When you think about it, it’s hard to understand how two of Jesus’ disciples would not recognize him. I imagine that they had spent time enough time with him when he was alive to know what he looked like.
But there they are on the road, the morning of the resurrection, and Jesus is walking along slide them. Maybe they are blinded by their grief, by their disappointment in the whole situation. Their hearts heavy with the devastating news about the death of Jesus. Perhaps they have already heard from the women who arrived earlier that morning and reported that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive and yet- still were focused on his death. They had hoped that Jesus would indeed be the one to redeemed the oppressed people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend, could not understand how Jesus could, in fact, come alive and how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them, it was all over, it was time to go home.
But “a funny thing happened to them on the road to Emmaus” to borrow a phrase. And their disappointment turns to wonderment. Not recognizing him in on the road, they invited him to sit and eat, a sign of gracious hospitality that is reminiscient of other messengers who brought good news of God’s work such as when Abraham welcomed the strangers into his tent was told of God promise that he and Sarah would give birth to a child. Is nothing impossible for God?” the question was asked.
And here, at the evening meal, nothing is impossible for God. The stranger takes bread, says the blessing and then breaks it to share and they suddenly began to understand. WE cannot know what wen through their mind that night, whether they recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days; remembering how he shared with them the stories of the prophets along the Emmaus road as he also shared with him the teachings of the prophets in times past.
And as suddenly as their eyes were opened- he is gone. We don’t know if Jesus vanished right before their eyes, but we DO know that they had experienced the resurrected Christ. Having witnessed the events of the life and death of the man from Nazareth and now having witnessed him alive in their very midst, they were forever changed. They were not the same as they once were, they can never simple “go back” to a time before. There is only now and there is only the future.
In these great 50 days of Easter Season, these are the days we are to spend on the road to Emmaus, talking, wondering, moving back through our lives. We are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. We are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. We are asked to remember and tell the stories about what God has done. Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and the story of God’s Dream for creation and of the Eternal Word made Flesh in Jesus, our Christ.
And when we hear this story of Jesus being at table with his disciples, we recall that powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction.
The road to Emmaus is a road that is both Word and Sacrament. Of Jesus, nourishing us in our journey through life by opening the scriptures to us and of Jesus, nourishing us around tables at which he gathers us.
Word and Sacrament are both critically important to us as Epsicopalians. And I know many of you who are watching or listening miss Communion. It is a vitally important part of our Church’s expression of faith as well as our own.
The two on the Road or Emmaus wonder in awe after Jesus disappeared- they said, were not our hearts burning while we were traveling and he was talking to us on the road?
And now our hearts are burning at the prospect of being able to worship again in the church with Holy Communion. I promise you that we will again gather here around this table for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. There are active discussions on how we might do this and what that might look like in the near future. We do not know when this will be but it certainly wont be until after mid-May.
But until we are able to feast on the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we will have to settle for feasting on the Word of God. For even before there was the Bread and Wine, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” My point being my brothers and sisters is that the word of God still resonates in our minds and hearts, and enables us to experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. It is that same word of God that comes to us in Acts through Peter’s speech that has hearts repent and turn to God. 1 Peter that reminds us that we “have been born new, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring words of God.” Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. “Wasn’t our hearts burning on the road?” they said to each other.
How will you walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play? Allowing that imperishable seed of love planted inside of us to grow and flourish?
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and see life re-born. The resurrected Jesus who walks with us and talks with us will show us that the forces of evil and destruction- that this global pandemic- will not prevail against the power of love.
When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion?
When we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst, we will respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus. We will respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to challenge what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?
The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. I pray we will become like them. That our hearts, will burn with the desire of the resurrected Jesus. That we will continue to nourish ourselves on the Sacrament of the Word so that when we gather again to break bread, Christ will be no stranger. That the love that continues to burn in us will be a light that others will use to recognize God’s loves.
The gift of Emmaus awaits. Wherever you are on that road, pray that when the Risen Lord comes to you, your eyes may be opened so you can behold him in all his glory; and then, renewed in faith, run to tell others the Good News. Amen.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen- the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.
It is a joy filled proclamation. It is a proclamation that is rooted in mystery, a proclamation that defies logic. We who are weary with the weight of our present time, we have the audacity to shout words of praise.
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Given that we put those words away for the season of lent, it now first and foremost on our lips. But would those be the first words we utter if faced with the reality that Mary faced?
In our Gospel, Mary is caught up in her grief. Her first words are not words of praise. She speaks to the man whom she assumes the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Even though Jesus continued to talk about his resurrection among his disciples, Mary is stuck in a feedback loop. She is thinking, where is Jesus? Where is he, where did he go? Did someone take him? In fact she runs to the disciples to tells them, “They have taken the lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.”
She is looking for Jesus, where SHE thinks he should be- in the tomb, and when she doesn’t find him there, she weeps. She misses the angel dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been laid. “Woman,” she is asked, “ why are you weeping?”
She replies, “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” This is a long way from a shout of Alleluia!
Mary is caught up in what the rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer describes as “crucifixion vision.”
Crucifixion vision is a way of seeing and perceiving the world that makes us thing that Sin and Death are in charge. Crucifixion vision tricks us into wanting go back into the past, where we long for a “time before.” This vision has us saying I wish we could go back to the good old days when we were younger.
The Crucifixion vision drives deeper the wedge between eh haves and have-nots. It makes us hoard toilet paper, making sure we get ours, ever mind anybody else.
Crucifixion vision assumes that the partisan divide is too great and nothing will ever change in our politics. That the democrats are to blame for our lot in life or that the republicans are to blame for our lot in life; that one is a loser unless one comes in first place regardless of effort.
Death is the end, you can’t take it with you when you die, so you’d better do all you can now to get as much happiness as you can. It has us taking selfies as if to say that it didn’t really happen unless it’s on Instagram or no one would believe you.
I think you begin to see the trend here. This kind of Crucifixion vision is centered on a fictional reality rooted in values that the world tells us we should have.
The values of the world told Mary that Jesus was dead.
His body was placed in the tomb and it should still be there, so if it wasn’t then someone must have taken it. She is paralyzed and stuck. And this doesn’t make Mary weak- rather it makes her human, she speaks the same words we say nearly 2000 years later: Where is the body? where is Jesus?
Can we ever return to a time that was before the COVID Pandemic? Realistically no, no more so than we could return to a time before 9./11 or Pearl Harbor/ or the Overthrow of the Kingdom. Our reality is different. And we still greive the loss of what was.
Like Mary, we are at risk of getting caught in a trap. Like a black hole that warps the fabric of space and time such that nothing can escape it, we look at the bands of cloth in the tomb and we cannot see the angels in front of us. We see only the loss, only what is missing. We cannot see Christ in our midst.
That is until… Mary…. Mary…..
And that’s when it happens: Jesus calls her by name! “Mary!” And when she hears it, she is overcome! She cries out, “Rabbouni! Teacher!”
The Easter moment is one of profound change. She no longer sees that Jesus is “missing’ he is right there. That what he promised at the Last Supper has come to pass!
Mary brings us face to face with the depths of our humanity. Her witness is a mosaic of the human experience—grief and joy; uncertainty and affirmation; depression and determination. This is the true witness of Easter!
Even in the depths of our despair and grief, when things just seem to keep piling up with no end in sight, and even when we just don’t know if we believe it anymore, the God made known to us in Jesus Christ has a way of showing up where we least expect him!
But if we’re not careful, we’ll close the book. And end the story right there. Done deal. Mary recognizes the Resurrected Lord and everyone lives happily ever after. All tied up with the pretty bow like a Hallmark movie.
It is then also distant and historical. It is something that happened way back then to a woman named Mary. It doesn’t happen to us, the resurrection is not happening now.
But it is. We don’t’ say Alleluia Christ WAS risen, we say Christ IS risen.
And Mary? Her role is not done yet. We soon realize that Jesus has a job for her, a mission in fact. He says to her
“…Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The moment that Mary leaves the garden, the Good News of Easter gets loose and begins to transform the world!
Mary bears witness to the fact that, even in the face of death itself, God will have the last word!
Because of her witness to the resurrection Christ, Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles. And she continues to teach us that grief and joy, uncertainty and affirmation, are all inescapable parts of our humanity. She teaches us that our vision can change; that our lives of faith aren’t about success or opportunities for advancement; rather, they are holy mysteries that will surprise, unsettle, and transform us. But most important of all, she teaches us that in the resurrection of our Lord Christ, we know that love, hope, and peace will ultimately prevail!
And so, in this Eastertide, may we proclaim that Christ is risen.
The vision that holds us back from seeing the glory of God revealed in the resurrected Christ must be left behind the bands of cloth that like in the darkness of the tomb.
We are people of light. We worship Christ who is the Light of the World . Alleluia! May we proclaim that the risen Christ is not simply in our homes or wherever it is we are, but here, present in the world around us. May we proclaim it, not simply with our lips, but also with our hands and hearts. And as we live into the joy and promise of Easter, may we go forth into the world, looking for the Resurrected Christ in places we may not expect.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.