Monday, April 11

Alleluia! Something Happened! - A sermon for The Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35


I was in college when I started to wonder what all of the hubbub around Easter was all about. To some, this may seem a little late in the game to be asking such questions. I was a Junior in college. I was well into my religion major. I was participating in ministry efforts with the Baptist Student Union. I thought of myself as a Christian. I claimed the identity. Yet, I would deny Easter.

I simply did not believe that it made sense. I wanted it to make sense. There was one problem, but that’s another sermon. You have to understand that I was not some rationalist or even a skeptical empiricist. Christmas made sense to me; the Incarnation of God in a manger resonated with my soul in a way that Easter never did. The cross made sense. However, I could never buy into the Resurrection.

“So unnecessary!”
“Superfluous!”
“Cruel!”

I simply could not live with the possibility that Easter was integral to the faith. I would rail against it in my classes and with the few in the Baptist Student Union who would put up with me. I was sad and outraged. Somehow, all of my struggles as a young man were wrapped up in my denial of Easter.

One day, I brought all of my struggles to the college chaplain. In retrospect, I am sure that he heard nothing new from me. But, for me it was momentous. I was going to speak to the Reverend Doctor David Burhans, Southern Baptist pastor and university chaplain. I expected rejection and I was foolish to do so. Dr. Burhans had this resonant voice with a thick southern accent. He would speak slowly and carefully. The generous inflections that his accent brought seemed to deepen meaning in every word. And “generosity” is the only word that describes what he shared with me.

Today we find our friends, the two disciples walking along the Emmaus road. It is the third day. Their teacher and guide is dead. Their dreams have been destroyed; their hopes dashed. All they can do is walk. They are sad.

I have often wondered what they may have said to one another as they walked. Perhaps they spoke of nothing. Perhaps the mused about the lives that they would return to now that the ministry of Jesus had come to an end. I imagine that they grief and outrage weighed them down. I imagine that they might have been trapped in their heads trying to figure out what went wrong, what they could have done differently. Perhaps different words or sayings of Jesus’ echoed in their memories. “Stay with me.” “Remain with me.” “Tell no one.” “Go two by two.” “You have been made clean.” Grief has a way of taking over. Loss almost has a taste to it.

Then there appeared a stranger. The two spoke to him of Jesus and the strange stories about a resurrection. And they shared their disbelief. He rebuked them and spoke to them of prophesy and promises made and promises kept. Still, in their grief they were blind. Their eyes did not see.
As he seemed to move on ahead of them, the two begged him to stop and sup with them. “Stay with us,” they said.

vs. 29-31 So he went in to stay with them. When he was at 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.

Was it the interpretation? Yes…and no. Though their hearts burned, it was not until Christ revealed himself in action that he was recognized. Only in retrospect did they see him in the scriptures. But in intimacy, in a shared meal and a shared journey was he revealed.

All that he had ever asked of them that they could not do, to stay up and pray and eat and wait, he had done for them once again. In their grief and in their brokenness he stayed with them and fed them. This is how the risen Lord appears to the broken, the grieving, and the outraged.

Dr Burhans and I did not speak long. He listened as I shared my attitudes about Easter. I remember that when I finished speaking, I braced myself for the debate of a lifetime. He smiled, leaned across his desk and said,

“You know, Tripp, I could debate with you, but I doubt that would be of much help. But this is what I will say: Something happened on the third day. You have to sit with that. Challenging it is not doing you any good. You must learn to sit with it at the very least. Something happened.”

True enough. I sat there stunned. For me in that moment something did happen. Something was revealed. Something happened for the two followers of Christ. Jesus stayed. Jesus prayed. He broke bread. He returned from the dead and fulfilled the promises he made. Dr Burhans taught the lesson of the resurrection to me. It was not a question of being convinced of the evidence. It was not the issue of having just the right bibliographic citation, coursework, or training. No, I was not convinced. I have never been convinced.

I was converted.

Through the gentle urgings of Dr. Burhans, God walked with me. God stayed with me and I slowly began to listen to the story and my heart began to burn.

I love the LORD because he heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!” Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.