Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
This passage in our gospel this morning is one of my favorites in all of Scripture. It seems so real and life-like to me. It’s the middle of the day and two people, perhaps friends or at least colleagues, are walking along the road rehearsing the events of the past few days. It’s something we do a lot, isn’t it?
These two disciples have just left Jerusalem and are somewhere along the 7 mile stretch to Emmaus. It is three days after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. The news has spread that the women had gone to the tomb but found it empty. Where was the dead body of their Lord and who had taken him away?
Their hearts are heavy. Can you imagine? Their minds confused. This moment is held for all of us who find ourselves overwhelmed, bewildered, and lost from time to time. All of us who grapple with the craziness of life when things turn out so mercifully wrong; when we cannot see our way and are on the other side of all those hopes and dreams. Shattered. They were on the road to Emmaus but it is also the road of broken ideologies; the road of disappointments and frustrations; the road of unknowing.
Luke tells us that one of their names is Cleophas and the other is not named. He is but a fellow traveler on the road somewhere. I like these “unnamed” characters in scripture for they allow me to insert my own name. Cleophas and Cathy – fellow travelers on the road of life, sharing a common struggle or circumstance. Disappointed but sticking together nonetheless; trying to figure out the chaos and confusion of their world and determined to make sense of it all somehow.
Or perhaps you are able to insert your name there or recall incidences in your own life when having just the right person at the right time to walk along with you made all the difference in the world.
I think many of us walk down that road at some point; often many times. We have our high hopes built on someone or something that doesn’t quite follow through. At least we can’t see any salvific hope in the moment. Sometimes we build our hopes on the church, on our jobs, on denomination, on politicians; family or friends. We yearn for safety and assurances somehow.
But most likely we are constantly being disappointed. We learn early on the folly of such things and yet, it seems to be our human tendency. We know that sooner or later people and institutions fail us. Even well-meaning people can sometimes leave us hanging dry if we just say the wrong word or disagree with them somehow. And of course, we disappoint others all the time as well, don’t we? We just do. We can never fill all the expectations laid at our feet – some are too numerous to bear.
Luke tells us that these men were disciples; followers of Jesus. They had experienced one of the most significant moments of their lives and now they are headed back home or on to the next thing; still not believing. They had reached an all-time low. I’m sure at least some of us are acquainted with that sinking feeling. They had such high hopes about this Jesus and this Movement that would bring life, liberty, and justice for all. They had believed, followed, trusted. But no more. Tragedy had struck. Hopes had been crushed; defeat was real.
Here they are walking along and they were talking about all that had happened and they were sad about the state of things. They were unsure how they would move forward. You’ve had those conversations haven’t you? Been part of them? When the clouds are dark and thick and no ray of light seems to peek its way in. You keep talking about it, trying to process it all somehow.
They were discussing everything that had happened from their perspective. And out of nowhere – another traveler joins in. As they were discussing these things, Luke tells us that Jesus arrives but they don’t recognize him. Now, I like to imagine Jesus incognito. And in my playful mind I wonder if Jesus had the equivalent of sunglasses on, or was heavily disguised in an unfamiliar outfit, or perhaps with a long beard or his head shaven.
But they don’t recognize him. And I wonder how many times have we been at a low point and God comes along to joins us in the midst of our confusion but we are so overwhelmed that we don’t recognize him. We are no more looking for God to show up in the midst of things that these fellow travelers on the journey. We don’t see or recognize the presence of the holy that has been with us all along.
And so, at Jesus’ request, they begin to share their sorrow – all the details. Man, where have you been? How could you not have heard?
Jesus rebukes their unbelief and begins to share with them from the Holy Scriptures about the prophecy of the Messiah. These men are blown away, can you imagine? And when they get to Emmaus, they ask the stranger to join them for the evening meal.
Jesus sat at the table with them. Took bread and blessed it; broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they saw him. Luke tells us that he then disappeared from their sight; in a puff – Jesus was gone and their eyes were opened and they recognized who he was.
And get this: they got up right then and went back toward Jerusalem. The day is spent; they’ve eaten the evening meal but they got up and ran back in the dark of night to find the others. Do you sense the urgency? They could not wait till morning; no they had to tell what they had seen and heard – they could not wait to tell the news – we have seen him. We have seen the Lord!
They had been at a crossroad. Their leader was gone; they could quit and give up or they could trust and believe. They could live in death and defeat; remain in confusion and isolation or they could spring into new life and continue what had begun.
My brothers and sisters, we stand at a pivotal moment in time and history. I truly believe it is so. I think these days will go down as a time to be remembered. How are we telling the news of our risen Lord? Of the light that shines beyond the tomb?
Perhaps you have had those moments when you stood at a crossroad; one you were not looking for, did not expect nor design. It was just there and you had to decide. You could neither explain or define. A critical moment when all that you are was on the line. A moment so rich and so rare that life can no longer be lived in the same way.
Sometimes we act as if God is finished. As if God has already said everything God wants to say and done everything God wants to do. But God is not finished. God is not finished with me and God is not finished with you. And God is not finished with the Church and God is not finished with the world. The Creator has created but the Creator is still creating. The Easter season is a reminder that transformation is still happening all around us and we can be agents of transformation. We are not finished.
The Church – capital “C” – has done great thingsm great and wonderful portals of healing and restoration. But we must also admit that the Church – capital “C” has been wrong about things and people. And it has taken years, blood, sweat, tears, sorrow to overcome some of its harm. We have shut people out. We have closed our doors and our hearts; and our voices to people and circumstances that needed our attention. We have been slow to act; afraid to go against the grain; perhaps afraid that our God is too small to handle all people without distinction. But our God can handle all people. And our God can handle all of who we are – every single inch and aspect of our being.
What God did on Calvary’s cross is to declare once and for all God’s capacity for every living being. And when in doubt, we need look no further than the table – to see that body so broken; that cup filled with the wine of Christ’s own blood. All we need to do is remember the cross where Jesus died. To pay attention – I mean really pay attention to those people who walk down the church aisles on first Sundays to receive the bread and cup. Look into their eyes; their faces; know the grace being offered to one and all; that all are welcome. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus said: whosoever will let them come. And whosoever means whosoever.
On their way back to Jerusalem the two disciples were saying to one another: did not our hearts burn within us? Were we not set on fire as Jesus spoke to us?
The prophet Jeremiah said the word of God was like fire shut up in my bones. I am weary trying to hold it all in. Indeed, I cannot not.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had been preaching for years. Had been doing a fine job, I’m sure but one evening at Aldersgate, Wesley reported that his heart had been strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, he wrote, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even my sins, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
My brothers and sisters, what is your witness? What is the witness that you have seen and experienced the risen Christ? That Christ is alive in your thinking and world and how you are living out your life?
I shudder to think what might happen if enough of our hearts start to burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit – pushing us out and pushing us forward. Burning with new purpose and new vision. Burning with how we might be able to transform the world and live into new iterations of ourselves – new understanding of the word of God. Those who heard and believed were changed in profound ways. Whatever they were before, they are now so different that they have been born anew.
Here we stand at the crossroad. What shall we do with ourselves?