead to Matthew’s theology grounded in Jewish history. Mark’s presentation of Isaiah’s new exodus, John’s focus on the incarnation, and this narrative of Luke, with such attention to detail, written with the purpose of authenticating the information passed on.

Because right there on the first Emmaus Walk Jesus literally formed an Experiencing God Bible study. Starting with the Jewish Scriptures, he did the Paul Harvey commentary that eventually was written into the rest of the story, the Christian Bible. What happened with Jesus can be understood only in light of the Scriptures, yet the Scriptures themselves can only be understood in light of what has happened with Jesus.

Notice here, the Scriptures of Israel are not self-interpreting. By means of the resurrection, Jesus’ perspective on and use of the Scriptures are shown to be authorized by God, over against the interpretations of his opponents among the Jerusalem leadership. Remember chapters 20-23? (Go home, read the book … start with chapter 1 … of Genesis). God’s purpose as revealed in the Scriptures, then, is best understood in light of its fulfillment in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Context is everything.

One can almost recognize Peter’s rehearsal of the ancient promise when you read it today. Alongside the ancient story we can know we were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. (1 Peter 1:18-19) It’s a closer reading of the whole story to see the accuracy of verse 20—a foreshadowing and reveal that makes for the perfect plot twist.

My challenge to each preacher this Sunday is to interrupt the scene by doing what Jesus did: tell the rest of the story.

We gather as Christians to rehearse at least once a week a story the world cannot tell if we keep silent. We live to make sure history focuses on the whole story … God’s story.

It is a passionate love story; a fantastic adventure; a suspenseful mystery; a touching tragedy for as this epic drama unfolds on the stage of time it inspires every love story with its romance; every adventure with its quest; every tragedy with its sorrow; and every comedy with its joy.

It’s the story of a Triune God … and no one would care if the Resurrection didn’t undercut the Roman news feed with the headline: This Jesus whom you crucified, “God has made him both Lord and Messiah.”

Joyful Regards,