This sermon owes a debt of gratitude for parts of its structure to this writing here at day1.org
Our world has been a very interesting and eventful place as of late. I heard one person say: a young girl married her prince and became a princess and the bad guy was destroyed….sounds like a Disney movie. There’s been a good deal of celebration at the death of Osama Bin Ladin and a good deal of criticism of those who celebrated as well. But, regardless of how we may as individuals and as a nation feel about Bin Ladin’s death, the truth is that what we really celebrate, what is truly worthy a celebration, what brings peace, hope, love and truth to us and the broken world is not death but life.
Amongst the many things that have occurred in the months since the beginning of the year was the incident concerning Arizona governor, Gabriel Giffords. Not her shooting so much, which occurred early in January and included the deaths of many people, but what happened a miraculously short time later. When the president attended the memorial service for those who lost their lives in the tragic shooting, he spoke to the assembled group about Giffords’ condition. ‘Gabby opened her eyes’ he said. ‘Gabby opened her eyes.’ He said it four times. A woman who by all odds should have been dead, opened her eyes.
She, who was all but dead, opened her eyes, began to step out of the dark of her coma and into the light. The light of life. Life had won. And make no mistake—no matter what evil ever occurs, no matter the tyrants or wars or attacks or assassinations or earthquakes or tsunamis or hurricanes or anything else in all creation that seeks to tear down and destroy, life wins.
The final chapter of the gospel of Luke begins at a place that is often symbolic of life and death: early dawn, sunrise; that place where darkness and light wrestle with one another before the light carries the day. Just one chapter earlier, we were in the full darkness of night. Perhaps one of the greatest darknesses the disciples would ever know: the death of their friend, their leader, the one they thought would be the Messiah. The death of hope. The tomb is sealed. All is quiet. It is, truly, finished.
And yet, our Easter morning begins with that glimmer of hope just as the sun rises early in the morning on the first day of the week. This last bit of Luke covers a lot of emotional and spiritual territory for us. It begins with the empty tomb, angels in dazzling clothes sending the women away with the good news. And then the chapter ends with Jesus giving his final blessing and ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.
And here, right here in the middle of everything else, is today’s story of the two travelers heading for Emmaus. We don’t know why they are going, what their intentions are or why they’ve left Jerusalem. We could speculate lots of things that might motivate them to leave: fear and despair are just two likely examples. What we do know is that as they walk, they meet a man.
The three of them talk as they walk, the two explaining to the one what has been their topic of conversation up until then and show, visibly, that this saddens them greatly. Jesus of Nazareth, the one who seemed to be The One, a great prophet of God, was betrayed, crucified, died and was buried. It had been three days. He was dead. But the women who went to do what is necessary for the dead said that the tomb was empty. It is clear to the one that the other two do not understand what has happened, so much so that he begins to explain it all.
Interestingly, he does not just spell out something about the events they described, he starts from the beginning, from Moses and the Law all the way through the prophets. He does not simply say—believe this amazing thing. He says believe this amazing thing that is what God has promised, this thing that God has done to fulfill all he said he would do.
All three of the men reach the destination of the two and they invite the one to stop with them. Stay with us, they tell him, for it is evening and the day is nearly over. The one accepts the invitation and goes to eat with them, although it may have been the one who had been doing the inviting all along. Inviting them to open their eyes and see.
And now The One who had fed thousands with a few fish and bread, The One who had eaten with tax collectors and sinners, pharisees and all manner of people, The One who had shared a final meal with those closest to him in the very night he was to be betrayed and handed over to death, was sharing a meal with the two. It is when The One breaks the bread that their eyes are opened. The bread is torn, one body to be shared amongst them all, and they really see The One they have been talking with is Jesus. In the breaking of the bread they are brought back from the shadow of death. Their eyes were opened. Life has won.
In many ways, it seems that this is where we live: right in the middle time. The time between Jesus leaving the tomb and his return. Sometimes, it seems so long ago that all these biblical things happened. Centuries, millennia ago. Ancient stories from an ancient time. And heaven, that great, mysterious sweet by and by in the sky might as well be millennia into the future for it seems only that close in our ability to comprehend. We are here, now, living in the middle part. And so is Jesus. It is here we gather together to break bread, to share the wine, to hear again and again the stories from Moses and the Law, through all the prophets, on to the manger, the dusty streets, the healing touch, the words of true wisdom, the breaking bread, the bloody cross, the empty tomb, and again, the breaking bread. Open our eyes. Life has won.
In Christ, our eyes are open and, while that is good, it is not always easy. God wants to open our eyes so that we live, so that we can see life, so that we can see his Son for who he truly is. But God also wants us to see all the rest of the world as his Son sees it, too. Living life with our eyes open is sometimes very hard. It means we have to see all that is broken in the world and in our own lives. It means we have to really see the places of pain, loss, grief and fear. It means that we have to see the truth, even if it hurts. It means we have to see ourselves as in need of God, in need of his Son, in need of his body broken for us and given to us in the broken bread.
But it also means that we can see Jesus at work in the world. We can see our own hands and feet being his hands and feet. It means that we can begin to see that even in a world broken down by all kinds of disasters and pain, life has won—life in Christ has won is winning and will win over and over again.
Maybe that’s part of what it means to be a church: sharing covered dish meals, crying together at the funeral of those we love, lifting up our prayers in worship, telling over and over again the story of God, working for justice and peace, serving together for our community and the world, suggesting, sometimes loudly, sometimes gently, that maybe there might be better way to live.
So, when we come to the altar together today, when we stand around this table of the Lord together, our eyes are just as surely being opened as those disciples on the road. The bread that is broken by the true host of that meal, Jesus Christ, is his true body given to us for the forgiveness of sins, for the strengthening of our bodies, minds and hearts for a life lived with eyes wide open.
It is evidence that life wins.