Despair, recognition, sacrament

A sermon for Easter 3 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

 

It was done, finished. Months of hard work, disparu; weeks of carefully crafted questions, and assiduous listening, kaput; days of creative endeavor vanished; hours of negotiation within the company and with the customer extinct. Walking in the door he noticed unfamiliar workmen, running far too familiar cable. The simple question “What’s going on?” lead to the customer revealing they’d decided his company wasn’t delivering as promised; and they’d moved on. In a week, they’d be returning his company’s system as the contract allowed. He had hoped, everyone had hoped, this would be the break into a heretofore inaccessible market. Not now. It was done, finished. And he does, as I have done, as I expect you have done, when all is lost, he leaves, and heads back down the road, from whence he came. 

And so to the disciples, are heading back down the road from whence they’d come sometime ago. As had so many others, they had hoped this intenerate rabbi would be the longed hoped for, prayed for, messiah, who would drive the Romans out, and reestablish David’s throne. But Friday he was crucified; and now all that’s gone. 

So they are head back down the road. Perhaps they hoped leaving it all behind, and staying away from the places they seen and heard Jesus would mitigate their grief. So far, not so much, their grief was everywhere [i] or at least their experiences kept popping up, and so they talked about everything. Perhaps in time they would return to Jerusalem, perhaps they could follow the psalmist lead and go to the Temple, the home of God on earth, to pray and offer sacrifice that God would hear the distressed cry of his chosen people. [ii] For now, they talked. 

Then there is this stranger with them. He asks what they are talking about, and with some incongruity they wonder where he’s been but recount the last several days including Jesus’ death, and tales of an empty tomb. “Foolish” he replies, and then continues to speak with wisdom they never heard, but rings of truth so vaguely familiar. We’ve no idea how long the conversation goes on. But when the disciples get to where they are going the stranger continues, it’s an act of politeness, you never impose yourself. [iii] In a reciprocating act of hospitality the disciples invite the stranger to stay with them, and to share dinner. At dinner the stranger becomes the host he reaches for the bread: takes it, gives thanks, breaks it, and give it to them. Then nearly simultaneously

      • they recognize Jesus,
      • they wondered why they didn’t on the road as he spoke with such revealing wisdom,
      • Jesus vanishes, and
      • they get up and sprint back to Jerusalem; [iv] covering that dark and dangerous road in a whole new light.

When they get there before customary greetings can be exchanged, before they can say anything, the other disciples blurt out: Jesus appeared to Simon; and in reply they share: He revealed himself to us in the breaking of the bread.

In the opening gambit, I referred to C.S Lewis’ effort to escape grief by staying away from things that remind you of your grief, only to discover grief is everywhere. Fredrick Buechner wrote:

Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred.

There is great hope in knowing that Jesus comes to us on our Emmaus roads, no matter our grief, Jesus is there, Jesus is everywhere.

And there is a lot to be learned about in this story:

      • strength that comes from sharing similar experiences; [v]
      • how divine presence, divine transcendence is always fleeting, always at the edge of our perception; [vi]
      • about the primacy to go, and
      • how all this is made known to those of us who are not first-hand witnesses, which is pretty much everyone not 2000 years old.

But this morning I’m intrigued by the stranger.

From cultures all over the world there are stories of people “entertaining angles unawares.” [vii] In scripture Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and others all are unknowingly in God’s presence, [viii] so the disciples are in good company. This divine stranger theme teaches us that God’s or Jesus’ or the Spirit’s presence is never coerced. Our coming to recognize the divine, our moving from ignorance to knowledge, from unawares to perception, [ix] is always through revelation. [x] Fred Craddock writes:

[It’s] After instruction in Scripture [that’s Jesus talking on the road] and the Lord’s Supper, the two disciples recognize Jesus. Christ [always] appears to disciples, not to unbelievers. [xi]

He continues:

The meal begins with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a stranger [Jesus]  …  it is the presence of Christ at a table opened to a stranger which transforms an ordinary supper into the sacrament.  [xii]

 The psalm speaks about going to the Temple to be in God’s presence. Though it always been an element in scripture, the Emmaus road story tells us we can meet Jesus, we can be in Jesus’ presence anywhere,  any ordinary, or out of the way place, in the guise of any stranger, perhaps every stranger, perhaps anyone.

You are used to hearing me transition from the offering to communion saying:

This is the Lord’s Table; all those so called are welcome to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

In part I am inviting the stranger to table with us, just as the disciples invite the stranger to table with them. But I never know who in the congregation Jesus is. I never know who transforms our simple gathering into a sacrament.

All of this is reshaping my thinking about evangelism just a bit. For while it is about sharing our experience, evangelism is also about hearing the other’s experience of the divine. Such an exchange strengthens, perhaps transforms our relationship with God. Evangelism is about always seeking our risen, living, though transitory Lord and God.

For, we never know who

      • takes us into their heart
      • thanks God for us
      • breaks us away from corruption of worldly ways of death and
      • gives us to a hurting and longing world.

 


 

[i]Scott Hoezee,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Luke 24:13-35
[ii] Author: Doug Bratt , cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19 
[iii] R. ALAN CULPEPPER, The New Interpreter’s Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND EFLECTIONS
[iv] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation,  LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[v] Richard Swanson Luke 24:13-35 Commentary by Richard Swanson – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on Luke 24:13-35, 4/28/2014 
[vi] Culpper, IBID 
[vii] Hebrews 13:2 
[viii] Culpepper, ibid 
[ix] ibid 
[x] Craddock, ibid
[xi] ibid
[xii] ibid

Advertisements

One thought on “Despair, recognition, sacrament

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s