The Third Sunday of Easter, Year A - April 30, 2017

Preacher: 
The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The Third Sunday of Easter

Year A

April 30, 2017

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor

Now on that same day two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35).

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St. Augustine once said solvitar ambulando.  “it is solved in the walking.

This is certainly true for me.  As many of you know, if I don’t fit in my daily long distance walk or run, my brain simply does not function.  It is also my time to center myself, sort things out, Listen, for a change, to God.

Last week, while I was at SSJE, I knew I was going to have to get started on today’s sermon, something I hoped would be helped by the miles of walking I’m usually able to do around Cambridge, between scheduled worship and spiritual direction.

Unfortunately, it rained solidly for the first two days, so that brain work didn’t begin when I wanted it to.  But maybe that was meant to be, since what I have to say today is going to be mostly from the heart.

Today’s resurrection account from the gospel of Luke is among my favorites for several reasons, but one is that the disciples are walking.  Seven miles, we are told, which is supposedly how long it took to get to Emmaus.  By the way, no one really knows where Emmaus is, which is perhaps as it should be, because what’s important, I think, is that the disciples are on the road. Somehow, they felt this would help them sort things out.

Because it is on this road, while walking, that they are talking too, talking about all the things that had just happened…their last meal with Jesus, his betrayal, arrest, horrid crucifixion, news of an empty tomb,…and angels. Their world has been turned upside down by these events. What were they to make of it?

As they trudge along, hashing this out, they are joined by a man who they don’t recognize.  It’s Jesus, but they can’t see it.  He comes to them, not in an upper room or garden or mountain top but on a road. And he doesn’t offer a pronouncement or discourse, but a conversation.

I think this is important. Because some things take time.  Sometimes, the move from doubt, fear, and grief to faith, hope, and love takes both the time to walk from one town to another and the opportunity for an open and honest conversation.

One of the things I have cherished most about my walk alongside you these past years is that it has allowed for those kinds of conversations.  Where we take the time to mull over what we’ve heard or seen or read.  To talk over things we experience in our lives and be honest about our hopes and dreams, our disappointments and grief.  In our walking and our talking, we’ve been able to bear with one another, as we struggle and question and try and fail and try again.

And so it is that when Jesus (incognito) greets the two disciples on the road, his first step is to enter into conversation with them and simply ask, “What are you discussing as you are walking along the road?”  At first, they’re astonished that this guy hasn’t heard the news about Jesus, the one everyone thought was a prophet, who’s just been crucified.  But then they offer some of the saddest words in Scripture….or in our own lives.  “We had hoped….”

In their case, it’s “we had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.” In your case or my case, what might that be?  What had we hoped, as a community?   That we’d build a building on 301?  Be given a deacon to help us out?  Add a hundred new members.  That I’d be here another five years?

Few things are more painful than dashed hopes. And so before Jesus interprets Scripture, before he breaks bread, he comes along side those forlorn disciples and he asks them to name their loss. Before he talks, before he explains, he listens.

And what he reminds us all is that naming our own pain, or grief, or loss is essential to moving beyond it. Not, I think, erasing it or even leaving it fully behind, but getting to a point where it longer defines us. Naming our disappointment creates space, makes room for something that might even surprise us.

Because, notice what Jesus does next.  After listening to the Cleopas and his friend tell their version of the story, he tells the story again.  But from his perspective.  And through this retelling, this reframing, he offers the disciples a new way of seeing, one that creates a shift, a sense of peace and warmth…actually a burning.  Which I take to be the beginnings of the return of hope.

And as I think about this, I realize just how much it resonates with my experience of you over these years, and it’s often how I’ve recognized Jesus in our midst.  As I have walked alongside you, countless stories have been told and retold. Hopes and dreams that have been disappointed, loss that has been named, and grieved, and yet over time, reframed with a new perspective. 

Stories of children who faced learning issues or behavioral challenges, but who, suddenly or gradually discovered a passion or a talent that brought them confidence and friendships; adolescents who did all they could to frustrate and confound us and then, just as soon as we let go of any expectations, surprised us by excelling in college.  Adult children who developed destructive habits or began to sink into depression, who we thought we’d lost, but who through grace or pure grit found the courage to own their lives and become themselves again, but better and wiser. 

We’ve had to let go of the stories we had written for our parents, who grew infirm more quickly than expected, but surprised us with their luminous wisdom.  We’ve shared personal disappointments, too; challenges in our marriages, conflicts with our employers, goals and accomplishment we never achieved.  You all walked alongside me as I navigated life as a single parent and single woman, and all the lost hope that goes with that…and yet, you watched my story be reframed, as Claiborne walked back into my life, deciding to stick it out with me, not in spite of, but because of his out of the box thinking!

That is how we’ve walked alongside one another.   And because we’ve been able to name our losses and disappointments in the embrace of this community, they’ve come to have less of a hold on us and we’ve discovered room to be surprised, once again, by God’s presence, love, and promises.

This is how Jesus walked alongside the disciples, and us, out on the open road, retelling the stories we have made of our lives and his. Cleopas and his friend told a tale of dashed hopes and an uncertain future; when Jesus tells the same story, it ends with long-loved dreams at last being fulfilled. 

What do you suppose would be his version of our story? The one we’ve shared together, as a community?  Would it be about the disappointment and loss that we might be feeling right now, or would this give way to something grace-filled? I wonder who he would say we have been, and what we are here for now. I wonder if our hearts would warm to hear his version of our story.

Would he talk about those early years we shared together, as we began to focus less on building a building and more on building a community?  How we continued to embrace the gift of the Atlee house, something that was at first considered an Albatross, but became for us a church home, and the land for our community garden? 

Would he point out how we dared to move here to Messiah, letting go, perhaps, of the kind of identity we thought we were going to have, but finding a new one that bore witness to collaboration and common mission and fostered an entirely different set of goals and values?

Would he remind all of you how strong and capable you have grown, as a church family?  How you are able to organize and mobilize and make things happen?  Whether a home repair or a stew sale or a labyrinth or an adventure at Shrine Mont?  Would he tell you how people feel God’s spirit when they worship here, how attendance and pledge income has grown over these years, but more importantly, how you’ve welcomed people, told and created new stories, laughed and cried and have learned, together. 

That is who you are.  Church, in the truest sense of the word, a household of God.  The kind that resides in each of our hearts, no matter where we go, a home that will surely live on in mine, as I make my way down yet another road.

It is solved in the walking.  Meeting Jesus along the way changes our story. Things we lose, not only in our lives, but in our communities, are always coming alive in new ways. The holy is here. Whether we notice or not, we are meeting Jesus on the road. We are living resurrection, letting it become us. We are being remade. Let us celebrate that!  What will the rest of the story be? It’s time to start telling it new.

Amen.

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