Easter III – April 30, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17 -33
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
The two were heading out and away from the city of Jerusalem. It was Easter day. Cleopas and his companion were walking on the dusty road of shattered hopes as they headed out towards the town of Emmaus. Their hearts were heavy with disappointment, confusion and despair. Their inner compasses had been shattered. The one on whom they had pinned their hopes for a better future, the prophet who was mighty in word and deed, the one who showed up on the world stage bringing… oh-so-close… the fulfillment of the dream that Israel would finally be redeemed and that all would be well…finally… The embodiment of that hope was really dead, really gone. The two were on the road heading towards Emmaus.
We know this road. It is sadly familiar. The theologian and writer, Frederick Buechner, has written of this scene:
Emmaus is the place we go in order to escape… a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole damned thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that [humanity has had…] has always, in the end, been twisted out of shape by selfish [people] for selfish ends. Emmaus is where we go, where these two went, to try to forget about Jesus and the great failure of his life.
And so the two walked and they talked, trying to make some kind of sense of their world and of their own lives that, just a few days earlier, seemed to be heading into a bright, expansive future. All that was changed. On the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus, in the place of perplexity… between demolished dreams and new possibilities… in this liminal place between worlds… the two were ripe for an encounter.
A stranger sidles up to Cleopas and his companion. As outside observers we are given inside information. We are told, upfront, that the stranger is Jesus. With this information we sit back and watch the story unfold. Jesus comes near but the two were kept from recognizing him. They were not yet ready. The stranger asks what the two had been talking about, for clearly they were talking about something sad and heavy. They all stopped. Then Cleopas says to the stranger, “are you the only one in this part of the world who does not know what has just happened? Hello? What planet are you from?” The stranger asks “What things?” The two tell the story of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and about the great promise that had died with him. “And… its been three days!” “This morning some women gave the disciples a strange report… that Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb and that an angel was there saying that Jesus is alive.” The Greek word used to describe the women’s report is leros – the root word of our English word delirious. One commentator writes that the response of the disciples to the report of the women “astounding” the disciples with their news, which was to say, essentially, that they were “out of their freakin’ minds”… those women. Maybe Cleopas and his companion were questioning their own sanity. Maybe the moment was right for an intervention. Jesus turns to them to say “Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe…. all that had been foretold… from the beginning…” “Oh how foolish” is, in some translations, more like a term of endearment than of chastisement. Perhaps Jesus was saying “You sweet dummies! How could you miss this?” “You sweet dummies… let’s start from the beginning.” And then Jesus recounted for them the ancient story, bringing the story forward in time and right up to this dusty road of sadness between Jerusalem and Emmaus.
It was nearly evening when the trio came close to the village. The stranger was all set to leave Cleopas and his companion to carry on down the road. But the two were not ready to part from this man. They invited the stranger to stay with them in Emmaus. We know this part well. At the table the stranger took bread… he blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to his friends… and instead of “amen” the men went “aha!” “We get it.” “We see.” And then, without explanation or footnote, Jesus is gone from their sight… and their universe came back together… but in a new way. In retrospect the two recognized that the encounter on the road was no ordinary meeting. In the place between worlds their hearts had been stirred… by the presence… by the Word coming to life in the stories of God’s creative and guiding hand at work in creation and in the world, in stories of human struggles, stories of getting lost and of getting found, stories of oppression and liberation, stories of poverty and the meaning of true abundance, stories of heartbreak and of soaring joy, stories of death, and stories of true and abiding life.
It was an experience of God. In Christ, “God’s presence,” known in the breaking of the bread, brought the big picture into focus for Cleopas and his companion. It was in the sacrament of simple hospitality… in gathering at an ordinary table to share an ordinary meal that Christ was made known. In the action of blessing, breaking, giving and receiving… the circle was complete and even the old stories took on new meaning. The Emmaus Road was no longer the road of broken dreams… it was now the distance between the sacred story and the sacrament of the table… between fractured lives and new possibilities… It is the journey we travel when we make our way here to worship… bringing the stuff of our brokenness and tattered hope… through those doors… to hear again the sacred Word that has been passed down through the generations… and to make the journey to the gathered table that we may be encounter the risen Christ in the feast of bread and wine.
Barbara Brown Taylor says it best:
Jesus seems to prefer working with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. If someone hands him a whole loaf, he will take it, bless it, break it, and give it, and he will do the same thing with his own flesh and blood, because that is the way the God of life has shown him to show the rest of us: to take what we have been given, whether we like it or not, and to bless it – to say thank you for it — whether it is the sweet, satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. To say thank you and to break it because that is the only way it can be shared, and to hand it around, not to eat it all by ourselves but to find someone to eat it with, so that the broken loaf may bring all of us broken ones together into one body, where we may recognize the risen Lord in our midst.”
Once upon a time, on a sad, sad day, on the road of broken dreams between now and not yet, the risen Christ was made known in a spoken Word, in the breaking of bread, and in a sip of wine…
God’s living presence…
 Ted Lose
 “foolish” NRSV and NIV
 from Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon “Blessed Brokenness,” from Gospel Medicine, 1995.