Sermon for the 3rd Sunday After Easter
Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter (RCL) April 30th, 2017
“Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.”
About two months ago I had to run down to my office at the Hall to print a sermon late on Saturday night.
It was cold, it was dark, it was about 10:30pm.
As I was walking up the steps of the Hall I saw a figure coming up Summer street through the shadows. Big coat, hood up. It was a bit odd but I didn't think much of it.
I opened the door to the Hall, slipped in and stepped into the shadows to see where the figure would go.
The individual walked across the lawn of the Hall and began to peer into my car, then, they walked back alongside the Hall towards the kitchen door. I waited to see what would happen. Eventually they made their way back to the front of the Hall and began to tug on the front door, which was locked.
At that point I lost sight of them so I went upstairs to the Harrison Lounge to see if they had wandered off into the park. Suddenly I saw them, again peering into my car from the shadows. I called Shannon and explained to her what was happening, and as the words, “I think I might call the police…” were rolling off my lips, something struck me, “I know that walk,” I thought.
The person’s gait, the way they walked and moved their shoulders with each step, was familiar to me.
And at that moment the person decided that they had had their fun trying to scare me and called my cell phone—it was a good friend of mine who had been in Charlottetown and wanted to surprise us. He didn’t know where the Rectory was and happened to be looking around the Hall as I was going in.
Today we read a similar story from Luke’s Gospel; and in fact, in these weeks following Easter we will keep hearing instances of Jesus appearing to his disciples, but not being recognized, even by those who were closest to them.
Today’s Gospel reading again takes place on Easter Day—the same day that Jesus appeared to those disciples locked in the room, that we heard about last week.
And today two disciples are walking along the road to Emmaus, a village about 26km west of Jerusalem. They were downtrodden and sad on this road, having seen Jesus die on cross, but not yet having seen the empty tomb or the risen Christ.
Then they meet a stranger.
They tell the stranger all about what had been going on in Jerusalem recently, and tell him (with disappointment) about Jesus’ crucifixion, “they delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”
“We were hoping that it was he…” This gives them away: they hoped Jesus was the saviour, but they doubt that he is.
Jesus doesn’t reveal to them who he really is, maybe so that they will reveal to him their doubts and the disappointments.
But aren’t they our disappointments too? We talked about this last week, that the Disciples hiding in the locked room are a bit like us sometimes, hiding in fear or in doubt or in anxiety in our lives, waiting for Jesus to appear.
Well here, again, we read another story that might resonate with us. Two other disciples who struggled with doubt and with hope.
In our lives (I know in mine) we sometimes struggle to recognize Jesus—that is, to recognize what he is doing for us in our lives, because of our doubt or our fear. This is what these stories are meant to show us in these weeks: that our struggles of faith were also the disciples’ struggles of faith.
But listen to their joy when they recognized him, “Did not our heart burn within us while he talked with us on the road and while he opened up the Scriptures to us?”
Yes the stranger remained a stranger until he did something very simple, but very familiar: he blessed, broke, and gave bread just as he had done only three nights before at the Last Supper.
Just like me recognizing my shadow-skulking friend by seeing something that is part of who he is, the disciples recognized Jesus when they saw him doing what it is that Jesus does: giving himself for other and offering his body for them.
This is a turning point for those two disciples.
At first they were walking the road, doubtful, afraid, and without hope. Jesus’ promises at that time maybe seemed empty to them, they may have even felt betrayed.
But it was when Jesus did something familiar, something they recognized, that their hearts remembered that remarkable moment on Maundy Thursday, “Take and eat, this is my body which is given for you…”
Suddenly, hope gleamed, their doubt faded, and they knew their friend for who he was.
You and I will find ourselves walking down roads of doubt or hopelessness, or fear at various points in our lives.
But there is one road that is always open for us, and it is the road that leads us week after week to recognize who Jesus is.
It is the road that runs down the middle of this church, from the back door right up to the rail.
It is this road that we can come and walk each week, no matter how weary or heavy-laden and broken we are, and we can find ourselves in the presence of Him who gave himself for us, giving himself to us in the bread and in the wine, his body and his blood.