Kenora Easter 3
26 April 2020
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Lord of the gathering feast,
you walk with us on the shadowed road:
burn our hearts with Scripture’s open flame;
unveil our darkened eyes as bread is torn and shared,
and from the broken fragments bless a people for yourself;
through Jesus Christ, the host of the world. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one of everybody’s favourite passages in Luke’s gospel. One where everyone focuses on the part where the disciples say: “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32)
But there is so much more, here, than just this one hindsight revelation, as great as it is to us, here today who believe.
We have to remember that Cleopas and his companion received the revelation that Christ is risen, that the tomb is empty from the women who went to the tomb, this morning. Easter morning.
And we have to remember that Cleopas and his companion walked seven miles to Emmaus throughout the day, as they chatted with Jesus and each other, but they ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem, in the night.
They ran back to proclaim to the apostles, and all those gathered together, what they experienced throughout the walk and over the shared meal with our Lord and Saviour.
So, for all of the joy and the hindsight that we are able to bring to this text, we have to remember that Jesus’ closest followers are still in the depths of their grief at Jesus’ death.
They are consumed by their sense of guilt that they ran away when the soldiers came to arrest him at Gethsemane.
On top of that we have Peter’s historically spectacular denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priests house, and that guilt still lives within him, today, as well.
Add to all of that the astounding and baffling news that the women brought back from the tomb, just after sunrise, this morning – the words and the sight of the angel messenger, the words of Jesus, all of which were not able to be confirmed by the men of the group.
I mean sure, they saw the tomb open, and empty. They may have even noted the state of the grave clothes, but they didn’t see the angel, there were no unconscious Roman soldiers on the ground, and they didn’t see or hear Jesus, either.
So, in the secluded room, we see a lot of confused, grieving, and guilt-ridden disciples and apostles.
We see a lot of people trying to piece it all together with out our benefit of hindsight.
On the ground we see people put aside their own expectations of what Jesus, what the Messiah’s redemption of Israel should, or could, look like from our human perspective (Lk 24:12a)
When we pray, when we enter into prayer, we always expect God’s reply, we acknowledge God’s participation in our prayers. We know that God will give us one of three, maybe four answers when we pray: Yes, No, Not yet, and Wait something better is coming.
When Jesus meets Cleopas and his companion on their way to Emmaus, he meets two people who have given up. They’ve decided to return to their lives, and the occupations that they had before all of this ‘craziness’ with Jesus has happened.
After all, if the authorities could kill Jesus, what’s to keep them from coming for the rest of Jesus’ followers?
So, they left. Gave up. Turned in their key to the clubhouse, and they’re going home.
And then Jesus shows up, when they’re at their lowest point, and he opens their, our hearts before he opens our eyes.
The way forward isn’t always obvious. Its never straight forward. Yes, it comes with risks including being willing to lay down our lives.
But the way forward isn’t done alone. After all, Jesus walks with us, today, as he walked with Cleopas and his friend.
Along the way, Jesus is with us, with Cleopas and his friend. Jesus explains how and why all of this, the passion, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, was destined to take place. At the same time, Jesus explains, demonstrates, shows to each one of that this isn’t the end of the story, just the end of the chapter. The story continues, even still today.
When in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam, in the Return of the King, talk about the characters in heroic stories, they talk about what it takes to be a hero.
Frodo points out that these vaunted and applauded heroes are, in reality, just ordinary people who didn’t turn back, or turn for home, but rather pressed on doing what needs to be done so that someone else can rest with the surety that all is well, in the world.
Today we see Cleopas, and his friend, walk away because, when they left Jerusalem, they thought the story had ended. They perceived that the journey was at an end, and it was time to get back to what they did before they encountered Jesus, and decided to follow.
Yes, their hearts are heavy and filled with grief.
Yes, they’re confused by the news the women brought back, but it’s beyond belief, isn’t it, that Jesus isn’t dead?
So, they turn their faces from Jerusalem, from the danger, and they walk toward the obscurity of an ordinary life, hearts heavy, minds in turmoil, feet dragging in the dust of the road.
And we can understand this confusion, this grief, this uncertainty about what tomorrow will look like, in the wake of yesterdays and todays actions of the world on all sides.
We understand this because we live there, today, as well, don’t we? Not necessarily in our lives of faith, although we wonder at times where Christ is in the midst of all of this pandemic.
We understand this because this is where our hearts are, as we wonder what tomorrow will look like, what a world after the pandemic will look like, be like, feel like.
At the same time, there are those in our world who grieve. Whether it is God’s time to call our loved ones home, or it is a loss we feel keenly because of the unrealized potential of the lives of passed loved ones that we saw before them, in the same way that the apostles and disciples saw the potential of Jesus reign and the redemption of Israel.
So, like those in the room, behind locked doors out of fear of the Jews and the Romans, like Cleopas and his companion, we too grieve, and we wonder, and we ponder. We wonder what the next step will be, can be, in the light of these changes on all sides.
But Jesus meets us on the road.
The gospel tells us: “13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.” (Lk 24:13-16)
They don’t walk alone. We don’t walk alone. Jesus is with us, whether we recognize him, or not, every step of the way.
Jesus opens our hearts to God’s message of love and compassion, throughout the ages, throughout our history, throughout all of the turmoil of recent events, and the tragedy that grips our hearts and lives.
What Cleopas decided was the end of the story isn’t because the women have already announced the next chapter, as fantastic as that may seem.
What Cleopas decided was too risky to continue to support Jesus walks with them, walks with us, and opens our hearts, and in the end, opens our eyes as well.
“25 [Jesus] said to them, [as they, as we walked along] “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)
This isn’t the end of the story, but rather the invitation to each one of us to feel “our hearts burn inside of us,” as the world changes how we deal with each other, as the gospel message still yearns to be shared from lips to ears, to hearts. (Lk 24:32)
At dawn, Jesus showed himself to the women who came to the tomb.
Jesus reveals himself to Cleopas and to his friend, when they break bread together in Emmaus.
Only then does Jesus reveal himself to his closest followers, and urges Thomas to put his hands in his wounds, in his hands, and in his side, proving once and for all that he’s risen from the dead.
He comes to us in our need, when we are overwhelmed with the news that “Christ is Risen!” he comes to us when our need is great, when we need the reassurance that this isn’t the end, just a new beginning.
And we can respond to that ‘new beginning’ every day. We respond with prayer, with what deeds we’re able to perform to bring this light to others who are similarly bewildered by the events of the day.
Frodo and Sam may point out that heroes are just ordinary men and women who do what they can, to see an ending to unfortunate circumstances. What the movies neglect to tell us is that when these brave hobbits returned home, they had battles of their own to fight to bring life back to normal, in their beloved Shire.
And we know that God answers prayer. So, in the bewilderment of our hearts, and the confusion of our minds we give it all to God, and when the time is right, we recognize Jesus in our midst, as he blesses and breaks the bread, as he opens our hearts and minds to the words of the prophets, and as he walks with us in the changing circumstances of our world.