Third Sunday in Easter, April 30, 2017
Happy Easter! It is, in fact, still Easter. I know it may not feel like it when you go to the grocery store and there’s a big pile of candy at 75% off. They’re really missing out, aren’t they? Easter is not one day, but fifty. But that’s OK—we get a good deal on candy.
Fifty days to celebrate. We had forty days to prepare, forty days of Lent that are met by fifty days of Easter. Forty days of fasting that are met by fifty days of feasting. Forty days to walk with Jesus through the desert, to walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem, to walk with Jesus to Calvary where he was crucified on that cross, and to walk with him as his body was taken down and laid in that tomb. Those forty days are met by these fifty days where we walk with Jesus away from that empty tomb, walking with the risen Lord into the world. Forty days met by fifty days. And in all of these ninety days we are walking with Jesus.
I am always intrigued by these post-Resurrection Gospel accounts, those stories of the disciples after Jesus has risen. Have you noticed that in those stories that they don’t recognize him at first? Remember back to Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene went down to the tomb, she sees the tomb empty, she weeps, and she meets Jesus. She encounters him and they have a conversation. During that conversation, she thinks that he is a gardener. She doesn’t recognize the risen Christ there with her in that moment. It’s not until he speaks her name, when she hears his voice say her name that suddenly she recognizes that she is in the presence of her Lord. Later that night, which was the Gospel reading we heard last week, the disciples were locked into a room in their fear, and Jesus came among them. Jesus offers them peace, and shows them the wounds in his hands and his side and his feet, and then the Gospel says that they saw the Lord. It is not when he appears that they see him, but after they’ve been given peace and after they have seen the wounds. And in today’s Gospel, these two disciples, still on Easter morning, are walking to Emmaus about seven miles away. And Jesus comes and starts walking with them and talking to them, and they have no idea who he is. Jesus did a little Bible study with them, and goes through the whole Biblical story and shows them, intellectually, why it was the Messiah had to die and rise again. Yet even though he is doing this, and they get it in their heads, they still don’t see Jesus there with them until that moment when the bread is broken.
Jesus keeps showing up to people and they don’t recognize that it’s him until some particular moment happens: a voice speaks their name, or peace is given, or wounds shared, or bread is broken. In that moment they not only see Jesus, but they recognize that he had already been there with them.
That is the way of faith, that is the way of the risen Lord. We never had the pleasure of walking with Jesus through Galilee the first time. Two thousand years later our only encounter of him is as the risen Christ. Our experiences are like the disciples’ experiences: Jesus is walking with us, we are walking with him, and a lot of the time we don’t recognize it. Then suddenly there is a moment, a voice, peace rushing over us, woundedness being shared, grief, sorrow, pain, bread being broken, or some other moment that none of these experiences quite describe. Perhaps in beauty of nature or art; perhaps in service, but in some moment, suddenly it becomes clear. You recognize not only the Jesus there with you, but the Jesus who has been with you. This has been the experience in my life, as of so many Christians. For me, most of those moments have been in the breaking of the bread, and in those moments I realize that I’ve been with Jesus all along. Even in those moments when it feels I’ve been the most distant from him, in that moment of realization, that moment of recognition I not only see him there with me as I take his body, but I see he was with me that whole time in the grief and the pain and the sorrow; the difficulty and the challenge and what I perceived as absence was not absence, it was presence. It was rather that my own eyes were closed to see it. We prayed in the collect today, “Open the eyes of our faith.” I was asleep, and suddenly my eyes were opened. Maybe that’s your experience at the breaking of bread, or maybe that’s an experience at some other place, or maybe that’s not an experience you’ve had, yet. But that is the experience of faith. And so we pray, and we pray again, “O God, whose blessed Son made himself known in the breaking of the bread, open the eyes of our faith”. Open the eyes of your faith and see the risen Lord that is with you, the risen Lord who walks with you into this world from the empty tomb of death into new life of Easter resurrection.