Sunday, May 19, 2019
Theme: Easter 2019 – Eastertide 5
Scripture: Luke 24: 13 – 35
Liturgy: Linda Mulhall
Sunday Message: Linda Mulhall
How do we recognize people? By the way they walk? Their gestures? Their voice? This morning we hear the story of Cleopas and his wife, Mary, walking towards Emmaus. They are in despair and grief at the death of their Spiritual Leader, their Rabbi, Jesus. They are without hope, until they encounter and welcome in a stranger who listens deeply to their story, and consoles them in their grief?
1) Have you ever experienced an “aha” moment? A break-through in how you perceived something, where now you saw it differently?
2) What was that like?
Below is the text version of the sermon delivered.
FAIRFIELD UNITED CHURCH: “The Road to Emmaus”: Sunday May 19, 2019 by Linda Mulhall, Victoria BC
The New Testament was written with a firm commitment to the reality of the Easter experience, yet we must keep in mind that none of the Bible’s sources represent eyewitness, first-generation reporting. In addition, when we look at the New Testament writings, they tend to contradict each other regarding the details of the Easter event. (Spong, Unbelievable, 2018, p. 170) “All the gospel sources agree that women went to the tomb on the first day of the week, but they disagree on who the women were and on what they actually found. They disagree on whether these women actually saw the risen Christ, Mark says no, Matthew says yes, Luke says no, and John says yes! … They disagree on whether the resurrection occurred “on the third day” or “after three days”… They disagree on who saw the raised Christ first. It was Peter, says Paul; the women at the tomb says Matthew; Cleopas (and Mary his wife on the road to Emmaus) says Luke; and Magdalene alone, says John.” (Spong. 2018.171) And yet we know that the early Christian community DID experience the presence of the risen Christ – but in a variety of ways.
So, we are not dealing with historical accounts. “Easter did not, in the earliest years of the Christian story for which we have any written record, mean that Jesus was restored to the life of this world.” (Spong. 2018. 174) Rather the Easter stories represent how the early Christian community experienced the presence of the risen Christ.
“The Easter experience in the New Testament,…is not about bodies walking out of graves. It is far more profound than that. It is about God being in human life.” (Spong. 2018. P.188) In referring to God, we don’t mean a supernatural, invasive God who violates the laws of nature in order to enter time and space. Rather, this is the God whose presence and power calls us into our essential oneness, with each other and all of creation; who calls us to live from a place of our universal consciousness, and deep interconnectedness. Through the Easter experience, we come to know ourselves as part of God. This Creating One is not a noun whom we obsessively try to define. This Ever – Creating One is a verb, and we are invited to live within that creative, life-giving energy. This is what Resurrection calls us to.
The gospel of Luke was written after Mark and Matthew, around the year 70 AD. Luke draws upon those writings. However, in contrast to Mark and Matthew’s writings, Luke’s gospel is written more for a Gentile audience.
Let’s begin by exploring the nature of the appearances of God in scripture.
Throughout the scriptures there are stories of God appearing to people. We have the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush. (Ex.3:2) This story raises lots of questions. If others were present, would they have seen the burning bush? If Moses had had a cell phone, could he have taken a photo of the burning bush? Is there a difference between physical sight and insight? When Paul, who is one of the earliest writers of the Christian scriptures, posted his list of those to whom the risen Christ appeared, what did he mean? The Greek word for “appear” was “ophthe”. The same word used in the description of the burning bush. It’s the same word we get the term “ophthalmology”, the science or study of seeing. What then was the nature of these appearances of the risen Christ?
Rather than speaking of a physical sighting of Christ, was it more of a breakthrough in consciousness that allowed people to recognize the presence of the risen Christ? A breakthrough in thinking that speaks to new ways of seeing the world, of putting things together that have never been put together previously; new insight. Was the experience of the resurrection of Jesus something like this? “Did the tragedy that embraced the life of Jesus and led to his crucifixion get reinterpreted and understood in such a way that it opened doors to life never before imagined?” (Spong. 2018. 178) Once the early followers of Jesus lived through their disappointment and grief, did they eventually begin to understand and interpret the events of his life differently? Did they have some “aha” moments where they said to themselves, “Ah, this is what Jesus meant; this is what his life was about?
In the story written by Luke, two disciples – Cleopas and a companion – are travelling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, back to their home. The companion is not named. However, in recent scripture scholarship on this passage it is suggested that Cleopas was travelling with his wife, Mary. (And she is nameless!) Mary is one of the women who stood at the foot of the cross, accompanying Jesus as he died.
It is interesting that in this story Jesus appears to both Cleopas, and his wife, Mary. It speaks to the equality of discipleship among men and women who were followers of Jesus.
Mary and Cleopas went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. But they ended up witnessing the execution of their Rabbi and Teacher. After the Sabbath is complete, they flee Jerusalem. They are heading for their home in Emmaus, an 11 K walk north of the city. As they walk, they discuss all that has happened. They are in sorrow and deep despair. They had thought that this Jesus would rescue them from Roman occupation. They thought he’d bring in a new reign of justice and peace. And now he is dead.
In their talking, they become aware of a stranger in their midst. He asks if he might accompany them. And as they walk, he begins to explain to them the meaning of the scriptures. They do not yet recognize him as the risen Christ. But as they discuss the scriptures, they experience a “burning” sensation in their hearts; something is resonating; hope is returning.
When they arrive at Emmaus, they invite the stranger in for a meal. They still don’t recognize him.
But when he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened; they recognize their Rabbi, their teacher. What a shock it must have been, since the last time Mary had seen him was when he hung on a cross. She knew he was dead.
This is such a beautiful story, with such richness in it. What is it about?
I’d like to suggest that this story represents the living faith of the fledgling Christian community in the year 70. It describes how they experienced the presence of the risen Christ. In a way, Cleopas and his wife, Mary, represent that early community, travelling away from Jerusalem, travelling out into the world.
Cleopas and his wife recognize the presence of the Divine as they discuss together the nature of the Scriptures. “Did not our hearts burn…?” as he spoke with us. This image of “our hearts burning” speaks to passion, to things ‘landing’, ‘aha’ moments, ‘break-throughs in how we see things’. The practice of sacred reflection on the scriptures helps them open to the presence of the Christ energy.
Mary and Cleopas recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. The early Christian community began a practice of breaking bread together, as a way to remember and re-experience the presence of the risen Christ.
So we have two ways in which the early Christian community experiences the presence of the risen Christ: in the deep listening to, and the discussion of the Scriptures; and in the breaking of bread together – the liturgy of communion.
I think we can take the meaning of the scripture passage further. The story is also telling us that we will experience the presence of the risen Christ when we share our bread, when we feed each other – not only in this small faith community, but in the world. When we feed each other we experience the presence of the risen Christ. This includes feeding the hungry. In the last while, I have met folks who have had to make the choice: do I get my prescriptions or do I get food? Do I pay for my rent, or do I pay for food? We have people in Victoria who go to bed hungry. In BC alone, 1 in 5 children live in families that struggle to pay bills, rent and living costs. 31.5 % of Foodbank users are children. And within our own faith community, members sometime struggle to make ends meet.
The writer of the Gospel of James, written in 145 AD, over one hundred years after the death of Jesus, describes the commitment of the early Christian community to ensure that everyone was fed, housed, clothed and cared for. “My sisters and brothers, what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? … If any are in need of clothes and have no food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘Goodbye and good luck. Stay warm and well-fed, without giving them the bare necessities of life, then what good is this?” (James 2: 14 – 17)
We experience the presence of the risen Christ, not only through the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of Communion, but also through the mutual support of each other. At Fairfield United Church we actively commit to caring for each other. And we do this. To further assist us in this process, a new budget line will be added to our church budget. The “Minister’s Discretionary Fund” will be used to assist members of our own community and the broader community. We will be able to designate donations to that fund. You can use a cheque or cash, placed in an envelope with the designation “Minister’s Discretionary Fund”.
We also recognize that people are hungry, not only for physical food, but also for community and a sense of belonging. We know there are people in the broader Fairfield community who are isolated and lonely; who are living very close to the line; who are longing for community. We have seen how poverty creates isolation: when people can’t afford to take the bus, or go out for a snack – to eat with others; when they can’t afford to go out and do things, they become increasingly isolated. As the early Christian community experienced the presence of Christ in the sharing of bread, so too will we, as we provide a place of safety and belonging for members of the broader community.
We also hear in this story how Cleopas and Mary welcomed a stranger into their midst. In the welcoming of the stranger, the refugee, the Other, the one who is different from ourselves, we experience the presence of the risen Christ.
What happened to Cleopas and Mary after this fabulous experience? How did they go back to ‘ordinary’ time? I wonder if they found that a challenge?
Every now and then, each of us gets a glimpse of the sacred operating in our lives. We sense the presence of the Christ energy. And we want to hold onto this. So we tell others about what happened; we write in our journals so we won’t forget. But often, over time, the experience fades. And we go back to trudging along in ‘ordinary time’.
But there is Good News: in this faith community of Fairfield United, we remind each other of the possibilities for experiencing this Christ energy in our midst: in the sacred reading and avid discussion of the scriptures, in the liturgy of communion, in the sharing of bread – both physical and spiritual – in the welcoming in of the stranger. The Creating One is in our midst we say! We are Easter people. We live as if Christ is among us, even – and maybe especially – on those days when we don’t ‘feel’ this presence so clearly. We live as Easter people in the midst of challenging times!