Third Sunday of Easter
We are still in the Easter season. We know that the celebration of Easter is not a one day event, don’t we? As a matter of fact, the message and hope of Easter is a full-time, ongoing job and responsibility. It takes great effort.
Faith must be strengthened, grown, and nurtured throughout all of the experiences of our lives. ALL of them – the good, the bad; ups and downs; light and dark; lost and being found. Faith happens and God is the same God through them all.
Like the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and Lent and Holy Week, the season of Easter invites us to grapple with specific aspects of our faith and to flex our spiritual muscles in a certain way. Like those early disciples, we wrestle with what it means to live beyond the grave; beyond the death, anxiety, betrayals, defeats, and disappointments of life.
And we might want to confess that we need this season, especially since most often we seem (or at least many people I know) to be rolling out of one dark experience into the next, and if it is not our own personal dilemmas, all we need do is watch the evening news or give attention to all of those news alert popping up everywhere. It is often easier to live among the dead and the empty and what is not working rather than to live among the living and the hope of what might actually be if only we did our part and the whole world caught on and did what we all could together.
We join those early disciples who also needed encouragement and perseverance; assurances along the way. And Jesus appears to them as he also appears to us to settle us down, calm our fears, and encourage us to press onward.
Last Sunday’s gospel in John found the disciples locked down behind closed doors, and they were terrified. Locked down. Paralyzed. Those hard doors that appeared to offer safety in which no danger can come in, we think. But also nothing can go out.
Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail prints in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And I get it. But what does Jesus do? He comes in through the locked doors and presents himself. Aren’t you glad about that? Aren’t you glad that sometimes Jesus just barges in behind all of those closed doors and makes himself known to us? Here Thomas – touch, see, believe.
And this morning, Brother Luke continues Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Two men were walking along the road to the city of Emmaus; that 7 mile trek from Jerusalem. They were just striding along, talking. Doing what people do. And they were recounting the events of the past several days, trying to make sense of it all.
It is now three days after the crucifixion of Jesus and the news has spread about how 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?
These men were faithful followers of Jesus and had experienced one of the most significant moments of their lives and were now 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 were 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 joined in. As they were discussing these things, Luke tells us that Jesus arrived but they didn’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. Or wearing some kind of floppy hat. It’s helpful to have a bit of humor to accompany our faith.
But these disciples didn’t recognize Jesus. And I wonder how many times we have been at a low point and God comes along to join 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 than these fellow travelers on the journey. We don’t see or recognize the presence of the holy that has been with us all along.
The first thing Jesus does is to say, “Peace be with you.” What price for peace, my friends? I was so delighted last year when the church leaders during our leadership retreat agreed that passing the peace was an important aspect of our shared life. “Peace be with you” is a blessing we give to one another: I wish, I want, I will peace and goodness in your life and in your heart. I want this for you, my brother, my sister. Settle down. We are in here together, connected. Family.
It might not seem like it but when we do it wholeheartedly without knowing anything at all about the other, these are the blessings that we transmit.
The disciples were walking along and they were anxious. And Jesus said, settle down. Settle down, God is here.
And then, he did the most ordinary thing. At their invitation, 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 began to recognize who he was.
What will it take, my friends, for you to recognize God in your midst? What will it take for you to believe? What will it take for you to open your mind to the new thing God is doing?
And get this: they had been on their way away from Jerusalem; away from the hot bed of things; away from all of the Jerusalems that represent hard, and ugly, and dirty work. They were trying to get away from it – get on to something better.
They had been there and they knew what had happened. What death and anger can do. They had been on their way away from it all. But after their encounter with Jesus, they got themselves up and ran back in the dark toward Jerusalem to find the others. Do you sense their 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!
Is this not the affirmation that we are looking for? I have seen and experienced the Lord for myself. I know what is possible. 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.
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?
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.