I will confess honestly but sheepishly that I am relieved Easter is over. Don’t get me wrong here, I love Easter. I even love Lent! But all of the Lenten activities leading up to the big Festival of the Resurrection Sunday service, all the excitement Easter brings….whew! It is a lot! Days off seem few and far between. It’s a little bit like working in retail at Christmas. All this Lent and Easter stuff, soup suppers andevening prayer, the emotionally and spiritually moving services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, the pancake breakfast on Easter Sunday, the beautiful tulips, and the big Easter story, too… well… it’s great and all, but did it really make any difference? Ok, so Jesus did all those things. All those really great things. Healing and teaching and all that. Then they killed him. And then he “rose from the dead”. Ok.
But did it really make any difference? After all that, after all the work of Easter, is the world really any different? Looks to me like things are back to normal. Looks like we are back to the everyday grind. And really, I’m tired of it. Aren’t we all tired of it? Here in this every day ordinary life, is there anything sacred, mysterious, holy going on? Where is God? Did all of that Easter business make any real change in the ordinary world? After all the fantastic stories of miracles, life and death struggles, crucifixion, resurrection and magical bodily appearances of the Jesus who is suppose to be dead, today’s Gospel is, let’s face it, well, a little peculiar but mostly ho-hum.
In some ways, it’s back to the everyday world. A couple of guys walking along together and they are kinda depressed. Maybe they were tired, too. Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? Therapists say that there is such a thing as post-holiday blues when we may feel a bit depressed after a big festival or holiday like Christmas or Easter. It’s not uncommon. After any big event that’s suppose to ‘change the world’, we can all feel a little disappointed when it doesn’t seem to have worked. At least, not the way we thought it would.
In the overall story of the Gospel of Luke, it looks somewhat ordinary at first. Before this section, Luke’s story has suspense, a significant All-Hope-Is-Lost moment when we all think Jesus is dead and then: Alleluia! He is risen! We are saved! On the other side of this story is Jesus’ big farewell address as he ascends to the Father in heaven.
And here, right here in the middle of all of those big important things, is today’s story of two travelers heading for the town of Emmaus. We don’t know why they are going or why they’ve left Jerusalem. We could imagine lots of things that might motivate them to leave: fear for their lives or feeling like it’s all over since Jesus is dead 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. Anyone could have seen during this conversation that they were sad about all these things, too. And who could blame them? You see, 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, this man does not just tell them 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 because I said so. 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, because it is getting on toward evening and the day is nearly done. The one accepts the invitation and goes to eat with them.
Now, here is where things start to get interesting. This simple little story about three men on the road is about to be something more. Now, The One who had fed thousands with a little bit of 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, the 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. He really is The One!
It really did make a difference after all!
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. Sometimes it seems like we’re just walking down this road talking about how we wish it could have been or theorizing and theologizing about a god in a book.
But here’s the little hidden miracle in this story that was true for those two and is true for each and every one of us. Jesus is walking on that road right beside us. God is not some pie in the sky fairy tale or dusty deity in a book. Jesus is alive and at large in the world, walking beside us, sharing a meal with us, listening to us when we feel let down, lost, lonely, or afraid. Opening up our minds, our hearts, our eyes to see The One, himself, alive in the world with us.
We gather together here, coming from our many different roads and pathways we walk down, to break bread, to share the wine, to hear again and again the stories from ‘in the beginning’ to ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt’, through all the prophets and on to the manger, down the dusty streets and the courtyard of the temple, the healing touch on the Sabbath day, the words of wisdom and life, the breaking bread to the bloody cross and on to the empty tomb, and again, the breaking bread. Open up our minds, our hearts, our eyes. It really does matter after all.
In Jesus, our minds and hearts and eyes are open and, while that is good, it is not always easy. God wants to open us up 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 minds, hearts, and 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 pain, a world that is tired and in need of peace, Jesus is alive. For those two that day, for us and for those who will come after us.
When we come to the altar together today, when we stand around this table of the Lord together, our minds and hearts and 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 minds and hearts and bodies for a life lived open.