Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Road to Emmaus

I’ve had four open-heart surgeries so far in my life. Up until yesterday afternoon I believed there was a good chance that I was about to have another one very soon. As some of you know I don’t always read people well, but I do generally read doctors very well. I can tell when they are anxious or confused. I know what a doctor acts like right before she or he say, “we need to operate.”
And, that was the way the doctor here in Baltimore had been acting toward me. So, for the last two and a half weeks, I have been waiting on pins and needles to be told that the bell, it tolls for me.
I had thought through some of the implications—Internship would end, I would have to find some place to recuperate from the trauma of having my chest cracked open and my internal organs messed with. My candidacy to ordained ministry would likely be sidetracked.
Yet, even as I thought of all these things I pushed them to the back of my mind. I got back into the game of keeping on keeping on.
I preached on Good Friday and I prayed at our Easter service. And it was a beautiful Easter service. It was a great meal beforehand too…I even ate three helpings of breakfast… but I have to admit some of that was because I thought that might be the last time I would get to eat home cooked bacon for the foreseeable future.
Well, I got some good news yesterday. After extensive study of my insides they decided my heart will hold up for at least another year. It turns out that the reason they were acting like they wanted to cut me open was they wanted to fix something that my surgeons had decided since I was three days old didn’t need fixing.
I didn’t know quite how much this was weighing me down until this burden was lifted from me! Though I didn’t know it at the time my worries about this heart surgery were affecting my attitude, my way of viewing the world, everything! Easter itself didn’t entirely feel like Easter.
But now its like I can see in color again. Its like I’ve been given my life back. Its like its finally Easter for me too.

And, I’d imagine that’s about where Cleopas and his companion are too. Yes, Easter has happened, but it hasn’t happened for them.
But this is the Easter season and we can say without a doubt, “Christ has risen. He has risen indeed. Alleluia.”
It is the Easter Season and I can say this to them and to myself and to all of you, “Easter Continues.” “Easter continues.”
Let us pray:
Lord God, thank you for all you have done and continue to do for us. Thank you for your resurrection power. May my words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Amen

There is one big thing that has often bothered me about the Road to Emmaus—the miraculousness of it. That Jesus isn’t recognized at the start and that Jesus disappears before their eyes after his is recognized.
But after this last two and a half weeks in which I didn’t do a particularly good job of seeing my own level of stress until after the stress was over. After even not really seeing Easter! I get it. I get it!
For them Easter was a second hand account. It was an account of resurrection mediated by an unreliable source. Yes, there were rumors of resurrection, anecdotes about angelic visions, but for them Easter was still becoming. They needed to know Easter Continues.
And that’s what they got. Not the angels or gardeners, but they got something. They were wrestled free from their sorrows by ripples of the resurrection.
You get what I mean by ripples of the resurrection right? Life is a pond, God chucked a big stone off of the tomb of His Son, and the waters are, to this day, still unsettled.
We, like Cleopas, in a sense still live on the Good Friday side of the Gospel message. We too do not have precise here-and-now first hand experiences of the Resurrection, as it was experienced early Sunday morning by those women.
Unlike the women at the tomb we aren’t at the epicenter of the pond when that rock was rolled away. We weren’t when the greatest splash of the spiritual life of humanity happened.
None the less, like them, the ripples upon that water, the ripples and reverberations of resurrection power, still touch us.
Easter Continues.
Easter continues and we just have to keep our eyes and our mind open to signs of His resurrection!

Easter continues as we sulk across the stage of life “full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” and a stranger comes up to us.
This stranger calls us out of our own belly-button-gazing and asks, “What are you talking about?”
We think, “this person has no manners! Can’t he see our sadness?” “What else would we be discussing! Is he seriously the only person on the planet that doesn’t know about what just went down?”
But think about what we’re saying! We are telling the one who has first-person experience of these events a second-hand account of him being handed over!
But this ripple of the resurrection gives Jesus an opportunity here. Its sort of like that reality TV show “Undercover Boss” in which CEO’s are hired on at their own company and get to see how things look from the bottom up.
Jesus is able to ask that famous question, “who do you say I am?” without his disciples knowing it is he who asks.
And we respond, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
In the person of a stranger Easter continues on, rippling out from the empty tomb and into our lives through the presence of unknown people along our walk of faith. We, as the letter to the Hebrews so eloquently puts it, “often entertain angels unaware.”

Easter Continues when this stranger, this Christ who plays dumb with his disciples, switches tactics and tantalizes us by talking about scripture.
And I have to say as a Hebrew Scripture guy myself I’d kill to be on the Road to Emmaus—to see where in “Moses and all the prophets” Jesus finds himself.
Easter continues in scripture because it grounds us in that old old story we love to hear so well! It grounds us in our story.
There are a lot of stories out there. There are stories that tell us if we just consume a few more things we will find salvation. There are stories that tell us violence is redemptive. There are stories that laud loneliness as masculinity and submission as a girl’s grace. There is even Cleopas’ own story—we thought he was the one.
And so we need to be reminded of our own story. It is a story of God’s constant faithfulness toward us, of God loving us so much that even when we kill his Son he comes back and continues to love us.

Easter continues even when we reach our destination for the night. Because we invite the strangers in. Easter continues when we invite strangers in!
When we do evangelism—not because we want our churches full, not because we want our churches to survive, not because we want the ELCA to survive, but because we value hospitality. Easter comes.
Easter comes Because we can say in all honesty that we find life here! Because we want others to have life and have it abundantly. Because we believe in our hearts and in our souls that abundant life is what we are inviting the stranger to here. When we ask the stranger in because we know that we have shelter for the evening. Easter continues.
Easter continues even as things get a little strange. Easter continues in the breaking of the bread—in the tantalizingly short moment in which we are jarred by the presence of Jesus just long enough to realize he’s vanished.
Easter continues in the sharing of a meal the reveals Jesus.
And that shouldn’t be any big surprise for St. John’s. We’re known as the church that eats.
You see we don’t eat together because we’re a bunch of gluttons, but because food and faith have always been intertwined. Easter continues when we get together over food. Grace filled moments happen when we get together over food.
Additionally you can’t talk about breaking bread without considering communion. That too is a ripple of the resurrection. The bread and wine that we eat and drink—proclaims the Lord’s death, and yet speaks of His new life here and now with us and in us!
The center of the breaking of the bread is grace. God’s grace—a physical sign that God is for you and for me! Jesus is actively engaged in entering our existence. When we eat at the altar Jesus shows up. Because as we eat bread we are transformed—we become what we receive—the body of Christ.

Easter continues as we find the fellow faithful and tell then about this stranger we met along the way. About his reading of scripture. About inviting him. About his revealing himself in the bread.
Easter continues right here, with other Christians. Cleopas and his companion aren’t the only ones talking. We aren’t the only ones talking about the ripples of resurrection. We aren’t alone in our experiences of Easter.
When Christians reflect upon our experiences of Jesus with one another Easter continues. When our journey upon the Emmaus road comes into contact with Simon’s experience or the experience of the women at the tomb. When one experience calls to another they eventually sing together in tones of majesty and grandeur. The pond that we are all floating in together makes better sense, the rock that was rolled away from the tomb becomes more real. Easter continues!