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"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Rev. Andrew Warner, Plymouth Church UCC - April 23, 2017

posted Apr 24, 2017, 10:36 AM by Plymouth Church UCC


If the first disciples listened to punk rock music, then they might have sung to themselves the hit Green Day song, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”  I can just see them singing, sorrowful after the death of Jesus:

I walk this empty street

On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Where the city sleeps

And I'm the only one and I walk alone

Green Day’s song comes as part of a trilogy on their album “American Idiot.”  Throughout the album, the main character is “Jesus of Suburbia.”  Earlier the album booms with the energy of Jesus being in the City through the song “Holiday.”  That song included the great chorus,

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies

This is the dawning of the rest of our lives

And of course, that chorus speaks to the reason the first disciples followed Jesus.  He spoke to them of a new dream, a dream of God’s hopes for humanity, a dream far different from the hollowed lies of the pious propagandists.

The disciples hoped Jesus’ dream would lead to a new dawning; they moved with the hope “this is the dawning of the rest of our lives.”

But that dawn turned to naught in the death of Jesus.  Hopes impaled.  Dreams drained.  Life crucified.

In the aftermath of Jesus’ death, the disciples scattered.  A few people may have rumored about Jesus still living; but Cleopas and many others took their broken dreams and wandered away.  Green Day’s song speaks to what they felt; after the excitement of Maundy Thursday, revolution in the air, Jesus passing around the wine; then came the crushing hangover.  Like a man hungover after a binge, Cleopas shuffled away from Jerusalem, singing with Green Day:

Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me

'Til then I walk alone...

Have you walked that boulevard?  At night, wondering what happened?  In the day, lost?  Walking or driving without knowing where you were going?  Cleopas walked that way, pushed along by disappointment, harried by loss, longing for just a few more minutes of his old life before it all fell apart.

One commentator referred to the disciples as experiencing “anesthetizing shock.”  I like his phrase.  “Anesthetizing shock.”  Stress leaves us in that stunned condition.  It can happen at the death of a loved one; we go through the motions of existence, caught between a reality we cannot bear and hope we know not real; that disbelieving state when the scent of our loved one lingers in the air and we swear they could come back in the door at any moment.

As Cleopas and his friend walked along, alone in their anesthetizing shock, a stranger joined them.  He asked them about their sadness.  Dumbfounded (and a little bit insulted), Cleopas asked, “Are you the only one who doesn’t know?”  And though Cleopas walked with broken dreams, in that moment he entered a new kind of dreamscape.  For the story, as Luke told it, sounds like the recounting of a dream.

Cleopas, his friend, and the stranger walked along as the disciples shared their disappointments.  “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  We had hoped; it lingered in the air like mist, the fog of a soap-opera dream sequence.  But the stranger began to explain to Cleopas and his friend a new interpretation of what happened and how it connected to all the prophecies from ancient times.  Like a dream, Cleopas remembered talking with the stranger but couldn’t repeat what he was told.

Cleopas and his friend invited the stranger to lodge with them for the night.  But then, as happens in dreams, roles and expectations suddenly reversed.  Cleopas the host became Cleopas the guest.  The stranger offered hospitality began to serve them.  The stranger took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

Reality hit: this is Jesus.  But jolted out of their dream, they awoke: alone.  The Jesus of their dream disappeared.  As the shock wore off they asked 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?”

It intrigues me that this question comes as the first time in the story that Cleopas and his friend speak to each other.  Until this point, they existed in a shocked silence, a parallel paralysis, speaking to the stranger but not talking to each other, moving through life, alone together; but now, awoke.

Can we really count this dream-like encounter as a resurrection experience?  Can we believe it?  It seems so much like what we hope for when we lose a loved one - one more meal together, one more conversation where we hear the words we most long to hear.  And yet we see the effect of the resurrection in the lives of the disciples: they move from shocked isolation to heart-warmed community; not just the two of them, but they go back to Jerusalem, back to their friends, ready to say, “This is the dawning of the rest of our lives.”  The dream lived on.

And so in Luke’s Gospel, the great proof of the resurrection isn’t in touching Jesus but in this movement of the disciples from isolation to community.

Often we want proof before we believe something.  When we doubt someone, we say to them, “prove it.”  These days of course we’re debating all sorts of facts; and now we even have to have marches in support of science.  Because even when we can prove things, some people don’t believe it.  But as much as we long for proof, Luke gives us something else.  A dream.  Strangely warmed hearts.  A messiah mirage.

Many people of faith seem so strident in their truth claims; thunderously claiming to have the absolute truth.  But I like how Luke tells the story.  He spoke of the resurrection as one would a dream - a dazed account of an elusive Jesus, the truth always just out of grasp, enlightening but fleeting.  (After the news this week from the Navy, we could even say that Jesus is harder to keep track of then an aircraft carrier.  He went north to Galilee.  No, he went south to Emmaus).

I treasure this elusive Jesus, the now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t messiah, who comes to the disciples as in a dream and awakens them to their community of friends.  I know what Cleopas felt.  My most profound spiritual experiences came like dreams - that unexpected insight, the numinous moment, a mystical feeling of blessing; all real but fleeting.

And so, I appreciate the confusion of Cleopas, who having encountered Jesus seemed to still be rubbing the doubt from his eyes as he said, “Were not our hearts burning?”  He can’t quite believe it.

Many of us have found ourselves in similar places.  Experiencing the sacred; but not sure if we believe how the sacred gets translated into dogmas and traditions.  Maybe we could start calling ourselves Emmaus Christians.  And more importantly: perhaps we could stop thinking of faith as a matter of knowledge and instead open our hearts to faith as a matter of dreams.  How does Jesus speak in dreams to you?  How do you dream resurrection?

But I’m also interested in that moment when Cleopas’ dream and Cleopas’ reality collided in communion.  That was the ‘aha’ moment when he realized Jesus lived.

Was it just the act of taking bread and breaking it - that everyday motion - that made the stranger seem like Jesus returned?  I’ve known those moments when some everyday thing can remind me of someone I’ve lost.  Every June I plant red geraniums in front of my house.  I don’t particularly love red geraniums.  But when I see them lining the front of my house, it reminds me of my grandmother; I loved her and she loved red geraniums.  So I plant them every year for that moment when seeing them transports me back to the child I once was walking up her front steps.

Was communion like that for Cleopas?  The breaking of bread reminding him of all the meals he ate with Jesus - that time with the 5000, that time with the tax-collector, that last time…  Did the memory of all those meals come back to him?

Or did Cleopas realize - as bread and cup passed from hand to hand - that he was not alone?  Not alone, because Jesus was with him.  Not alone, because his friend was there.  Not alone, because a community of friends awaited him.

Tugged by memory and awareness (the past and the presence), Cleopas knew in a way he could not prove, “my redeemer lives.”

What happens for you when we break bread and share cup?  I know one thing that happens in my house.  I get asked, “gluten-free bread again?”  And I know my family aren’t the only ones who dip the bread into the cup and think, “This what Jesus tastes like?”

But we use gluten-free bread because not everyone can eat gluten.  Just like we use grape juice because not everyone does well with wine.  And so the gluten-free bread and the Welsh's make it so everyone can be included.  We celebrate communion as inclusively as we can; because it’s not a moment to isolate people but a time to bring us all into community.  And when I realize that then I think, “This is Jesus.”

What we experience in communion - the taste of inclusion - speaks to the whole purpose of church.

Recently I learned a bit of the story behind the word “parish.”  I grew up Catholic; and that’s what we called our congregation, a parish.  The word comes from a Greek word, paroikia.  It's an odd word because it really means two very different ideas in English.  On the one hand, it can mean neighbor; literally, those who dwell near by.  But at the same time, it can mean sojourning or dwelling in a strange land, literally a refugee; and in some cases, the word is used as a euphemism for slavery.  So this one word, paroikia, close to parochial, means both neighbor and stranger.  It’s odd; and yet what a great reminder of what a church, a parish, a congregation ought to be: a community inclusive enough to bring in neighbor and stranger.

Cleopas became a disciple of Jesus early on.  He believed in the Jesus dream.  But then came death.  And Cleopas stumbled about as a man of broken dreams.  Til that amazing day on the way to Emmaus when he dreamed Jesus again.  And found him in community.

How many Cleopas-like people stumble around us?  How many sing to themselves:

Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me

'Til then I walk alone...

Friends, I pray “We shall be like those who dreamed.”  Dreamed like Cleopas, dreamed of Jesus bringing the lonely into community, bringing people to a table that included them all, so that in the broken bread and shared cup they could know, “I no longer walk alone.”

Alleluia and Amen.

Works Consulted

I particularly drew on Dreams and Reality by R. Goetz for this sermon.

  • Alison, James, Faith Beyond Resentment, pp. 41-44, 104, 121. For the Easter A resources on Andrews, Susan R., “Holy Heartburn,” Christian Century, 1999.

  • Buechner, Frederick, “The Secret in the Dark,” The Longing for Home

  • Colon-Emeric, Edgardo Antonio, “Consorting with Aliens,” Christian Century, 2005.

  • Feasting on the Word

  • Goetz, Richard, “Dreams and Reality,” Christian Century, 1993.

  • Goetz, Ronald, “Picturing a Vanishing,” Christian Century, 1990.