Catching a Tailwind Sermon from April 30, ’17

This beautiful passage invites us to the communion meal and to a recognition and acceptance of the Risen Christ into our daily lives. We won’t be sharing communion til next week, but Easter lasts from now til the beginning of June. All this season we will find ways to recognize the risen Christ and be part of the Way and the Life that is what resurrection is all about.

Luke 24:13-35 That same day, two of the disciples were making their way to a village called Emmaus—which was about seven miles from Jerusalem— discussing all that had happened as they went. While they were discussing these things, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them, though they were kept from recognizing Jesus, who asked them, What are you two discussing as you go your way?” They stopped and looked sad. One of them, Cleopas by name, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened these past few days?” Jesus said to them, ”What things?” They said, “About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed in the eyes of God and all the people— how our chief priests and leaders delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. We were hoping that he was the One who would set Israel free.  Besides all this, today—the third day since these things happened— some women of our group have just brought us some astonishing news.  They were at the tomb before dawn and didn’t find the body; they returned and informed us that they had seen a vision of angels, who declared that Jesus was alive Some of our number went to the tomb and found it to be just as the women said, but didn’t find Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “What little sense you have!  How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Didn’t the Messiah have to undergo all this to enter into glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted for them every passage of scripture which referred to the Messiah. By now they were near the village they were going to, and Jesus appeared to be going further. But they said eagerly, “Stay with us.  It’s nearly evening—the day is practically over..”  So the savior went in and stayed with them. After sitting down with them to eat, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, who immediately vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Weren’t our hearts burning inside us as this one talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’ They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the Eleven and the rest of the company assembled.They were greeted  with, “Christ has risen!  It’s true!  Jesus has appeared to Simon!” Then the travelers recounted what had happened on the road, and how they had come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

April 30, 2017

Catching a Tailwind

They had been with Jesus, their beloved teacher and leader, for years. Then, they walk along the road with him and they can’t recognize him. What keeps them from recognizing him? They’re dying inside of grief at his loss, but they can’t see that he is right there.

Of course, they know he is dead. That would be one pretty good reason for not seeing him. They are grief stricken and not paying attention. We don’t have to be too hard on them. It happens to us all the time. We don’t see the one who is right there with us. We don’t recognize. We don’t notice. We can’t acknowledge.


I listened to a podcast by a psychologist named Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University that got me really interested in the last month in what we recognize and what we don’t. As his main analogy, he used the example of what he calls a headwind/tailwind asymmetry, which I reference in the title of my sermon.

He notes that when someone is in a race or a ride on a bicycle heading into the wind, he or she is constantly aware of the wind, looking forward to the ride going the other way with the wind at their back, struggling and cursing until they finally get to go the other way. When they do get to go the other way, they are so pleased and thankful for the tailwind, for a moment or two. Then they forget all about the wind and enjoy the ride. They stop noticing the wind that is helping them, even though they had been constantly aware of the wind going against them.

As I say, Gilovich calls this headwind/tailwind asymmetry and he has studied it in a variety of situations. His team has asked brothers and sisters, “Who had it better, you or your brother? you or your sister?” They found that most of the time both brothers or sisters in a pair think that they had a harder time than their sibling. It’s like the old Smothers Brothers joke, “Mom always loved you best!” Each sibling is aware of the difficulties they faced in their life, the headwinds they were constantly aware of, and has more trouble staying aware of the tailwind, the helps and the advantages they enjoyed.

They studied sports fans as well. Every sports fan in every city thinks that their team has it harder – a harder schedule, a worse draft pick. They studied elections. No matter what party people are in, they feel that the electoral college helps the other side more.

So people are more likely to remember and focus on the headwind experiences in their lives and sometimes have trouble noticing the tailwinds, the advantages and the privileges in our lives. Sometimes in fact, it’s easier for us to see other people’s advantages and privileges than it is to see our own. Sometimes not. All of this gets in the way of us knowing who we are and acknowledging fully the people around us.

This may not be a factor in the passage of scripture we have for today. The passage does not say precisely why the disciples don’t recognize Jesus. I’m using this passage more as a way to think about how we don’t see and fully appreciate each other. But the road to Emmaus was a good long walk – about 7 miles, long enough for discouraged disciples to feel the headwinds of their situation. For us it’s been two weeks since Easter – long enough for us to get discouraged after the nice crowd at a beautiful Easter by the smaller group of post-Easter faithful folks, and by the difficulties of our lives. The disciples are walking toward Emmaus with very little idea of where they are going or why. We sometimes live our lives not sure what we’re doing either.

It’s interesting that a key solution to the headwind/tailwind asymmetry problem and to this aimlessness is illustrated in the passage. What finally helps the disciples get back on track? The appearance of Jesus doesn’t do it because they don’t recognize him! The disciples finally recognize Jesus when they offer him hospitality and he breaks bread with them. When he gives thanks over the bread, they immediately see who he is.

Living in gratitude is a way for us to recognize and acknowledge the tailwinds which are almost always aiding us in our lives, (not just aiding our brothers and sisters.) Living gratitude helps us when he are facing headwinds, as we realize both how we are persevering and Living in gratitude is a way to happiness, since, as David Stendl-Rast teaches, it is not happiness which leads to gratitude but the other way around.

Gratitude is the best way to find happiness. Living in gratitude leads us to hospitality and hospitality leads us to recognition, recognition of the Christ in each other, recognition of the Christ in the breaking of bread.


Responsive Hymn   309 On the Day of Resurrection