Monday, May 09, 2011

Easter 3 Sermon: The Road

Sermon Texts:
2 Timothy 1: 3-7
Luke 24: 13-35

Speaking of Mothers--  I was reminded of my mother today with today’s text in the lectionary.  When I was a boy and would get sick, my mother would use this tray, the “Jesus tray” to bring me my medicine.  If there were ever times when she would forget to bring the medicine on the Jesus tray, then I would ask for it: “Bring it on the Jesus tray, mommy.” 

There was something about this image of the road to Emmaus that always caught my imagination.  I love the grand trees, how Jesus is turned to one of the disciples and gesturing up with his hand, with the other disciple in rapt attention. There was just something about Jesus walking down the road with his disciples that held a totem like power for me, I guess. 

A few years ago, I saw this image was available in a nice frame from Cokesbury, and so I bought it to place next to the exit door as a reminder to those of us who gather at the church, that on the road of life, on our journey throughout the week, we should keep our eyes open for an encounter with the Risen Christ. 

From the tray, I always wondered how his disciples didn’t know it was him all that time—I mean, he looks like Jesus is supposed to look, right?  Isn’t it strange how in all of the resurrection accounts, Jesus’ disciples mistake him for someone else or just plain don’t recognize him at all? 

Here’s a profound truth of the resurrection that every Gospel writer captures—Jesus is experienced by a prolonged recognition.  What if Mary had seen who she thought was the gardener, and assumed her first glance hadn’t fooled her, and she just rushed crying away.  But instead she engaged the stranger, and it turned out not to be a stranger at all!

What if the two disciples on their way to Emmaus had just accepted the stranger’s obvious “non-verbal clues” that he was going to head on down the road, and let him go—but instead they pressed him to stay, to accept their hospitality—and when they sat down to eat with him, they recognized him for who he was. 

It takes a little more from us than just a casual, passive approach to the people we meet on the road of life in order to see the Risen Christ.  IT takes some engagement with the world around you—it takes some willingness to put yourself on the line and open your doors to people.  That’s what the resurrection accounts say.

I read this book by Cormac McCarthy last year called “The Road.”  He’s a fantastic author, the author of “No Country for Old Men,” and the book won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but let me tell you something, that book is depressing. 

It’s set in the future after a nuclear holocaust, and a father and son are trying to get to a warmer climate, and are traveling through a burnt out nation where the ethos of “every man for himself” has become the only law. 

At every turn, some glimmer of hope turns into a tragic mistake, and every person who seems possibly able to offer a helping hand turns out to have evil intentions.  It gets so seemingly hopeless, that you begin to wonder as the number of pages left grow fewer and fewer if the author is going to lead you out of shadows.  When a final ray of hope does finally become apparent, it is not without consequence, but it still leaves you feeling tremendously grateful for some small bit of warmth. 

In the story from Luke, we hear the two disciples walking down the road with heavy hearts.  They are sullen and sorrowful about the death of Jesus.  All their hope has been crushed.  And then this stranger begins to instruct them in the ways of hope.

And when he appears to them plainly in the breaking of the bread, he vanishes from their sight.  You see, with the hope that he instills, it is no longer necessary that he remain with them any longer.  The hope instilled is the point.  That small bit of warmth at the end of the Road redeems the whole story, it makes all the pain and suffering along the way tolerable. 

Along “The Road” in the novel, the man and the son reassure themselves that “they are some of the good guys” and they “carry the fire inside them.”  They are words that could be spoken by Jesus to the two disciples.  Words that Luke will later illustrate in the Pentecost story, when the flames of the Spirit are manifest over the heads of the believers. 

Yes, though the stark realities of the road may sometimes seem overwhelming, we come here to be reminded that there is one who walks with us who gives us the “fire inside us.”  He comes to us in many a guise.  And we must remember to respond to others with the dignity, kindness, and love that he instructed us to show to others.  When and if that happens, we might someday find ourselves walking with the living Christ and having our eyes opened to that mysterious and life changing reality.  May it be so! 

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