Lessons of for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; and, Luke 24:13-35
During a certain class break, I had gone to the college coffee shop for a pick-me-up. While there I met an Italian gentleman and struck up a conversation. All the talk of the college was about the incoming new rector, so I asked if he’d ever met him. But before allowing a response I launched into a monologue of praise, telling my new friend all about the exploits, accomplishments, and brilliance of the new biblical scholar taking the helm of the Gregorian University. Next thing I know, Professor Rosetti came in, “Robert, good, I see you’ve met our new rector!” Oh my, what an embarrassment! I must have read dozens of articles and heard him speak on more than one occasion but I did not recognize him when he was right there in front of me.
Honestly, this narrative in Luke’s gospel sometimes confuses me. How could someone who had known Jesus not recognized him? It seems to me that Jesus was pretty unique. It is hard to understand how two faithful disciples, having traveled with Jesus, heard Jesus preach, and seen Jesus act, could walk side by side with Jesus and not recognize him.
Did disappointment blind their eyes or maybe despair cloud their hearts? While still in Jerusalem, they had learned of the devastating news about Jesus’ death. They had also heard from the women and the other disciples that Jesus was alive, raised from the dead. But, they continued to focus on his death. There had been a hope that Jesus would redeem Israel from the oppression of empire. But this Jesus was not to be the one. How he could be alive? How could the transformation of life Jesus had begun continue?
For them it was still Good Friday.
They left for their home in Emmaus and experienced something on the road that would change their disappointment into joy and hope. You see, when those two disciples heard Jesus bless the bread and when they saw him break the bread and when Jesus gave the bread to them, they suddenly understood. They remembered Jesus’ glory in his final days! They thought back to how they gained new insight on the road as Jesus told the great stories of Israel’s past and compared them with himself. There was an insight, then, into a reality that they had missed.
And then Jesus disappeared from them! But it seemed to matter less now for they somehow knew that they had experienced the presence of the resurrected Christ. Even though they were living in disappointment, they somehow came to terms with the impossible, discovering for themselves what the women at the tomb had witnessed and reported.
Like those disciples in this account, we can miss the resurrected Jesus in our midst if we are not careful. But, like them, if we are ready to recall the deeper truths of the divine story, both in scripture and in our lives, then we can be transformed as they were.
One such place of preparation and readiness is our experience at communal worship, by which we repeat (metaphorically) the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We hear the stories of our God proclaimed, and we place them in context – the context of Jesus and the context of our lives. And then we remember the Last Supper when Jesus gave his closest followers the bread and the wine, pronouncing them his body and blood given to the world. In remembering, we are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. In recalling, we are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. As we do so, we recall and relive the most glorious reality of knowing the resurrected Jesus and feeling that we are as much in the presence of God as were the disciples of old.
In communal worship, present in form in the experience of the two men on the road to Emmaus, we experience both word and sacrament as remembrance of the resurrected Jesus. The church recognizes both word and sacrament as critically important, evidenced in setting the Holy Eucharist into two equal parts in the prayer book: “The Word of God” and “The Holy Communion.” In books, texts, and documents, font size is important, demonstrating titles and importance of content. And, when it comes to the Holy Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer, both of those titles are the same font size, revealing an equality of importance and value in word and sacrament for our spiritual lives.
So, note the flow of our worship: We hear the scriptures and experience them interpreted for us. This sets a specific, weekly context for the communion in which we recall Jesus instituting the special meal, meant for each of us. With the word of God still resonating in our minds, drawing out the meaningful contexts of our lives, we reach the altar rail and literally experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each other. It all focuses on the resurrected Jesus in our presence. Everything is as it should be as we recall in peace the moment that expresses all the values of God.
This experience empowers and energizes us to walk the rest of the journey with the resurrected Jesus, at work and home, at school and play, as a daily reality of recalling Jesus in our presence.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our discouragement and disappointment, our sense of being lost is transformed by an ordinary encounter so that we can go to where Jesus is leading us and sending us. The encounter of two disciples with the resurrected Jesus came in the commonest, most familiar of ways. They came to know him walking and talking on a road, and sitting down with him to eat and pray. We encounter him, too, in common, familiar ways. The resurrected Jesus is with us, available to us, within us – always, as we live our daily lives.
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? Can we open our hearts and our minds, the action of our lives; to the challenge of the resurrected Jesus in order to live out in our time what he lived and died to prove? Can we open ourselves to the possibility of using the life-giving force of renewal and newness – or will we just wonder what has upset us so?
When we encounter the resurrected Jesus in our midst, will we respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus? Will we respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to meet the world head on, ready to face the risk and change that his presence allows? Or will we do nothing and just add to the heap of escapism and apathy and negativity that characterize 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. Can we become like them? Will our hearts, too, burn with the desire to use the power of the resurrected Jesus? Will we use this burning as a light to recognize that God loves us? Will we use this burning to empower us to reveal God’s love to others, continuing his ministry through our acts of compassion and caring to help heal a broken world?