May 4, 2014
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Recently, the United Church of Christ has been using the tagline “Whoever you are, Wherever you are on life’s journey, you are Welcome here.” This morning’s Gospel story is about such a journey, and perhaps is sounds familiar.
Two disciples, Cleopas and the other one (and who wouldn’t like to go through all eternity known as “the other one?”), are leaving Jerusalem, getting out of Dodge. There have been reports of an empty tomb and angels appearing and stuff, but people suspect these are just rumors. These two are leaving because not just the one they loved, but all of the hope they had, all the possibility for the restoration if Israel, their whole future was killed on a cross.
Does this sound familiar, traveling in grief? In the midst of our own sadness, our own depression, our own anxiety, our own whatever it is, the bills still need paying and the laundry still needs washing and dinner still needs to be cooked and in the midst of all of this, there are still difficult and important decisions to be made. And so we keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And then Jesus shows up. We see him for who he is, but they don’t. He asks, “What are you talking about?”
And Luke tells us: They stood still, looking sad. Says it all, doesn’t it?
As they go on, Jesus explains to them how the Messiah is not what they expected and how what has happened is in fact the plan. But they still do not know it is him.
I find it comforting that Jesus shows up long before they recognize him. In our own stuff, when we have troubled hearts, before we can even feel the presence of the Lord, he is already with us.
Even in their sadness, they practice hospitality – “Stay with us, for it is night.”
When he was at the table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened,
and they recognized him;
and he vanished from their sight.
Two other times in Luke’s Gospel Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave bread: once when fives loaves and two fish fed five thousand with twelve baskets of leftovers; once in the upper room, when Jesus said: “This is my body…” In these, we see Jesus.
How are our eyes opened? From this story, it would seem that the first way is worship: the inspired interpretation of scripture and the meeting of Jesus in the breaking of the bread: is this not the Word and Sacrament? We can add Bible Study as well:
“Were not our hearts burning within us while
he was talking to us on the road, while he was
opening the scriptures to us?”
By the way, the word used for the opening of their eyes to see Jesus and the opening of scripture to them is the same word.
But we also meet Jesus when the hungry are fed, when the naked are clothed, when the sick and the imprisoned are visited, when the oppressed are set free, when the least of these in our midst are cared for.
We meet Jesus in prayer and praise AND in actions on behalf of our neighbors.
And then Jesus disappears. If the appearance of Christ is the turn from mourning and confusion to joy and understanding, then his disappearance is the reality that Christ is not ours to bid, not ours to control, not owned by us or by the church or by the TV evangelists or the theologians. Jesus has the sovereign freedom of being Lord of Creation and Lord of the Church.
And the two disciples who have walked all day to get to Emmaus RUN back to tell the good news to others.
Have you ever seen a New Orleans Funeral? From the church to the burial the music is slow hymns and dirges. On the way back, the hymns and spirituals are upbeat and joyful and happy. The journey out is mourning; the journey back is celebration.
This is a familiar transition in the Bible. The Psalms speak of it like this:
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. (Psalm 126)
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever. (Psalm 30)
For those who grieve and those who long for a better life, for those who feel no hope or see no future, for those whose plans have come to naught and those whose spirits lie shattered, this is our good news:
Jesus is with us:
Whether we recognize him or not.
Whether we feel his presence or not.
Whether we know what to pray or cannot find the words.
Whether we have found a loving community of support or believe we are all alone in our despair.
Jesus is present already.
If we have trouble seeing him, maybe we need to get busy praying and worshipping or get busy helping others. That is where we will recognize him.
We who are on journeys whose twists and turns frighten us, whose end cannot be seen, whose hearts are heavy, whose spirits are fatigued, whose minds are overwhelmed, I have one word for us: Immanuel.
In Jesus, God is already present with us in the midst of our difficulties, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our heartbreak.
In Luke’s Gospel when Jesus begins his ministry, he stands up in the synagogue and he reads from Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…
He then sits down and says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
So Jesus starts his ministry with these verses. The journey of Cleopas and the other one shows us what we find in the next verses in Isaiah:
…to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
This is the gift of the presence of Jesus. We who go out with sadness will come back rejoicing. We who are overwhelmed will find peace. We who mourn will be anointed with the oil of gladness. And we whose spirits are faint with be clothed with a mantle of praise. For Jesus is with us.
May this scripture be fulfilled in our hearing.
Thanks be to God.