Sermon text Luke 24:13-35
The Resurrection and the Worship of the Church:Are you on your way to Emmaus? Are we all companions of Cleopas on our way? Are we trying to make sense of the world and our place in it yet struggling to figure out how it all fits together? What is this journey to Emmaus in which Christ interprets our experiences through the Scriptures. What is this encounter of Jesus that is both hidden and revealing? What keeps us from seeing Jesus, and what allows us to see him in the world and in our presence here?
On our way to Emmaus
On our way to Emmaus
Rev. Jacki Belile in her sermon last Sunday encouraged us to see that in the Resurrection and the appearances of Jesus Christ there was space for us to have our doubts--Space for our questions. In our Gospel today we find questions and doubts once again on that first Easter: Cleopas and his companion have many questions. They are puzzled. The world and the recent events don’t make sense. They have decided to get away just a few miles but about a day’s walk. We are not told why they left Jerusalem, and the Apostles those gathered around them. But it may have been simply to get away from the bustle and all the confusion. To get away from all the theories and probably a good bit of arguing about what it all meant and what to make of an empty tomb. Jesus raises from the dead and still, everything remains unclear and uncertain.
I suggest that Cleopas and his companion are more analogous to us 2000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection than the doubt of Thomas the Twin. I say this because Cleopas’ and his companions encounter with Jesus is liturgical. For it is in Scriptures and at Table that Cleopas and his companion find Christ and are transformed by the encounter with the risen Christ.
As these two disciples are on their way in the world, at first all they have is their experiences and their set hopes and expectations. Yet their hopes and experiences alone don’t give them any answers. If they were left with their doubts and their own experiences and their own interpretations, they would never have seen the Risen Christ or understood what had happened. They are not left on their own Jesus comes along side them and begins to ask them what they are discussing. Jesus gets them to tell him their sense of what has happened and their interpretations. They are somewhat flabbergasted that someone could be ignorant of the events that have just transpired. However they answer that the prophet Jesus who had done great deeds and had great renown was given over to the Roman authorities for execution by crucifixion. The source of their grief and confusion isn’t only that he was prophet and friend but they had hoped he would be the one who would redeem Israel. This Jesus was not only a prophet but would be the one to bring the end of Roman rule over the people of God. They were expecting a restoration of the kingdom of Israel as the holy people of God with King and temple. Yet then add, Even more puzzling is that there are reports that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is empty and the claim of the women who found it is that the resurrection has happened. All of this and their entire experience of Jesus does not makes sense. Nothing about it computes, not the possible resurrection nor the crucifixion and the betrayal of the Jewish leaders through handing over Jesus to the Romans makes sense with their expectations of who Jesus was to be.
Is it really a wonder then that they do not recognize Jesus Christ when he is raised? They did not quite know Jesus before his death and resurrection. Their experience and expectations failed to provide the interpretive framework to make sense not only of what happened but also of Jesus himself. Their experience told them that Jesus was a prophet whom they hoped would be the messiah. On their own with their own experience and reason they could not see what had always been right before their eyes.
Jesus then shows them how the Scriptures actually are fulfilled by the death and resurrection of the messiah, himself. Cleopas and companion listen, intrigued but they still don’t see that it is Jesus who is interpreting the events for them from the Scriptures. Luke does not tell us explicitly what Jesus said, but then all four Gospels are filled with references to the ways in which the life, ministry death and Resurrection of Jesus fulfill the Scriptures. Even as Jesus finishes up and pretends to go on ahead, they still just think of him as a stranger, and they invite him to stay with them. After a long days walk they sit down for a meal, and Jesus takes the bread, blesses it breaks it and gives it to them. And then it all falls into place, at the table with Jesus they see. At that moment of recognition Jesus disappears from their sight. In the breaking of the bread it all makes sense the interpretation of the scriptures, crucifixion and resurrection their own failure to see what was right before them because they did not have all the elements, because their experience had failed them. They needed more than just their own reasoning their own interpretations of scriptures and events. What they needed was for the Scriptures and an encounter with the risen Christ to interpret their experiences and opinions and openness to being transformed by that encounter. So they were and they recognize that the transformation had begun on the way as Jesus interpreted their experiences of Jesus from the Scriptures. Now having seen they realize that their hearts began to burn, what had been cold and lifeless had begun to come to life.
In response having now seen and understood they return the way they came and find the Apostles and those with them a buzz with the news that Jesus is raised from the dead. That is they return to the church the gathered faithful that group Jesus had formed. There they find that they are not alone, others have encountered the risen Christ with everything reinterpreted from that encounter. They have one thing to add that the breaking of bread of the last supper is the place of continual encounter with the Risen Christ.
You might recognize this phrase breaking of the bread and this story from the Eucharist liturgy especially the opening lines of the Covenant liturgy I use most Sundays when I preside at table. This is an important connection between this story and our liturgy and worship. In this story we are to see not only an event that happened two thousand years ago but what is to happen can happen is happening in our worship from week to week. The continual transformation and turning cold hearts warm again and again.
We come to worship in the midst of our lives at times they can be difficult and confusing. We sing and pray, but we also hear the Scriptures both the Hebrew Scriptures and their interpretation in light of Jesus Christ crucified and raised again found the New Testament Scriptures. These scriptures not only show us what God has done but are to interpret our experiences in light of Jesus Christ. Yet the Scriptures remain powerless without the encounter with Jesus around the table in Bread and wine. It is here for us that we meet and encounter the risen Christ and are able then to see and encounter Jesus and God in a world, which is a confusing and ambiguous and not infrequently an evil place. Our lives don’t make sense of this liturgy and the scriptures and the Eucharist. We come with all our lives the ups and downs: we come with our joys sorrows doubts and hopes. Then gathered around Word and Table in order that our lives are interpreted and given meaning by the liturgy and our worship. Sometimes some of us will be more able to see and so we come together also to encourage each other, but through reminding each other that it is here that we know we have encountered Christ. Gathered together in the midst of our journey we hear the scriptures and their interpretation and meet Jesus in bread and wine so that our lives take on a meaning beyond what we can experience and interpret on our own. So that our hearts may be kindled with warmth and life. On our own we our like Cleopas and his companion earnest, faithful but puzzled and confused, not knowing what to make of the world we find. In the liturgy we discover that it is God who gives meaning to life, and we encounter the Risen Christ, and he is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.
We then are Cleopas’ companions on the road to Emmaus on the way to encountering Christ. We come to our worship with the experiences of the previous week perhaps having lost sight of Christ and God. We hear the Scriptures to allow them to interpret our experiences and ourselves and to hear again what God has done in Jesus Christ. This begins to transform us and then we come to break bread and drink wine where we find Christ and are fed by him. In this we are transformed. In this is the transformation of the world as we who have gathered around Jesus seeking again and again to encounter him as the one through whom God has overturned the ways of the world. The way to Emmaus is the road of transformation; it is the path of Christian worship found in the liturgy it is the meaning of Holy Communion. The way of Emmaus is the place of our encounter of the risen Christ. It is only through this encounter that we are able to see God and Christ in the world; in the poor, the suffering, the oppressed and the stranger. It gives us sight and warms our hearts to new life.