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Archive for April, 2017

Welcome back! I see you have returned here to the Emmaus Road. No doubt you have noticed how busy this road gets in the spring as those pilgrims making their way to and from Jerusalem for the Passover Festival celebration travel on this short, but challenging road.

We are not more than one hundred sixty stadia, seven miles, as you would say, from Jerusalem however the journey along this road has really little to do with geographic distance. The journey along this road is a much different journey for it is a journey from blindness to sight, from brokenness to wholeness, from what is hidden to what is released, from doubt to faith.

Perhaps I should explain, or better yet, do you see those two men walking along the road ahead of us? Yes? Well, those two men are blind. They are broken. They are like a rough block of marble whose grain seems to be going in all the wrong directions and is capable of splitting in unpredictable ways whenever the sculptor’s chisel is applied to it.  Alas, they do not realize any of this. You see, they thought they knew what was happening in their lives. They thought it was all under control. They thought they were on the right path, they were on the cutting edge of something wonderful, but that all changed for them.

These two, Cleopas and the other man, were followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and buried and whose tomb was discovered empty on this day by the women who were also following Jesus. Many of the other disciples are still in Jerusalem, but not these two.

No, Cleopas and his companion decided to leave Jerusalem and walk to Emmaus. Perhaps they are giving up? Perhaps they are simply walking to clear their heads by discussing all that has happened, so they might comprehend it more clearly? Or, perhaps they have without realizing it are continuing the journey they began years ago when Jesus first invited them to follow him. How will we tell which is which?

By watching as this stranger who has been following them and listening to them talk. See the stranger approaches them. Listen…ah yes, he has asked them what they are talking about. At first, they can’t believe he has been Jerusalem and has no idea what has happened. Ah, now they’ve given themselves away. “We had hoped,” they say to the stranger, “that Jesus, who was a prophet mighty in deed and wonders before God and all the people, was the one to redeem Israel.” Can’t you just hear the “but, they crucified him and he died and was buried and now his tomb is empty and…” This is where they are blind. They had hoped Jesus was the redeemer, but now they don’t really believe he was the one to redeem Israel. All they saw earlier is a tomb of death. They failed to see that the empty tomb is where life has been born anew. They are blinded by what they expect because they are not open to the unexpected. They are blinded by their recitation of who they thought Jesus was because they did not see who Jesus really is. They heard Jesus teach the Kingdom of God is a place of hospitality because Jesus feeds all whom hunger and thirst. Indeed, Jesus’ mother Mary sang of this before Jesus was born while she was still visiting her cousin Elizabeth, “he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” They witnessed this truth when Jesus was sitting at table and sharing food with sinners and outcasts-people nobody else cared about or even wanted near them. They witnessed this truth when they saw Jesus serve food to the multitudes in the desert saving them from hunger. They listened as Jesus said the invited guests to the great messianic banquet are the poor, the lame, blind, and maimed. The ones who are discounted and shoved aside by those in the know, the celebrated, the wealthy, and the ones who own the gold, but who are the very ones whom God continually asks about as in “how are you treating the widows, the orphans, the resident aliens, the poor, and the sick.”

They heard Jesus say he came not to abolish the Torah and the prophets, but to fulfill them, but they were blinded by all they thought they knew of scripture without realizing all they knew was never woven together into a whole piece, so they could see how it all fit together. They are like Augustine who confesses to God that, “look you were within me and I was outside. You were with me and I was not with you.” Put another way, these two disciples are still centered upon themselves. They are still attached to themselves-their way of seeing, their expectations, their knowledge, their understanding of the way the world works. They have not become detached from themselves, so they cannot see and use all things in and for Jesus Christ, in and for God.

You see, that is why the stranger is saying to them, “how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets declared!” Now, the stranger starts with Moses and goes through all of the scriptures pointing to Jesus. From the Word that creates life in the beginning, the bread that gives life, the liberating of the Israelites from slavery for a new life, and the suffering servant Isaiah proclaims is coming, the suffering servant who preaches good news for the poor, sight for the blind, who suffers for our iniquities, even as he brings into being God’s kingdom of justice, righteousness, and new life for all. This stranger is patiently chiseling away at scripture revealing to them all that has been hidden by their little pieces of scattered knowledge, so he releases God’s Word of truth and light. He is weaving together for them this wonderful tapestry of God’s self- revealing presence, love, commitment and intention for humanity and creation that is ultimately expressed on the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus. Doing this as they walk along the Emmaus Road.

But, now they have come to the inn. Evening is approaching. Cleopas and his companion stop to go into the inn as the stranger continues to walk down the road. But, Cleopas and his companion turn and invite the stranger to share a meal with them. Can you see how the stranger sits at the table and picks up the bread? Now, he is blessing it, giving thanks to God for this bread that nourishes life. Ah, see he has broken the bread and hands to the disciples. Wait for it. See what happens just as their hands touch the bread. Their eyes are alight! They can now see! Seeing not only that the stranger is Jesus, but coming to the wisdom that the burning in their hearts is the Holy Spirit dwelling within them revealing to them all about God and the full meaning of God’s revelation in Jesus, the one crucified, the one raised to life that all of God’s scriptural promises for creation and humanity come to fruition in Jesus as the conqueror of sin and death. They now see through the grace of the eyes of faith-trust in Christ-that the kingdom of God comes not through political-military might of world powers, but comes from opening oneself to the unexpected and mysterious presence of Christ in the person of a stranger, the weaving together all of scripture into a whole tapestry of God’s steadfast love, mercy, and commitment ultimately expressed in Christ, by extending the open hand of hospitality to the person one meets along the road, and receiving God’s gift of grace given by way of a rough hewn cross and an empty tomb that gives life.

These two disciples are like the rough marble that was presented to Michelangelo one day. This marble had certain attractiveness, but it was not easy to carve. For this marble’s grain was going in all the wrong directions and was prone to splitting in unpredictable ways whenever the sculptor’s chisel was applied to it. Michelangelo patiently worked on the stone day after day. Passers-by would stop and ask, “Michelangelo, why are you wasting your time with such unpromising material?” Michelangelo simply replied, “I am releasing the angel imprisoned in this block of stone.”

Being the creative artist of life, Jesus was patiently chiseling away the rough marble hiding the angelic messengers within these two disciples by his presence, his word, and God’s truth and light burning within them, so he could release these two angels from the unpromising material of their lives so he could send them running back to the others with the message that the Kingdom of God has come, Christ is risen and alive. Sin and death are defeated. The Lord of life has prevailed and because he lives, so will all who answer his call. They are sent to witness about how they experienced Jesus in their burning hearts and in the broken bread.

All over the world today, there are people whose lives are shattered and broken, whose relationships have cracked in unpredictable ways and lie in pieces, whose best hopes have ended in tragedy, and whose life conflicts seem to have no resolution-and they are hearing Jesus’ call to take up the cross and to follow him, they are open to the unexpected presence of Christ in a person they meet walking along the road with them, their hearts are burning with Christ’s light illuminating scripture as the whole cloth of God’s truth and light, and every time bread is broken they see Christ and experience grace and they are the most remarkable angels released from the most unlikely of materials sent by Christ to proclaim Christ is risen, the kingdom of God has come. The Lord of life prevails. Perhaps one such angel is sitting next to you.

Perhaps you are one such angel.

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Fear and doubt was everywhere. In each look. In each locked door. In each word barely spoken. Fear was in their memories of denying they even knew Jesus and in their desertion of him when he carried the cross of death through Jerusalem streets. Fear and doubt drenched and flooded their lives. And, we know this same fear and doubt because we are told and taught to fear and doubt everything as one writer has stated, ”from crime rates, to unemployment, terrorism to isolation to news media to climate change we are a people living in fear and doubt.

We’re told to fear Isis. We’re reminded that we’re on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea and Iran. We’re told to be afraid of immigrants. 

We’re afraid of sickness.

We’re afraid of loss.

We’re told to be afraid of the wealthy. 
We’re afraid of what we lack.

We’re afraid of our failures. 

We’re afraid of our past.
We’re afraid of each other and we doubt we will ever know joy and peace.

We’re a people afraid, and that fear has trapped us. Like the disciples in those early moments after Jesus’ death, we’ve locked ourselves in an upper room, waiting for the other shoe to drop. “

Aung San Suu Kyi, political activist, prisoner, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize said it plainly and truly when she said, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

Like the early disciples, we are fully aware of the prisons built from fear, doubt and uncertainty.

          Yet, into these fear and doubt constructed prisons steps Jesus with the simplicity of the blessing, “Peace be with you” recalling the words of comfort he spoke at the Last Supper, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The peace Jesus gives comes from the knowledge that, in spite of all the hurt, the violence, the destruction and harm the world can and does inflict, God’s compassion and care, embodied in Jesus standing in our midst, applies at every point where we experience fear, doubt and uncertainty to reassure us that we are not left to be imprisoned by our fears or doubts because as the psalmist reminds us God is our refuge, our sanctuary, or chosen portion and with God is the path of life where fullness of joy and pleasures forever are ours.

          A life, Jesus reminds them, that comes from God when he breathes on the disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Empowering life comes from God now just as it did in the beginning of life when God breathed over the watery, dark chaos where life did not exist, just as it did when God breathed life into the man and the woman and just as it did when God breathed life into the dry bones while Ezekiel watched. This empowering life will not only send God’s people out into the world to teach everything Jesus has been teaching about forgiveness, reconciliation, mutuality, compassion and servant leadership, which are all part of living God’s way, but it is also the continuing presence of Christ with his disciples, sustaining their lives and their ministry and, as one commentator says, it is also the creative power of God always at work to enliven creation itself.

Intertwined within the peace and power of the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ response to doubt. Now, Thomas seems to be singled out for his doubt, however all of the disciples had their doubts until the risen Christ comes to them. Thomas is simply seeking, a bit more graphically said, the same assurance the other disciples experienced. But, what is important about this doubt is that Jesus does not condemn nor disparage Thomas for expressing his doubts and questions. Faith that cannot tolerate doubt or questions fails to reach deep down into the hidden places of our minds and our hearts where doubt and questions too often dwell unspoken or acknowledged, especially in those moments when faith is tested by experiences of suffering or pain. Jesus is essentially saying to Thomas, “okay you need something more than a secondhand encounter. You need to touch, to see, to experience fully resurrection, so go ahead touch, see, and believe.”

Thomas was blessed even in the midst of his doubts and questions and so are those who gather for worship on Easter morning and who did not go to the empty tomb or see the risen Christ for themselves. Jesus meets people where they are. He is like a good doctor who sees each person as an individual with different experiences and different approaches to life and whose needs are all different. He does not give the same prescription to everyone, as though the life of faithfulness is a one size fits all baseball cap.

Jesus comes to us, giving us what we need day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year using the common elements of water, wine and bread within a creation filled with reminders of God’s empowering life surrounding us because he does not want anyone to miss out on the empowering life of grace and peace promised to us in the resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

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