EASTER 3, A, 5/4/14
On Easter Day we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus as Christ with joy and confidence. But just imagine what that day must have been like for the disciples and all the other followers of Jesus. In spite of his teachings and warnings of what was to come, many of them still expected the Messiah to restore Israel to its former glory – after all, wasn’t that the point of his being from the house and lineage of David?
The Jews had yearned for Messiah for so long that these hopes and dreams of a worldly kingdom were deeply imbedded in their culture. The people following Jesus had proclaimed him Messiah, but then he was crucified and died. No wonder they were in disarray, lost and confused. How could they reconcile this event with their expectations.
Then the events of Easter unfold. The empty tomb brings more disbelief, then astonishment, hope, and more questions. So now imagine two of his followers, Cleopas and maybe his wife, walking home to Emmaus late in the afternoon of resurrection day. They are talking of all they had seen and heard, trying to make sense of it. They fall into conversation with a man on the road that they take for a stranger. And they tell him all about Jesus. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
They tell him of the empty tomb, but no one has seen Jesus.
Clearly this puzzles them. So the stranger says – “but doesn’t the scripture explain all this?” – and then lays it all out for them. They take the stranger home with them for dinner. When the stranger “blessed the bread and broke it, then their eyes were opened and they recognized him” as Jesus.
Imagine their surprise to suddenly see Jesus at their table, and how much more so to have him disappear without their having a chance to speak. Even so, it seems evident that they now believe that Jesus lives, because they immediately walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell his disciples.
What are we to make of this miracle on the road to Emmaus? Does it speak to any of our experiences today? When I preached some of this sermon material back in 1999, I had talked about how all the Gospel stories of Lent in this year had to do with seeing and not seeing Jesus for who he was – and of seeing beyond the surface of reality to the underlying truth.
For most of us, believing is tied to seeing, much as it was for Cleopas. He didn’t take quite as much convincing as Thomas, but certainly this experience on the road changed his understanding of the Easter event.
If we believe in the resurrection, whether literally or metaphorically, where do we look for the risen Christ? Where do we seek him out? The most obvious answer may be – in church. We come to church to encounter Christ. Well, where do you see Christ this morning? Can you find him here? Now? Where?
One of the songs I’ve quoted before speaks directly to this. The chorus says this:
“Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? He’s here in plain view. Take a look, open your eyes. He’ll show it to you.”
And here are two of the verses:
“Have you ever stood at the ocean, with the white foam at your feet; felt the endless thundering motion? Then I say, you’ve seen Jesus, my Lord.”
“Have you ever stood in the family, with the Lord there in your midst; seen the face of Christ on your sister? Then I say, you’ve seen Jesus, my Lord.”
How do you suppose we see Christ in the face of another person or in other aspects of our daily lives? Try it out this week. Let’s cultivate our awareness. Let’s stop racing from task to task, wearing blinders. Let’s be alert for those things seen from the corner of the eye. Let’s give ourselves some time and space to just enjoy the arrival of spring, enjoy our friends and families, and enjoy the beauty around us. Let’s cultivate our ability to see beyond the surface.
I believe the song got it right. We’re meant to see the face of Christ on the faces of the people we meet. If I can see His face on yours, how can I possibly treat you badly? If I can see his face in your face, how can I help but love you? How could I refuse to help you when you are in need? How could any one of us think that we are any better than the others?
If I can recognize Christ’s spirit in you and you can see it in me, we are bonded like a family is bonded. Whatever hurts one of us hurts all of us. Whatever builds up and encourages one of us helps all of us.
But seeing Christ in others is not easy. It requires that we give up things that most of us cling to – I certainly do – things like control, ego gratification, and judgmental attitudes.
My mother and grandmother used to make a sound to indicate disapproval. You know, that sound that is written “TSK” but sounds like this: “ tsk, tsk, tsk.” It often preceded statements like, “Look at the mess you have made!” Or “What a shame to be all dressed up for a party with dirty nails!”
I don’t know how often I made such statements to my son, but I well remember the first time I caught myself and realized what I was doing. I had pulled an old scrapbook from high school off the shelf, causing a wedding invitation to fall out of it. I looked at it and said, “Tsk,tsk,tsk and now they are divorced. Oh,Wait a minute! So am I!”
I have never completely cured that tendency to be judgmental, but I’ve learned to curb it most of the time, and I must say that I feel better when I can look at someone and see the spirit of God in them, somehow.
Imagine that next Sunday we all arrive at church as we did today. Someone we know greets us and gives us a bulletin. We assume our usual places in the church. But then comes the surprise. Three new people join us.
One of them is a middle-aged man in very shabby clothes with visible dirt on his hands and neck. He comes in like anyone else to worship and slips into the last pew. He smells bad. The second visitor is a young woman, dressed in slacks and a sweater. She blends right into the congregation, but most of us know she is a lesbian. The third visitor is a young man in his late teens wearing very baggy pants, a huge T-shirt hanging out and a baseball cap. He’s not wearing earphones, but walks down the aisle as though he’s listening to some kind of groovy music. He sort of boogies into a pew half way to the front.
NOW – Can we see Christ in these people? If it’s sometimes hard to recognize Him in our friends and family, how much harder is it to see Him in the stranger and the outcast? How would we speak to these visitors? Would we ask them to stay for coffee? Would we introduce them around and include them in the conversation? Could we see them as brothers and sister? Could we ever love them as Christ loves us?
Remember, there are really two purposes in cultivating our awareness of the living Christ. One is so that we can see the face of Christ on others, but also, maybe even more important, so that others can see Christ’s face on us. Would they walk out of church feeling that they had seen Christ this day? Actually, I think they would, but we must still continue to cultivate our ability to see beyond the surface of the things and people around us. Christ has promised to be with us always, but it’s up to us to pay attention! AMEN