Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 30, 2017

2017.04.30 “Walking That Emmaus Road” – Luke 24: 13 – 35

Central United Methodist Church
Walking That Emmaus Road
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 24: 13 – 35
The Third Sunday of Easter
April 30th, 2017

SupperatEmmaus

The Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio, 1601. The National Gallery, London

“That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”

He said, “What has happened?”

They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?”

They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! The Master has been raised up — Simon saw him!”

Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.” – Luke 24: 13 – 35, from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

On the 3rd Sunday of Easter we break out of the locked room we were in on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, and take a walk on the road to Emmaus.

As we know from experience, there is a difference between a solitary walk, where we think about things that trouble us, and a walk we take with someone else, where conversation takes our mind off those things and makes the walk more pleasant.

The walk we go on today is a walk with two companions, one named Cleopas, the other unnamed. Unfortunately, this is not a happy walk, and does not take our mind off things, but only makes them worse, as our companions pour out their hearts about their shattered dreams. Cleopas and his companion had poured their whole lives into following Jesus, and then, not only was he killed, he was crucified as a common thief, humiliated and tortured as they watched helplessly. Now it was over, all of it a shattered dream.

We have all been there. In a recent Christian Century, Jeffrey M. Gallagher gave some examples:  the Cleveland Indian’s locker room after a ten-inning game seven. Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters early on November 9th. The emergency room after an unsuccessful tracheotomy. A quiet office after a pink slip on the desk. A lonely bathroom where a plus sign just won’t appear on a pregnancy test. One way or another, one time or another, we have been there. (Jeffrey M. Gallagher, Living by the Word, The Christian Century, Aprll 12, 2017)

Some say Emmaus might not even be an actual geographical place, but it is still a place we know well. Frederick Buechner says: “Emmaus is the place where we throw up our hands and say ‘Let the whole damned thing go to hang. It makes no difference anyway.’” While for some the Road to Emmaus is only seven miles, for others it feels more like 70 or 700 or 7,000 miserable, endless miles.

As we walk, we are joined by a stranger. It is Jesus, but Cleopas and his friend don’t know that. How could they not? Are tears clouding their vision? Are they so depressed they can’t take their eyes off their feet? Were they in such despair they can’t see clearly anymore? Unrecognized, Jesus says to them what former President Obama said last week here in Chicago at his first official appearance after his post-presidency vacation: “Hey guys, anything happen while I been gone?”

Has anything happened? Have you been on Mars, or in some undisclosed location? Have we found the ONLY person who has not heard what happened to Jesus of Nazareth? Then – after describing what happened – they added with a big sigh, in words that land with a dull thud – “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”

In so many areas of life, we join Jesus’ disappointed disciples to confess: “We had hoped.” James Somerville, for example, talks about our hopes for church. Some of us with long memories remember the “The Churchgoing Boom” which coincided with the Baby Boom (1946-1964). Soldiers and sailors came home from World War II, married high school sweethearts, moved into houses with white picket fences and had babies – lots of them. Like their parents before them they took those babies to church, and nurseries and Sunday school classrooms overflowed. Many churches – like Central – built bigger sanctuaries and added space to accommodate the crowds. For Central, peak membership was 1964, when we had 1,300 members.

That was then; and this is now. Now a typical Sunday morning “crowd” (especially on a rainy Third Sunday of Easter) could fit into a large Sunday school classroom.

What happened? As Somerville puts it, the tide turned: the same cultural forces that pushed people in the door of the church now pulls them out. But we haven’t given up. Whenever a Staff-Parish committee introduces a new pastor to a congregation we hope this one will be the Messiah, the one who can bring the crowds back, who can make it 1955 again. A few years later, when we walk away from that pastor’s “crucifixion,” we sigh and say: “We had hoped that he/she would be the One.”

But – like Cleopas and his companion on the Road to Emmaus – our hopes are too small, just like their hopes were too small. Maybe what we need is not a Messiah who can make it 1955 again, but a risen Lord who can change our lives, the church, and the world again. Which – as Jesus explains to those two on the Road to Emmaus in what’s been called the World’s Greatest Bible Study (fantastic Bible study, just the best Bible study!), this was God’s plan from the beginning: not just to redeem Israel, but to change them and us and the whole world.

Finally, they reach their destination, invite him in, and sit down to eat. They ask the stranger to do the honors, and suddenly the Guest becomes the Host: Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. SUDDENLY THEIR EYES WERE OPENED. Not when he joined them, walked with them, explained the Scriptures to them; only when he took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread. In this way – as portrayed in this Caravaggio masterpiece, The Supper at Emmaus – they were startled into Easter faith.

Last Sunday, on a Sunday off, Michele and I went down to Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago. We heard their pastor, the Rev. Shannon Kershner, and even got to meet her briefly afterwards, when we commiserated how important it is as a pastor to take the 2nd Sunday of Easter off, which I did and she wished she had.

But before Shannon Kershner came to Fourth Presbyterian in 2012, their pastor was John Buchanan, who was their pastor for 16 years. Did you know that every Sunday John Buchanan was pastor he said as a prayer at the beginning of the sermon: “Startle us, O God.” Why? Buchanan says:

“Startle us,” because religion can become routine even though it is about the stunning ideas that there is a God who created us and everything that is, that the world itself is full of the beauty and glory of its creator, that human beings are created in God’s image, that God came to live among us in the man Jesus and in him has promised to be with us and love us every day of our lives and beyond and to free us from anything that oppresses, confines, threatens, even the fear of death and death itself. Somehow we manage to make that boring. So I pray it because I, too, need the reminder that the world is alive with God, our God is a God of surprises and unlikely grace and blessed intrusions into our lives.  (Rev. John Buchanan, Hold to the Good, January 29, 2012)

Still we are startled – as Cleopas and his companion were startled – in the breaking of bread, the celebration of Holy Communion or the Eucharist – ever since. This is why it’s so important, and why we do it every Sunday.

Author and Franciscan priest Richard Rohr imagines Luke – at the time of writing his Gospel – responding to this question: “Okay, it’s the year 80 already, we don’t see Jesus anymore, so how is he present to us? Luke responds, “He’s present in the Eucharist. We know him in this celebration, in the ongoing appropriate of the story. We can’t sit down at the table like the first disciples did. I wasn’t there myself, but we can sit at a new table in our town and experience the Lord’s Supper just as they did, and know him just as they did — and our hearts will burn within us.”

I would go one step further. As Henri Nouwen once pointed out, when we do this, it is not just the Bread and the Cup that is consecrated, but we ourselves. God takes us, blesses us, breaks us (as Jesus’ disciples were broken), and gives us to the world. What happened on the Road to Emmaus, happens every Sunday. (1) We are met on our journey, (2) We hear the scriptures, (3) we share in a meal that reveals Christ, and (4) and are sent out to share and live the good news.”

So you see, this is a great story, a powerful story, a living story, because the Road to Emmaus is still a road we walk today.

Only the older ones among us will remember the late saintly Francis Cardinal Bernadin. In February of 1988, Cardinal Bernadin preached on the Chicago Sunday Evening Club. His text was this story, and he said:

“My life is not so very different from your own. My specific responsibilities as a pastor may vary from yours, but I face the same basic human issues as you. I get caught up in the maelstrom of my work or ministry. I am sometimes bewildered and perplexed by rapid changes in society, both at home and around the world. It’s no secret that I live — by reason of my office and, some tell me, by my very nature — in the “fast lane”. It’s just as easy for me to lose my way on our common Christian pilgrimage as it is for anyone else.”

“Like you, I have sometimes wondered, “Is this all there is to life?” My thirty-six years as a priest and twenty-two as a bishop have been marked by a search for the Lord, by a sincere concern to live my life in accordance with His gospel. But, so often, my search seemed to lead me into darkness rather than light. I felt buffeted and bombarded by problems associated with my ministry. I often felt I was walking alone.”

“Then one day I encountered the Emmaus story in a new way, and it had a profound impact on my life …. As I reflected upon it in prayer, I began to realize how often I looked elsewhere for the Lord rather than right in the midst of each day’s journey!

“In light of the Emmaus story, all of us come to recognize that we do not walk alone! The Lord Jesus is with us. Through His word He helps us keep on the right path. Through the breaking of bread each day He feeds the deepest hungers of our heart and spirit …. The Emmaus story helps us understand the Lord’s presence where, often before, we had experienced His absence …. From this beautiful story we also learn to recognize Jesus in the “strangers” we encounter on our journey, that is, in our fellow pilgrims, in all our brothers and sisters ….” My prayer for you is that you will find in it your own story, as I have.” (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1928–1996), “The Journey to Mature Discipleship”, The Chicago Sunday Evening Club, Program #3120, First air date February 14, 1988)

This too, is my prayer for you and for me: that we find our story in this story; that as we walk our own Emmaus Road, we will discover that Christ walks with us. May our hearts burn as we hear his voice speaking to us; may he be recognized among us in the breaking of bread; taken, blessed, broken, and sent, may we go forth to serve him in the world. Amen.

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Responses

  1. Just got the email. Looks good.

    Kathy Shine


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