Daniel Bonnell was kind enough to give me permission to post his artwork here – -a piece that has moved me since I first saw it.
It seems that we spend such a long time preparing for Easter to come. There are Ash Wednesday, the 40 days of Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday to get through before in the blink of an eye, the day comes and goes. We spent weeks examining and preparing ourselves for this day, correcting our relationships with God – -all in anticipation for the Bog Day – Easter! We woke up, proclaimed that “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed,” enjoyed a meal and candy and then what? Did we venture back into our pre-Easter lives, forgetting the hope of the empty tomb? Do we feel the post-celebration let-down that can happen after a big celebration?
The season of Advent prepared us for the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. The season of Lent prepared us for the day we remember Christ’s death, and the ongoing season in which we celebrate his resurrection. The season that we are still in the midst of – still rejoicing, still celebrating, still participating in. Our hymns still come from the section of the hymnal marked “Easter” and Ted and I wear white stoles during the traditional services. The text for today is from a space in time that is not three weeks after the resurrection of Christ, which is where we locate ourselves today, but takes place three days after his death. In the Gospel of Luke, from which we read today, it is still Easter morning. The wounds of Holy week are still fresh, the emotions are still raw. Many are still grieving what had happened. Many were grieving what had not happened. In the death of Jesus, their hopes and dreams had also died. Wasn’t this man who was crucified supposed to be the one to bring about the regime change? Wasn’t he the one who was going to change the political system and be the new ruler? What had gone wrong? In addition to those feelings, the normal feelings of grief and loss that accompany the death of a friend were also present that day.
Cleopas and the other traveler woke up that third day and looked at each other with one question – now what do we do? They had heard the news from the women at the tomb. They had heard the stories about the angels, and Peter’s confirmation that the body was indeed gone, and linen wrapping was all that was left in its place. But now what should they do? Their plan was to go back home, back to their everyday, pre-Jesus lives. They took to the road planning to go back and pick up where they had left off before they had met this man called Jesus. Back to fishing nets and abacus machines and tax deadlines. Back to the human condition.
They took to the road. It was seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They wandered and ambled, discussing the events from the week prior. Bruce Epperly describes a crystal paperweight he was given by a friend with the words solvitur ambulando engraved on it. “It will all be solved in the walking.” Have you ever found that – -sometimes a good walk is just what we need to clear our heads, to work out a problem, to just think something through. Sometimes when we have something big and serious to think about, putting it on the back burner of our brains and just moving our bodies makes a way for solutions to present themselves. Sometimes taking while walking with our friends also offers a way to help us sort things out. These two disciples had a seven mile walk in front of them. A full day’s journey to figure out how to answer the question, “so…now what?” They had time to consider, contemplate, mull over their lives. They probably spent some time telling stories about their time with Jesus. “Do you remember the day we were with him and he cast the demons out of those people into the pigs? And then sent the pigs running off the cliff into the sea? The people in that town were so mad at us! I thought we would never get out alive! I’m still scared to go back there!” “Remember the time he sent us out two by two and told us not to take anything we didn’t need, and you were trying to hide an extra snack in your bag just in case? Wow, was he not happy with you when he found out!”
And then, HE appeared to them. Just walked right up to them on the road and interrupted their conversation – -“what are ya’ll talking about?” We know who it was, Luke knew who it was – it was Jesus himself. But for some reason, the two were kept from recognizing their messiah, their savior. However, this question was astounding enough to stop them in their tracks along the road. If these were modern times, I could imagine them asking the question like this, “Seriously? Seriously, you haven’t heard about what happened in the last week?” Jesus answers, “No, what has happened?” and they begin to tell their story in response to this seemingly innocent question.
Of course he knew what had happened – -it happened to him. This was the man who was tried, convicted, crucified, dead, buried and resurrected. If anyone could tell the story, it was Jesus. Yet he asks these two – -“what has happened in these days?” It reminds me of when my teachers would use the Socratic method to teach, asking guided questions of students and allowing the students to learn through their answers and responses to the questions. Perhaps Jesus is re-assuming his role as Rabbi, teaching as they travel. Or, maybe Jesus is asking questions he already knows the answers to as a way to determine what these two think or believe about the events that have happened. If you ask a child and an adult to “tell me about your trip to the grocery store” you may get very different answers to the questions – one may describe in vivid detail the prices of each item, how long the trip took, that one item that is always hard to find, and how exciting it was to see that a favorite fruit is now in season. The other will probably describe riding in the cart and seeing all the brightly colored boxes on the shelves, seeing all the strangers, wanting to get more cookies and the yellow juice boxes, not the blue ones, and how the cashier told you to have a good day when you left. Neither is wrong, they are just different perspectives. The same question elicited a different response, triggered different memories. Perhaps Jesus was trying to guide their conversation in another direction with his questions – -towards the meaning of his death and resurrection. To get them to understand the purpose for themselves. Questions can serve a lot of different purposes. I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and asked a question that I certainly should know the answer to – why do we come to church? I knew what I thought the answer was, but I was curious to hear what the group thought, what their perspective was, what was important to them about church, and how their answers could inform my thinking. I wonder if that was what Jesus was doing when he asked his questions – in a way trying to move the disciples thoughts past their experience of the Holy Week events and into the bigger picture of it all – to the fact that Jesus did not walk out of the tomb, but was resurrected, just as he said he would be, and as the scriptures foretold.
Jesus listened as the disciples told their tale, as they described their heartbreak at the death of the one they thought was the redeemer of Israel. He listened as they glossed over the details that today was the third day since his death and the tomb was empty. He patiently listened as they said the women did not see him in the tomb. He heard in the tone of their voices that nothing had really changed, nor would it. But, Jesus knew as he listened, that they just did not grasp the significance of what had really happened. These two were asking “now what” as if the end had come, not a new beginning. Finally, Jesus has had enough. He begins to tell them the story from the beginning. The very beginning. He starts with Moses and the prophets and tells them the whole account of why this day mattered so much, and interprets himself through the scriptures to them. He breaks down the Biblical code for them, and does everything but slap on a “My Name is Jesus” name tag as they walk. But still, they do not recognize him.
Why didn’t they know him? Why didn’t they recognize him? What blinded the eyes of these two men from seeing the one they so longed to see, the one they mourned, the one they grieved over? He was standing right there, right there in front of them and they didn’t recognize him. They keep walking, they keep talking, and as they enter the village, Jesus is ahead of them – it looks as though he is going to go on ahead to the next place. The urge him, strongly, to stay with them for the night, to eat with them, to remain where it is safe. Perhaps they have understood more than he realized – -they are inviting the stranger in, inviting in the unknown man to dine at their table, to break bread with them and share the cup. He enters the house, and then it happens…sitting at the table, he assumes his traditional role. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, shares it. And something is triggered in those gathered there. A memory. They have seen this before. Not someone else doing this, but these hands, this very body. They have seen this man say these words. In this ritual is the memory. The taking, blessing, breaking, giving. They know this intimately. They have been at the table with this man so many times before, and then they know. Without a doubt. They are sitting with the one they wanted to see so badly – they sit and dine with Jesus, the one who gave his body for them. In that moment comes recognition, and in that recognition is faithfulness, and in that faithfulness is space for new memories and possibilities. The question of “now what?” suddenly looks different. The answer is not to go back, back to fishing nets and tax deadlines and the old way of life they knew before Jesus. The answer is to move forward into a world that is different because he was in it.
And as soon as they recognize him, he is gone – physically – from them. But they are not the same as they were when they sat down. The presence of the Risen Christ has changed them, as it changes each of us. The Easter Season is a time for us to recognize the Risen Christ in our everyday lives. This is the Christ in whom we have our hope, in whom we place our faith. When we say we are people who know what it is to have grace, it is because of Christ. As the two walked on the road, Christ was with them, but it was not until they recognized him, that the two were changed. Luke does not answer the question for us, “why didn’t they recognize him earlier?” The two knew the story, they knew who they sought, they knew their Bible and theology, and yet did not recognize him when they needed him most. One of my favorite stories seems appropriate given the weather in the past few weeks, but also shows the point. Once there was a man who had a house. One night when he was watching the news on television, the weather forecaster announced that a storm and flood was coming and people needed to evacuate immediately. But the man said, “Oh no, not me. I have faith and God will save me.” That night it started to rain. It rained and rained and rained. About midnight, there was a knock on the door. It was the sheriff’s department coming to see if the house had been evacuated. When the man opened the door, water came in over the threshold. The sheriff told the man he needed to evacuate immediately –the flood was coming and it would be bad. If he did not go now, the police would not be able to come back and get him out. The man declined, saying, “Oh, no. I have faith and God will save me.” The sheriff left and the rain continued. The waters rose quickly in the house, and eventually covered the first story. The man climbed to the roof of the house, and clung to the chimney. His neighbor rowed by in a boat, calling out for the man to get in so that they could row to safety. “Oh no, not me. I am a man of faith. I have faith that God will save me.” The water rose, and he climbed to the top of the chimney. A helicopter flew overhead, and hovered over the man. They dropped down a basket for the man to climb into, and he refused to get in, saying once again, “oh no, I have faith. God will save me.” Eventually, the waters overcame the man and he had nothing left to hold onto, and he drowned. When he got to heaven, God was waiting for him, shaking his head in disbelief. “what are you doing here?” God asked, “You weren’t supposed to be here yet?” The man said to God, “I am a man of faith – -I had faith that you were going to save me – -what happened?” God laughed, a great big laugh. “I sent you a weather forecaster, a sheriff’s deputy, a roof to rest on and a helicopter to escape in. What more did you need?”
Even though his faith was strong, he did not recognize the Lord at work around him. How many times have you seen that in your life or someone else’s? The times when Jesus is fully walking the road, accompanying us, and we just don’t recognize it for what it is. Yes, as the people who know the risen Christ, we know that there are others who will help us see him when we can’t. Even if we feel alone or isolated, even if we struggle to see Christ at work in our own lives, we have others who can help us see that. Cleopas and his friend were not alone that day – they had each other. Even when they left Jerusalem, they left together. They traveled as a team, and Jesus walked with both of them. When they dined, they dined together, and when they had the good news to share of seeing Jesus, they raced back to Jerusalem and shared it with the eleven, who were also sharing their good news with each other. This is good news that moves from isolation to community. The news of seeing the risen Christ cannot be contained and must be shared immediately with others. The community together will rejoice in this good news. Suddenly the seven mile trek that seemed so long earlier in the day took no time at all to complete. We too share the good news of the Easter season as a community. As a community of faith, and as a church family, we find ways to show the hope we find in the risen Christ to one another. We remind others of the presence of the risen Christ and the hope of the Gospel when they may not see it. We cannot contain this news individually, and so we share it corporately. When one of us walks the road and cannot recognize that Jesus walks with us, we remind each other. Our faith is not individual, but communal. We are all on this road, recognizing Christ together. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Rev. Julie A. Jensen
May 8, 2011
FPC Cartersville, GA