Sermon: EASTER 3, April 26th, 2020
In the Name...
A man bought his grandmother a CD player and some CD's so she wouldn't have to use her old cassette tape player anymore. He explained to her how to use it, but, a few days later, she called and said she was having trouble with it. She couldn't get the CD's to play on both sides.
Looking at the Scriptures, though, I take some comfort to find that even Jesus' closest friends and associates didn't always "get it" the first time, either. It's easy to imagine the disciples listening to Jesus tell all his parables and wrinkling their brows as they tried to take in concepts totally outside their paradigms. Like most of us, it was hard enough just trying to figure out the things they saw, felt, and touched on a daily basis.
And it can be hard for us, too. It's easy to put some distance between ourselves and Jesus' teaching about, for example, things "not of this world," and "kingdoms within us." I mean, they're comforting words to read, in a vaguely spiritual sense, but, it can be hard to figure out what practical value they have.
That's why, when things seem to be falling apart in peoples' lives, it's easy for them to react by saying things like, “I just don’t get it. If God is such a loving God, then why does he let bad things to happen to me? And if God is such a powerful God, then why doesn't he keep bad things from happening to everybody?” When we're in crisis mode, we focus on the crisis and it can take some time before we connect with Jesus.
And that's the scene in today's Gospel. Two followers of Jesus are on the road to a town called Emmaus. Now, we're reading this story 2,000 years, and a couple of weeks, after that first Easter, but, we need to remember that this encounter on the Emmaus road happened that same day the tomb of Jesus was found empty, the same day stories about angels and strange messages were spreading, the same day the disciples' mood swung from depression to panic, from sadness to terror.
And at some point that roller-coaster Sunday, Cleopas and a friend decided to head out of town. Why? With all that was happening, why leave then?
Because, these guys aren't out for a stroll. They're fleeing. They're running away. Social distancing? Their conversation on the road was not idle banter to pass the time. It was intense. They were struggling to make sense of all that had happened and was going on. They were afraid. They were angry. They were hurt. They were in shock. Emmaus was just a small village a few miles northwest of Jerusalem, but, it could have been any place - north, south, east or west - just somewhere to go to get away from it all.
Emmaus, you see, is really just another name for where we run in a crisis. We all have our Emmaus', the places we go to escape the painful events of life, the places we go to hide when life doesn't make sense.
Maybe it's the movies, a casino, or a mall. Emmaus may be an activity, like buying new clothes or a new car, or drinking or eating more than we should. Emmaus is whatever we do, wherever we go, to forget bad times.
But, the road to Emmaus is where Christ can meet us as he met Cleopas and his friend. We're told they didn't recognize him at first. Well, he was dead and he wasn't supposed to be there. Maybe their minds refused to accept what logic said was impossible. Maybe they were so depressed they couldn't emotionally handle one more thing. So, there he is and they don't "get it".
No wonder Jesus had to give them a jolt by insulting them, because that's what he did. Our translations are so polite, "Oh, slow of heart." That could be the first line of a poem. I'm told, though, by Greeks, that what Jesus said, "anoetoi kai bradeis" comes out as language I can’t really use in church. Hey, that's what Greeks say. But, sometimes a slap in the face is exactly what a person in shock needs.
Having slapped them, though, Jesus doesn't try to turn them around right then and there. He can see that it's going to take some time to get them to calm down. So, he walks along to Emmaus with them, and he takes them through the Scriptures step-by-step, and he helps them understand that all the things they've seen and experienced really had a reason and a purpose. He helps them grasp that they had not been abandoned by God and that evil had not won. He helps them see God’s love in all things, even in their pain. He helps them feel that God was with them.
And as he spoke, as he taught, their hearts burned within them and they began to open up. In other words, something was starting to click, and their hearts figured it out before their minds did. We know how that happens. Sometimes our hearts can know, can feel, things while our minds are still struggling with logical objections.
Eventually, they reach their place of safety and get something to eat. Jesus sat with them, prayed, broke bread, and, in that instant, their minds were opened. They understood, for the first time, who had been with them the whole time and all at once they "got it". Heart, mind and spirit, they saw the risen Lord. His whole ministry flashed before them, his teachings, his parables, his miracles, his suffering, and his death. All of it was in the living presence before them and in that presence their lives were redeemed and they rushed back to Jerusalem with the news, "We have seen the Lord".
Who, today is on the road to an Emmaus? Each of us could probably share something that has happened, or is happening, in our life, which has led us to say, “God, I just don’t get it.” But, if we walk to Emmaus with Jesus, and listen to what he has to say, we'll find our slow hearts replaced with burning hearts and we'll turn back and face whatever it is with a new sense of strength and purpose.
The risen Christ is with us, in times of joy and sorrow, in celebration and crisis. The risen Christ is with us, in all things and through all things, redeeming all things and renewing all things. The risen Christ is with us in the breaking of the bread and the healing of our hearts. The risen Christ is with us whenever we feel like running to Emmaus.
He's alive and well, and we have seen him. I think we can all "get" that.
In the Name...