1 Peter 1:13, 20-23, Luke 24:13-35
Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, oh god our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
Having been away last Sunday, the last time I saw all of you was on Easter. What a wonderful morning that was. A really soaring way to end Holy Week. There was great music. This place was packed with people many in their finest. The air was filled with the perfume of lilies as we lifted our voices and celebrated Easter’s message of what God has done. It was glorious, wasn’t it?
But as much as I love the celebration and joy of Easter, and as much as I do marvel at all that God did there in that tomb between Good Friday and that first Easter morning, I help but wonder if many of us leave Easter service feeling a bit uneasy. Wondering a bit at the empty tomb that we lift up as the epicenter of our faith and wonder how this glorious message of Easter connects with the realities around us. On Easter we celebrate all that love has done, that life is more powerful than death.
But as we look at the suffering of the world and the suffering within ourselves, do we not wonder at the increasingly large chasm between Easter’s joy and our lived experience?
So on Easter, I often wonder how many people walk out of their churches after Easter services with that oddly unsettled, disoriented feeling I often get when leaving a movie theatre after a particularly absorbing movie. You know that feeling right, like you are out of sorts a bit, like what you just experienced does not square up quite yet with the reality now around you.
The thing that I find fascinating is that this tendency to see Easter as a triumphant celebration of the culmination and vindication of Jesus’ life and ministry is not, it seems, how God sees Easter — at least according to what the Gospels tells us about that first Easter so long ago. According to the Gospels there were no joyful crowds, no Sunday finest, no trumpets soaring. The Gospels tells us that Easter was not really an event at all. Not really a single happening. Easter doesn’t seem to be a culmination at all. In resurrection, Jesus does not seem to be wrapping things up instead he seems to be setting things in motion quietly, slowly, noticed by just a few, first in the garden, then in a locked room, now on a dusty road late in the day.
Pastor and theologian and Pastor Frederick Buechner writes that “the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, and they tell it in whispers. The way the Gospel writers tell it, Jesus came back from death not in a blaze of glory, but more like a candle flame in the dark, flickering first in this place, then in that place. It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened, and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling.” P. 252-3.
That first Easter may have been an event in the life of God but that was not the purpose of it. The purpose of Easter was so that the love of God incarnate in Jesus would now be incarnate is us as well. So that we would meet and take into ourselves and become the love of God living in the world. Those first followers started to experience this in the wake of Easter’s dawn. They started to experience the stirring of something new and life changing in them. Their walk in following Jesus was now being animated by the very life of Jesus starting to rise in them. They felt it, their hearts burned, their eyes were being opened, their sad walk became a good news filled run. Easter is not just about what God did in that tomb, it is most importantly about what God is now doing and is wanting to do in us right now.
For look at how that first Easter unfolded, look at where and how Jesus shows up. Look at how Easter dawns in the most unlikely places. First it is in a place of despair, Mary weeping inconsolably in the garden. Then it is in a place of fear, the disciples huddled behind locked doors. And today it is in a place of disappointment, sadness “we had hoped” Cleopas says so plaintively to this stranger that joins them on the road. It is almost as if it is the despair, the fear, the loss of hope that is what calls the Risen Christ to them. Easter releases a quiet but powerful life giving and transforming presence of love in the world that is showing up and walking with us in our brokenness, in our sorrow, in our fear, in our disappointments and that wants nothing more than for us to know and become God’s peace, and hope and healing right now.
Today is our Stewardship Sunday and I cannot help but marvel that over a hundred years ago when denominational difference was very divisive, a group of people decided that what they really wanted in a church was not so much the assurance that they were worshiping God in the right way according to some denominational delineation. Instead what they wanted was to be a part of a faith community that was committed to supporting and loving each other as together we discover who God is and who God is creating us to be not just for our own joy and healing but for the joy and healing of all the world. Over a hundred years ago, the founders of this church caught a glimpse I think of Easter’s hope. They caught a glimpse of Union Church in Waban. And what did they see? Who are we and who do we hope to be?
Well I think they very well may have seen those two disciples on the road to Emmaus because I think we actually look a lot like them. We look a lot like those who were walking together and talking together about the hard questions, digging into their disappointment and their wondering. And we look a lot like them as they not only welcomed the stranger but were open to what he/or she may have to teach us and to reveal to us what it is we most need to learn. And we look a lot like them as them as they took the risk of inviting that stranger into the family so to speak, to actually sit down as and share a meal.
Emmaus is a seven mile walk from Jerusalem. In biblical parlance seven is a number of completion. So I do not think it a coincidence that it was to Emmaus that these two disciples were headed. Seven miles is a long way to walk and the walk we take together may take a good long time. But Easter message is that when we walk this walk together, we walk it also with God. God will and does meet us along the way and we would dare say that in our walk together there have been and will be many times when we feel are hearts burning and when we are startled by resurrections hope and new life rising up in us.
This week as we were walking together, I heard from one of you something that set my heart burning and opened my eyes to Jesus alive among us now. One of you recounting how many well wishes and expressions of love you had received on the eve of your surgery, said that at first you were actually rather alarmed by all the outpouring –wondering if it meant that they knew something about how the surgery was going to go that you did not know and that they were actually saying goodbye to you! But then you laughed and said you stopped thinking that because so many assured you their well wishes were simply because they loved you! And then you stopped for a moment and said in an Emaaus kind of moment “Well I guess I do matter. I guess I am loved.”
It is good to celebrate all that God has done. It is good to sing our soaring songs and to dress in our finest. But it is also good to remember that Easter happens in quiet ways where love meets us where ever we are. Where too we discover that we matter, that we are loved. That is Easter’s joy and that is what our life together is all about. Amen.