You can find this on youtube here: http://youtu.be/Xc-1ma_uY9o
Year A, Easter 3
This is a perplexing story. In some ways, I felt as though I was unraveling a mystery as I studied it…or at least trying to. One of the many mysteries of this story is why the two followers of Jesus did not recognize Jesus when he appeared to them. Was he wearing a disguise…speaking in a funny accent? How is it that two people who had known him so well could perceive him as a stranger? Of course this is not the only time when Jesus is not recognized after his resurrection. Mary thought that Jesus was a gardener. My theory which I shared with you on Easter is that she was not able to recognize Jesus because she was blinded by her own expectations. She was looking for him in the wrong place…in the tomb. That is not where you find the risen Christ. I think part of the reason these two followers of Jesus did not recognize the risen Christ was because they were moving in the wrong direction. Instead of looking in the wrong place like Mary was, they had stopped looking at all.
When Jesus first appeared to them, they were leaving Jerusalem…the place where Jesus was crucified. They were leaving even though there were rumors that Jesus was alive again. You would think that if there was even a chance that Jesus was alive again, even a crazy rumor, they would have stuck around to see what all the fuss was about. Why were they leaving the holy city? When they told this stranger who ended up being Jesus what had happened, they said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped.
They stopped hoping, even though they had heard him talk about his resurrection before he died, even though they had heard from people that he was back, risen from the dead. But this was not how it was supposed to be. He was crucified by the Romans and Israel was not redeemed. If anything, things were worse than before. Things had not turned out as they hoped and because of that they did not even recognize Jesus.
Yet in just a few short hours, Jesus reawakened their hope. He didn’t do it with a spectacular light show. The clouds did not break allowing rays of light to rest upon his head. There was no voice from heaven. All of these things had happened before while he was still alive, but not this time. This time Jesus simply walked with them and listened to their grief and their fear. He talked to them about the Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures…which is the place where they had first learned to hope.
Yet their hope was still dead…at least it was dormant. They still could not see. So he sat down and ate with them because they begged him to stay. Even though they did not recognize him as the Christ, they saw something in him that made them need his presence. There were still walls around their heart, but the walls were beginning to crumble. The scales were falling from their eyes. And then he broke bread with them. Finally they saw and believed.
Well, duh…I mean how obvious can you be? Wouldn’t we all see Jesus if he broke bread with us? It’s such an obvious allusion to the Last Supper. But wait, these two were not with Jesus at the Last Supper. These two were not one of the 12 apostles. They had not read the Gospels because the Gospels has not yet been written. When I see this scene in my head I imagine Jesus breaking bread and then winking at the television audience—now they are going to get it! It was not as obvious as it seems to us. They were not at the last supper. This was not an obvious hint. Something else opened their eyes. Their hearts that were so closed off because hope had died, their hearts finally opened.
And I am not sure why. But I believe it’s because like so many of us, faith took time. When all hope is lost when hope has literally died on a cross, it’s going to take some persistence. They had built walls around their hearts to protect themselves and it was going to take time for those walls to come down. Jesus was going to have to do more than just preach a good sermon for them. He was going to have to stay a little while, sit with them and share a meal. You know, sometimes I think that if I can preach a good enough sermon, I can break through to someone who has lost faith. And I know how that sounds, I know it is only God who can make such a difference, but I believe that my sermons come from God, at least the times when God can break through my walls.
You see we all have these walls around our hearts. Some of us have been building them for years and years…some perhaps have temporary walls that go up occasionally when we need them, or think we do. Our walls are as unique as each of us. Cleopas and his nameless friend had walls too. And I suspect that the walls were always there. The hope they had while Jesus was alive was probably a little fragile. Hope can be a fragile thing, which is why we protect it with walls.
One of the many interesting things about this story is that Jesus doesn’t just stop them on the road to Emmaus, make himself known, give them a pep talk and tell them it is time to turn around. He could have. He could have done something dramatic, perhaps even forced them to see. But he didn’t. He knew they had to come to this a little more slowly. So he walked with them, even when they going the wrong way. He stayed with them, even though they were still blind to his presence.
Jesus’ love for us is persistent. It is relentless. Even when we are not persistent in our faith, even when we are moving in the completely wrong direction, Jesus never gives up on us. Jesus knows that no matter how thick—how sturdy our walls are, they ultimately crumble in his divine presence. And when we veer off course again…which we will, Jesus will always be there to guide us back.
Jill and Casey- I would tell you that your journey is just beginning, but I won’t. In some ways it is true, but you both have already had profound experiences and challenges in your faith journey. You will have more. One of my favorite parts of this ceremony is the charge to the young people (your peers) and the congregation. In this service, like in baptism, we agree to support you in your faith. There will be times when you need that support. There will be times when you will be a support to others. One of things that the two people on the road to Emmaus discovered was the importance of sharing their faith and their doubt with one another. I think that trip would have been much harder if they were alone. Jesus came to both of them. I hope you know that church is a place where you do not have to be perfect. You can have doubts and questions and you can share those doubts. We are companions on this journey together. Wherever you may go, whatever you may do, remember this, you are always welcome here. Nothing can change that. (That goes for the rest of your too.)
(The last part of this sermon was written specifically for our Rite 13 Celebration.)