Easter Sermon

Date: 27 March 2016 – Easter Sunday                                                                                   
Text: Luke 24:13-35                                                                                                            
Site: Bethany United Church – Halifax, NS                                                          
[Thanks to Ched Myers for his excellent exegesis and sermon on Luke 24:13-48.]

Do you remember the story about the Road to Emmaus? Hear these words: While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him…When the stranger 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 Jesus vanished from their sight. The disciples said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while the stranger was talking to us on the road, while Jesus was opening the scriptures to us?”

This conversation records an unrecognized Jesus and two obscure disciples. As this conversation makes clear Jesus’ execution is a mighty blow to the Jesus movement. Nevertheless this Lukan resurrection story has become sentimentalized, to the point where the context of the story is not almost forgotten. The wildness of this account, the unpredictable methods of our God, the shocking way God comes to us, lost in a deep dose of domesticated religion. Robert Zund’s depiction of The Road to Emmaus (1877) is such an example. https://fanaimasala.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/way_to_emmaus.jpg                    

Looking at the painting you see a contemplative stroll through a shaded landscape, a causal conversation delightfully interrupted by the Risen Lord. But according to Luke’s account, only 48 hours earlier, Jesus has been executed by the Roman military on the charges of treason and sedition. So these two obscure disciples would be neither leisurely nor reflective in this particular moment. Isn’t it far more likely the disciples are hustling down a back road to get out of Dodge, so they will not meet the same fate as their leader.

Luke tells us that while these disciples were talking and discussing with each other Jesus came near and went with them but their eyes kept them from recognizing him. Why didn’t these disciples recognize Jesus? This could connect to the rabbinic tradition of Jewish families setting an empty seat at the table expecting the prophet Elijah. Some believers have long held that Elijah would come dressed as a beggar, to see how the people were treating the poor, to see if it was OK to return.

Do we see Jesus in our midst? In times of pain and crisis, where our world is being torn asunder, where do we see the face of Jesus? In the stranger, I hope so. One of the most asked questions I receive as a Minister is, “how do I find God?” I answer, “It’s more often that God finds us. We’ve heard that we’re supposed to look up to the heavens, to look up to a pedestal, to look up to find order, where those who work hard are rewarded, where common sense becomes Holy Manners. But usually God finds us, at street level. Right where you and I live and think and feel.

My Easter prayer for all of us is to open our eyes and our hearts and see God in the stranger, in the one who walks beside us, in the one who breaks bread beside us, in the one we dismiss as foolish because she does not follow our common sense but instead has a new story to tell.

My first visit (I am up to 50 now, only 220 to go!) here at Bethany was with Janet and Barry Paton. Barry showed me pictures from the life of Bethany church, lots of pictures! I saw photos of worship, hand bell choirs, children’s choirs, plays and outdoor nativity scenes, Fall Fairs and auctions, preachers and soloists, youth groups and senior’s luncheons, and I saw some very young looking pictures of Shawn.

I asked Barry where he saw the face of Jesus amongst his Bethany photos, in the breaking of the bread, in the welcome of the stranger, in the unexpected. Here are 5 photos where I saw the face of Jesus from among Barry’s photos of Bethany…

How often in those moments did you see the face of Jesus in your midst, did you feel the power of resurrection, did your heart burn while someone was breaking bread with you, opening up the Word to you, listening to you along the road to somewhere? I think this is the hidden power of community. We take it for granted but being together, as neighbours, is exactly how God created us, Jesus blessed us and eternal love beckons us.

In the paintings Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio (1602) we see the how the church has struggled to be authentic to its recognition of the stranger in the breaking of the bread. In his original work the artist Caravaggio depicted a supper scene where the Jesus figure could easily have been mistaken for a woman. Likewise the apostles in the original work look like common labourers.                                 http://totallyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Caravaggio-emmaus.jpg        

The seated figure on the right has a seashell on his cape. This was the sign of a pilgrim--to be more specific, someone on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James, Santiago de Compostela--El Camino. It wasn't unknown for Medieval and Renaissance artists to bring contemporary elements into their representations of Biblical narrative. The seashell became the symbol of the shrine because it was thought to cure blindness. It would be a fitting metaphor in this story given that the two disciples were blinded to the reality of the risen Lord until he was revealed in the symbolism of the Eucharist. The clergy were not impressed! So the artist altered his work and what we have is the sanitized version, where Jesus is clearly male and the apostles are clearly men of privilege. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/29/Michelangelo_Caravaggio_034.jpg

Friends one change I have witnessed in my 25 years of ordained ministry is where people experience healing. More and more people tell me it is nature, landscape, sea, air and sky where they have been deeply touched and healed. And yet the church continues to focus our attention on the likely suspects of where we see the Risen One. In addition to the stranger and the unexpected visits by Jesus please look at the Creator’s handiwork for the face of Jesus. My friend Brian walked this community and he saw the face of Christ in several places, in non-human forms, not made or formed by human hands, only a gift from the Creator. See what Brian saw in these 5 photos…

In the text this morning we hear Luke 24:32 proclaim 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?” The Greek word for “opening” is used in other Gospel text to mean, the opening of deaf ears, of blind eyes, and of a hardened heart. In other words Jesus here is not just opening a book, he is stripping away the layers of denial we have accumulated about who and where we see the Risen Jesus.

Having seen this Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread the disciples turn around, from running away in fear, to running back to the scene of the resurrection with love and commitment. These visions, these experiences, change us and they transform us. We see the world around us as a totally different place.

May we this Easter season open our eyes to see what God has placed right in front of us, the stranger, our own hands and faces animated in new ways by the unexpected presence of Jesus, the Creator’s handiwork.

Jesus, Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine! Amen.