April 30, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter

Our Gospel lesson today asks us to consider a basic question. Where do we turn when things fall apart?  Fall apart not only for us personally, but also for the world.  What do we when the things we have trusted in, believed in, hoped for, seem to have failed us?

Frederick Buechner, in his book, The Magnificent Defeat, said,

“Emmaus is where we go when life gets to be too much for us; … the place we go in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, ‘Let the whole … thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway.’ … Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. … Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred; that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.”

Have you ever gone anywhere just to get away from something? Maybe that’s what’s happening in this story. The disciples have just suffered what was probably the biggest disappointment of their lives. If they were like the others, they had given up everything they owned and everything they knew, just to follow Jesus. And now all that seemed to have gone up in smoke – leaving them empty and wondering what to do next. So they walked down the road, away from what had happened, not necessarily to any where, just away from what had happened.

The two on the road to Emmaus are disheartened by the death of Jesus. They say “but we had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.”  What’s interesting is that they say this in the midst of a recital of the basic facts about Jesus. They knew the story – they just had no idea what it really meant. Jesus uses the Hebrew Scriptures to explain their experiences to them. The facts were not enough, the resurrected Christ, gave meaning to the experiences they had had with Jesus before his death.

Though Cleopas and his travelling companion had begun to understand the connection between the crucified Jesus and the Risen Christ, they still did not make the connection between the Risen Christ and the person in their midst.  Talking, speaking, reading, words alone did not make that happen.  That was something that had to be experienced, and all mystical experiences are in some ways beyond words.

Somehow, when Jesus played host at their meal, the universe shifted. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

What follows is fascinating.  The two travelers were able to look back on their experience and see Christ in it. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  Word and sacrament, scripture and experience, work together to bring us into the presence of the Christ, and one is not complete without the other.  They weave in and out; word explaining experience, worship and liturgy both underscoring and heightening the meaning of the story.

Frederick Buechner writes, “Sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only… a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with our being and imagination…what we may see is Jesus himself.”

The promise to us today is that the Risen Christ does come to us in the midst of our dashed hopes and shattered dreams.  The risen Christ comes to us as the living Word, the risen Christ comes to us in the Proclaimed Word, the Risen Christ comes to us in the Lived Word of worship and sacrament, the Risen Christ comes to us in our moments of hospitality and generosity with others, both friends and strangers.  The Risen Christ comes to us, and never leaves us alone.

It is human to suffer disappointment, pain and setbacks in this life. Those things are as unavoidable over the course of a lifetime as is tomorrow’s sunrise. And when those things happen, often we need an Emmaus – an oasis – through which we can process the pain and let the loss sink in before we start to heal. BUT … and this is the real point here … we need to raise our eyes from the road to Emmaus so that we don’t miss the fact that Jesus is walking next to us. Jesus – the risen Lord – is always on the road with us. That’s the one thing He promised – I will be with you always.

And when we have had enough of walking away from our pain, Jesus is there to bring healing to our hearts.