Sermon Easter 2C 2019   (Lessons from Easter 3B)

Gospel of Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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As I was shopping yesterday morning at the Kroger off Feedwire Road, I heard the interaction between a Dad and his pre-teenage son as I passed them in the cereal aisle.  It was apparent that the young boy could not find his favorite cereal.

His Father’s response: “There’s an entire aisle filled with cereal to pick from.  Please, pick one.”  I giggled softly as I walked on.

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my rebellious nature; either way, I had to break the monotony of preaching about ‘doubting Thomas’ on the second Sunday of Easter.

I’ve diverted from the Church’s lectionary only 3 times now in nearly 30 years.  The other two times were for celebrating on a Sunday one of the principle feasts of the Church, the Feast of the Epiphany.

Today, I’ve chosen to give the story of poor Thomas a rest.

Like strolling down the cereal aisle, there is a plethora of treasured stories the Church tells about Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  Except for the Wednesday following Easter Sunday and every 3 years on the third Sunday of Easter, the story of the Road to Emmaus gets lost in the abundance of eye-witness accounts.  This story is too important to be lost.

The story of the Road to Emmaus reveals several truths worthy of our attention.

First, the story is only found in Luke’s Gospel.

It must have had significance for Luke’s Gentile Christian audience that escaped the Jewish Gospel writers.  Maybe it had to do with the writer’s interpretation of the name ‘Emmaus’.

Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary conveys that the name Emmaus means “people despised or obscure”.

Before I go on, a little history lesson is necessary.

“In New Testament times, the name Emmaus was doubtlessly most connected to the Battle of Emmaus, fought a century and a half earlier, in 166 BCE ,by Judas Maccabeus and his troops against the Syrian Seleucids.

(After Alexander-the-Great conquered Palestine from the grip of Persian Empire in 332 BCE, peacefulness continued in Palestine. Then in 301 BCE, Egyptian Ptolemies took over rule of Palestine. In 198 BCE, the Syrian Seleucid dynasty forcibly took Palestine from its Ptolemy rulers. After 175 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanies IV arbitrarily imposed Greek ritual and culture on Jewish inhabitants in an attempt to establish a common language and the practice of overall Grecian civilization in order to create unity in his empire. This attempt to force paganism on the Jews proved to be a fatal mistake.

The Maccabean victory meant the end of one of the worst holocausts in Jewish history and the independence of Judah from Gentile rule for the first time since the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 BCE.”

A little over a century, Herod the Great and the Roman Empire enter the picture.

Today the original site of Emmaus and the battle site are questioned.  While many suggest the site of the Biblical Emmaus, no one really knows.  Luke only tells us it was about 7 miles from Jerusalem.

Returning to the meaning of the name Emmaus as “people despised or obscure”, the ancestors of Abraham have historically been despised by many clans and nations almost since its inception.  And, it’s clear by the horrific bombings of Synagogues, like the one yesterday in California, that hatred towards Jews continues.

Besides this despicable reality, during the mid-1st century, when Luke was writing, Gentile-Christians were often despised by Jewish-Christians.  During the late-1st century, both Jewish and Gentile Christians were despised by traditional Jews.

Another tidbit Luke may have found interesting: as an adjective, the word can mean “unclear, unknown, or mysterious”.  That meaning can certainly apply to the story in that the Risen Christ’s identity was concealed until the breaking of bread.

The Second significance I see is that we’re told two of Jesus’ disciples, one named Cleopas, were walking on that Resurrection Sunday from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus.

This notably discloses that there were other disciples of Jesus beyond those 12 men participating in Jesus’ inner-circle.

And, since in John’s Gospel the wife of Cleopas is identified as Mary, the sister of Jesus’ Mother, we can assume that women were included as Jesus’ disciples and valuable members of the Jesus’ Community. (John19:25)

The third significance of the Emmaus story is that it tells us what Christians expected when they broke bread together.

Whether within a common meal or in the traditional remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper, the early Christians of Luke’s community believed that Jesus was made known in the breaking of bread.

Whenever anyone hears the story of Jesus or tries to live the story of Jesus through their hope and love expressed in thoughts, words and especially deeds the Risen Christ is present.  Whenever we share a common meal and ask God’s blessings upon our food and fellowship, the Risen Christ is there with his Family.

As Christian Episcopalians we believe in the very real presence of the Risen Christ in receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.  Beyond that experience, when have you recognized the presence of the Risen Christ?

I often recognize Christ’s presence.  Throughout Holy Week and Easter Sunday I experienced Christ in many moments.  And yet, an experience comes to mind that took place a couple of weeks ago.

I craved the taste of both a traditional Gyro and fried chicken.  There’s only one place you can get both.  I pulled into Arby’s on Far Hills near Whipp Road.

I overheard the person behind the drive-thru speaker giving the older woman in the car in front of me attitude because she couldn’t clearly hear his voice.  That didn’t set well with me.  I was ready to pounce if I got attitude (anticipating that others behind me would receive the same negative greeting).  But a voice inside me said, “Love makes the difference.”  So I opened my mind and my heart as I drove up to the drive-thru window to face the person behind the speaker.  It was a lanky, High School kid with braces.  He was frantic, especially when I handed him a coupon.

After hearing his loud and expressive sigh, I asked the young man, “Are you having a rough day?”  He went on to explain that he was being tossed from place to place, first at the front counter, then in the kitchen, and now in the drive-thru.

I empathized with him and he looked surprised.

After talking with him awhile, upon receiving my food, I left with a wish expressed that the day would get much better for him.  As I was driving away, he smiled and his eyes twinkled.  I knew the Risen Christ had been there.

When have you recognized the Risen Christ?

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    Dear John,
    After reading your Easter sermon I was pleasantly surprised to see a space for comment. I felt a door had opened that was previously closed. I especially liked your encounter at Arby’s with the teenager who was stressed. You acknowledged his stress and listened to his story, and bid him a good day.
    The love of God made it happen because you showed love to the boy and turned his suffering around.
    Your generosity and faith is apparent in all you do and say. Truly an inspiration that I will remember when I encounter trying times. You are brave to open yourself up to those of us on the outside so we may be inspired to do likewise. Thank you. Nancy

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      You are gracious, Nancy. Thank you for reaching out with your kind, heartfelt words. I pray you are doing very well and enjoying the beautify of creation. God’s Blessings, John+

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