The sermon for week May 08, 2011
Sylvania UCC, May 8, 2011 - I Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24: 13-45
“He is risen!” This joyful proclamation bears witness to the news that God has raised Jesus from the dead. “He is risen, indeed!” the Church echoes as it confirms and celebrates the victory over death that concludes the momentous events of Holy Week. This is the good news relayed from generation to generation upon which this and every other church is founded…”He is Risen!” we proclaim. “He is risen, indeed!” we respond.
The story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus on that first Easter measures the distance traveled between the disciples’ first proclamation of the resurrection, and the believers’ response. “He is risen, indeed!” is a destination which is reached only after a journey of faith. It doesn’t happen immediately, or occur automatically, not then, not now.
Like the disciples in this morning’s account from the gospel of Luke, we are also travelers. Like them, the unpredictable events of our lives often leave us feeling like exiles from familiar hopes, looking for meaning to emerge from the contradictions in our lives….trying our best to find our way home. And like those early disciples, we too must try to make sense of what happened to Jesus and decide what it means for us.
For at least two of his disciples Jesus’ death meant it was time to “hit the road”. Their decision to leave the other disciples in Jerusalem may have been based, in part, on the feeling we get when we feel the need to relinquish the vigil we have kept at the bedside of a loved one for a while, or to disengage in the persistent disagreement among friends or family. Sometimes we need to leave the cell phone at home and walk the dog. That’s what these two disciples of Jesus were doing as they left Jerusalem and headed toward Emmaus.
The events of Jesus’ death were just too recent and the pain too deep to be reconciled in the course of a few days. It takes time to sort out the meaning of a life, especially the life of Jesus. We need time to remember in order to find meaning.
So we tell stories about the one who has died when we gather at a visitation or a funeral. And as we do, we often find others remember events from that person’s life differently than we do. Yet gradually, as we share our stories, our memories reinforce one another and a picture of the one who has been lost to us begins to emerge, like a negative exposed to developer in a darkened room.
That’s what was happening on the road to Emmaus. The two pilgrims were talking about how they remembered Jesus and how his life had embodied their hopes. But as they were talking, a stranger appeared (who seemed to be unaware of the events that had just happened in Jerusalem). The travelers were stunned that anyone could somehow be unaware of an event that had touched their lives so deeply.
It is an experience familiar to those of us who have ever traveled in a funeral procession to the burial place of a loved one. As mourners we have been known to look out from our funeral cars in disbelief at strangers who are shopping and going about their business. How is it that others are conducting their lives as though nothing unusual had happened, when we are left to peer out the window of our cars engulfed in a grief so disabling that we are convinced we will never recognize our lives again?
While we are still trying to figure out how our lives will accommodate so great a loss as the one we are feeling at the time, a stranger can provide a unique ministry. The stranger offers those who grieve an opportunity to convey the importance of the life now lost to us by inviting us to tell them our story.
In this case the stranger invited the disciples to tell him what happened in Jerusalem. They began by telling him how things had looked so promising at first, when Jesus impressed everyone with his eloquence and miraculous acts. And then, they told him, somehow things had gone terribly wrong during Passover. Jesus, whom they believed to be the promised Messiah, had suffered the death of a common criminal on a cross. And now it seemed there was finally nothing left for them to do but head on down the road with hearts that had grown heavy with the burden of failed expectations and hope.
“We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” they told him sadly, admitting to this stranger their sense of defeat and loss.
But just then their fellow traveler who had remained a passive listener to this point in their journey together, makes a startling observation, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart!” he said to them, “If you had studied your own Scriptures, none of this would come as a surprise to you.”
Then the stranger, beginning with Moses and working his way through the prophets, began to open their eyes to the scripture. You must understand, the stranger insisted,
The Christ is not the one who wins the power struggle;
But the one who loses it.
The Christ is not the undefeated champion of the world.
He is the suffering servant, the broken one,
who comes into His glory with his wounds still visible.
His wounds are proof that he is who he says he is.
That’s how you will recognize the Christ—and his followers as well—not by their strength, but by their scars.
The disciples listened in amazement. If what the stranger said was true, then God’s purpose may not have been defeated at the cross after all! What appeared to be a defeat had simply been their failure to understand. Maybe the disciples had been trying so hard to validate the Messiah in Jesus that they had undervalued the humanity in Jesus. If they had failed to recognize him in life, how were they to recognize him now?
Luke tells us that when the travelers arrived at their village the stranger walked on ahead of them as though going on his way. But the disciples called after him urging him to stay. And as they were eating the stranger took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it, and offered it to them. Suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognized the risen Christ in the one who broke the bread!
Apparently the blindness of the two disciples did not keep the Christ from coming to them. Rather, then and now, he comes to those who do not recognize him even when he is walking beside them. He comes to those who have given up and have chosen to leave the scene of their frustration and shattered hopes. He comes to those who do not know the answer to their confused lives. He comes to the disappointed, the doubtful, the discontent.
Which makes this story a story about the blessing of brokenness.
Jesus seems to prefer working with broken people, with broken dreams in a broken world. This is where we must look for him as well. The very situation that embarrasses and distresses us is also the place where the risen Christ is most likely to be found!
In fact if someone hands him a whole loaf, he will take it, bless it, break it and give it away. He did the same thing with his own flesh and blood. Because that is the way of life God asked him to share with the rest of us. And that is what he has asked us to do in remembrance of him.
We are to take what we have been given and bless it. We are to thank God for it-whether it is the sweet, satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. Then we must break it, because that is the only way it can be shared. We are not to eat it all by ourselves, but we are to find someone to eat it with us. That way the broken bread brings us together, so that all of us may recognize the brokenness which reveals the risen Lord in our midst.
The story of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus is one of the first pictures of the church. First, there is a closeness of the two disciples on the road, and then there is the willingness to welcome the stranger. There is the way their hearts burned within them when he opened the scriptures to them, and, finally, how they knew him in the breaking of the bread..
It’s all there—fellowship, hospitality, word and sacrament—all the ways Christ has promised to be present with us, which also happens to be the every-day activities of the church. Not the building, or the institution, but the people of God—the broken ones—who attend to one another, to strangers and to God’s Word and sacraments as their chosen way of life.
It may happen elsewhere; but the breaking of bread at Holy Communion is an experience that opens us up to recognize the risen Christ in the midst of our lives, and that of our neighbors and all those we love.
It is at this common table that we are brought face to face with the person and mission of Jesus Christ. In this common meal that we share, we celebrate our death and our life in Christ. It is here that we remember Jesus, who, in turn, reminds us of who we are…children of God and disciples of Christ. When we know who we are, then we can be who we are destined to be. We are fellow travelers, gathered to celebrate an extraordinary journey with the One who continues by our side. None of us is home yet, but we can smell the bread!
The gospels record that Jesus appeared to many of his disciples in the days following his resurrection until finally he appeared to them at the Mount of Olives. There he gave them what has become known in the church as “The Great Commission.” “You are my witnesses,” (Luke 24:48) Jesus declared.
When the meal is finished, the mission begins. The disciples in the first century of the Christian era bore witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection proclaiming: “Christ is Risen!” We have heard it and we must declare it too.
Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane he told his disciples, “All who take the sword will perish be the sword.” We’re not called to be fighters, but physicians—healers—with the hard-won credentials of compassion earned from own wounds! We’re not called to leap tall buildings with a single bound; but we’ll be there to tend those who try.
And so the Church gathers today, to share the good news, and look for the risen Christ once more. This is where he promised he would be, “Where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Jesus said. This is where he returns to meet us again and again. And this is how we will know him: He is here in the collective memory of the community of faith. He is here in the brokenness, yours and mine, and when we take, bless, break and share….the bread. Thanks be to God! Amen.