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The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
April 23, 2023
3rd Sunday of EASTER
10:00 am




Elusive God,
companion on the way,
you walk behind, beside, beyond;
you catch us unawares.
Break through the disillusionment and despair
clouding our vision,
that, with wide-eyed wonder,
we may find our way and journey on
as messengers of your good news. Amen.

PRELUDE                   “He Lives”                  Thomas Broughton


We have been walking, Lord,
on roads of uncertainty and fear, on roads of exhaustion and doubt, on winding roads that have led us here.
Join us on our journey, Lord.
By your presence, refresh our spirits, set our hearts ablaze, and give us new direction!  

*HYMN No. 236 “The Strife Is O’ver”

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

1 The strife is o’er, the battle done;
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.

2 The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shouts of holy joy outburst.

3 The three sad days are quickly sped;
Christ rises glorious from the dead: 
all glory to our risen Head!

4 Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live, and sing to thee: 


When we say, “we don’t sin,” we deny who we are. But when we say, “there’s no way out,” we deny who God is. Trusting that God’s grace is more powerful than our sin, let us confess our sins together.


Jesus, Teacher, we confess today
our outright foolishness.
We have been foolish to doubt your promises. Foolish to withhold love from neighbor.
Foolish to chase riches, prestige, and power. Foolish to waste your gifts and spoil your creation. Foolish to divide your children from each other. Foolish to think hope is lost.
Wise us up again.
Open our hearts to your presence
in our lives, in our neighbors, in our world.
In your grace, help us grab onto
our millionth second chance,
and forge a new road from here on.

Silence is observed.


Hear the good news! New life is not only possible; it has drawn near to us in Jesus. The promise is for us, and for all the children of God.
By the grace of God, the glory of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are forgiven, and we are free! Alleluia! Amen.

*RESPONSE No. 260 v.1

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus;
his the scepter, his the throne;
Alleluia! his the triumph,
his the victory alone!
Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion
thunder like a mighty flood:
“Jesus out of every nation
has redeemed us by his blood.”


Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also, with you.




Holy Spirit, send your fire to dance across these familiar words, illuminating ancient stories, illuminating weary hearts. Set us ablaze again with the promises of the Holy Word, still proclaimed for us. Amen.  

SCRIPTURE Luke 24:13-35

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then 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?” 19He 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,20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But 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. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and 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. 24Some 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.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

SERMON “What Things?”

On Friday evenings, after Stacey gets home from work, we enjoy heading over to Eight and Sand the local brewery in north Woodbury.  We typically pick up a pizza or cheesesteak and enjoy time together catching up on our week.  Maybe you have a favorite place in the community.  A winery.  A restaurant. A park. A stadium. A boardwalk. A place that brings comfort and hope, but there are also places that are difficult to visit.

After his wife died, C.S. Lewis once wrote that he thought that his grief might be less if he intentionally avoided the places, he and his wife Joy had frequented and so he limited his travels to only those places where they had never been together.  He switched grocery stores, tried different restaurants, walked only along streets and paths that he and Joy had never taken.  But it didn’t work.  To paraphrase Lewis,

“I found out that grief is like the sky above—it is over everything.”

A lot of us feel that way right now in this time of pandemic.  So much grief.  So much grief-laden sky above.  No one is spared.

The two travelers in Luke 24 seem to think that by getting out of Dodge maybe they, too, could walk away from their grief, leave the bad memories of the previous Friday behind.  Jerusalem had become like an empty house from which all the children had gone.  It was haunted with memories.  It was haunted by hope deferred.  Jerusalem was the place where their dreams had died.  It was more than high time to hit the road and see if they could leave their troubles behind.  As Frederick Buechner asked in his classic sermon on this text, where is your “Emmaus?”  We all have one.

Maybe it’s the mall where the noise of commerce and the rush of people keep you from thinking about life.  Maybe it’s a bar where the booze and the beer nuts help numb you to the more bitter truths that swirl outside the windows of that darkened, smoky room.  Maybe it’s a matinee at the movies where you go to take in what Hollywood proudly touts as “escapist fare.”  Maybe it’s the TV remote that takes you away from it all as you mindlessly channel surf every single evening.  We try to escape our troubles.  That’s when we head to Emmaus.  Maybe we can escape our grief and troubles.  Of course, it doesn’t work now, and it did not work very well then.  Grief is like the sky . . .

The two followers of Jesus thought Emmaus maybe would be the place to go but as they trekked that way their conversation kept circling back and back and back again to the death of the One, they had loved, the One in whom they had hoped.  Had hoped.  What a wretched pluperfect that is.

In fact, they were talking about all that—failing singularly to forget their troubles, in other words—when the clueless stranger came up to them.

“Shalom! What’s up, friends?”

The question catches them up short.  After all, doesn’t everybody know the latest?!

“Where have you been, friend” they ask.

“You must be the only one in the whole county who hasn’t heard about the recent disaster!”

It is probably a sign of the enormity of their grief that they reacted like that.  In truth, there could have been lots of people who hadn’t heard this.  Sure, to the disciples this was headline news, but to some people it may have been noted only in passing.  Just another Roman crucifixion.  Happens all the time.  It was just a side story buried on page 3 of the “Jerusalem Gazette.”  Big deal.  Pass the Sports section.

Well, this stranger on the road must have been one such clueless tourist because he didn’t seem to know a blessed thing about any of it.  So, they explain things to the stranger, more or less admitting in the end that the One on whom they had pinned their hopes did not pan out.  They had made, it appeared, a rather large mistake.

We all make mistakes, of course, and when the mistake in question is no more significant than burning your breakfast toast or accidentally calling “George” “Harry,” you can pick yourself up and move on.  But when the mistake you’ve made is more along the lines of trusting a neighbor who ended up molesting your child or trusting your husband only to find he’s been a serial adulterer for decades, well then you feel not just embarrassed, or a bit upset over your mistake but shattered by it.

“How could I have gotten things that wrong?” we want to ask ourselves.

But then, suddenly, the stranger, who had appeared so clueless a moment before, changes.  He has the audacity first of all to call these two folks foolish, and before they can object to this, the stranger has launched into a quite serious and thorough Bible study.  And after that, the rest of the trek to Emmaus just flew by!  With breathtaking sweep and exegetical precision, this anonymous fellow traveler re-tells Scripture’s story.  It is Israel’s story, all right, but the stranger tells it in a quite new way.  The last time they’d heard anyone talk about the Bible in such an invigorating a fashion was with . . . oh well, never mind.

Before they knew it, they were standing at their destination.  With a slight wave and a nod, the stranger says,

“Nice talking with you” and then keeps walking.  So, Cleopas pipes up,

“Sir! Look, the sun is setting which means the thieves along the highway will be coming out soon.  It’s not safe to travel alone–stay with us at least tonight.”

The man agrees.  After having washed the dust of the journey off faces, hands, and feet, the three find a place to eat.  Before they knew what’s happening, the stranger reaches for the flat bread, lifting it up in a strikingly familiar way.  He then gives thanks, breaks it just so, and hands it to Cleopas and his friend.  They knew instantly who he was but just as they are ready to cry out,


And he was gone.

“I knew it!” Cleopas exclaims. “Didn’t you wonder about this, too!  The way he taught us, the way he applied Scripture, wasn’t it eerily familiar all along!”  Then, stuffing the bread into their pockets, they sprint back to Jerusalem, covering those seven miles in record time.  A little of their thunder is stolen, however, in that before they can spill the beans of their news, the others say,

“The Lord appeared to Simon Peter!”

They then share the news of their encounter, making special note of the fact that Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Grief is like the sky.  It’s over everything.

But so now, apparently, is hope.

Hope is like the sky.  Hope is over everything!  Thanks be to God!!!

Liturgy and Commentary provided by The Book of Common Worship, The Book of Confession, Carol Holbrook Pritchett, Scott Hoezee, Greg Carey, Frederick Buechner, Eric Barreto and Richard Swanson.


from the Book of Common Worship

This is the good news
which we have received,
in which we stand,
and by which we are saved,
if we hold it fast:
that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day, and that he appeared
first to the women,
then to Peter, and to the Twelve, and then to many faithful witnesses. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Jesus Christ is the first and the last, the beginning and the end;
he is our Lord and our God. Amen.  

*HYMN No. 231 “Christ Has Risen While Earth Slumbers.”

1 Christ has risen while earth slumbers;
Christ has risen where hope died, 
as he said and as he promised, 
as we doubted and denied.
Let the moon embrace the blessing; 
let the sun sustain the cheer; 
let the world confirm the rumor: 
Christ is risen, God is here!

2 Christ has risen for the people 
whom he died to love and save; 
Christ has risen for the women 
bringing flowers to grace his grave. 
Christ has risen for disciples
huddled in an upstairs room. 
He whose word inspired creation 
can’t be silenced by the tomb.

3 Christ has risen and for ever 
lives to challenge and to change 
all whose lives are messed or mangled, 
all who find religion strange. 
Christ is risen, Christ is present 
making us what he has been:
evidence of transformation 
in which God is known and seen. 


Holy God,
we pray in ever-widening circles,
extending the love we feel for those closest to us
out into our communities, our nation and our whole world.
Through our prayers, stretch us to make a place in our hearts for those we do not know
but who are known by you.

We pray for those we know best – friends, families, neighbors, coworkers – all whose joys and troubles affect us daily.

[Intercessory prayers may be lifted]

We pray for those we see but do not know:
those who cross our paths
on the road or the grocery store or the restaurant,
those who are our neighbors here in [town, city, community] but whose inner lives remain a mystery to us.
We ask that your spirit dwell in our community,
turning strangers into neighbors,
giving people purpose and compassion.
Help us to see past polite fictions
to those who are hungry, scared or lonely,
and in seeing them, love them.

We pray for those we see only in the media,
siblings around the world
whose stories get sold to us as the news of the day.
Help us to see humanity behind the pixels and soundbites.
We pray especially for those caught in cycles of violence and war, oppression and economic scarcity,
persecution because of their religion, ethnicity or gender —
all those who do not know what it is to be valued and cherished. Help us to feel the ties that bind all your children together
to love as radically as you do.

We pray for those we do not see,
the millions whose stories go untold,
whose lives feel so far removed from our own. We pray for your people in every place
and ask that you keep remind us
that no one is beyond your reach.
Keep us ever hungry to know your people, not as curiosities
but as siblings in Christ.

Expand our hearts, God,
until we can hold your people inside them — all your people, all over the world,
following the example of our Lord Jesus,
who taught us to pray, saying, “Our Father….”

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.



What shall we return to the Lord? Nothing can equal what God has given us. Let us therefore give our money, our time and our energy with the generous joy of children, presenting gifts to make God smile.


*RESPONSE No. 609 “Praise God, from Whom Blessings Flow”

Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below.  Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.


God of surprises, take these gifts and astound us by what they do. Through the work of your church, restore a broken world into the beloved community you dream of for us. Show us how to take these offerings and use them “to love each other deeply from the heart.” In your grace we trust. Amen.  

*HYMN No. 242 “Day of Delight and Beauty Unbound”

Day of delight and beauty unbounded,
tell the news, the gospel spread!
Day of all wonder, day of all splendor,
praise Christ risen from the dead!

1 Sing of the sun from darkness appearing;
sing of the seed from barren earth greening;
sing of creation, alleluia!
Sing of the stream from Jesus’ side flowing;
sing of the saints in water made holy;
sing of salvation, alleluia! (Refrain)

2 Sing now of mourning turned into dancing;
sing now the mystery, hope of our glory;
sing with thanksgiving, alleluia!
Sing now of fasting turned into feasting;
sing the Lord’s favor lasting forever;
sing, all things living, alleluia! 


Are your hearts burning?
Have you met the risen Christ?
If so, go out with great joy
to share the good news.
And if not, if your heart is still weary
and full of doubt, do not despair:
because Christ might find you at any time. Go back to the road, and walk;
keep your heart open, and God may just surprise you yet.
And as you go, in joy or in doubt,
know that the grace of God will uphold you, the peace of Christ will enfold you,
and the Holy Spirit will make you bold, today, tomorrow and forever.