Date: April 3, 2016
Title: “Opening Our Eyes”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 24:13-31
One Maundy Thursday – you know, the Thursday before Easter – I wandered into Safeway to get a salad for lunch. On my way out I got to chatting with a store employee who was laden down with huge garbage bags full of old flowers, on their way to the dumpster. Here’s how our conversation unfolded:
I said: “Too bad they didn’t sell”
He said: “Yeah, I guess they’re clearing them out, getting ready for Valentines’ Day
I said: “Oh – probably Easter – this coming Sunday”
He said: “Yeah, Easter. I think Easter’s really just for the kids.”
I was silent, thinking, what I can say to that? Of course I was thick in the middle of Holy Week, and I started thinking about the Easter story, how it is a story of betrayal, and arrest, torture, and crucifixion before it is a story of resurrection. Hardly a story “just for the kids”! When you take away the colored eggs, the fancy dresses, the blooming lilies, what is left? What is left is life. Plain and simple, Easter leaves us with life and the possibility of new life.
But it doesn’t answer all of our questions; it doesn’t take away all of our doubts. And it never has. All four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection, and each author puts their own particular spin on the tale. Yet the one thing they all agree upon is this –nobody believes in Jesus’ resurrection when they first hear about it. Nobody sings “Christ the Lord is risen today… alleluia!” upon receiving the incredible news of Easter.
If you were here last Sunday you heard Luke’s version of the tale, how the women went to the tomb and found it empty. And when they told their friends, the disciples dismissed their testimony as an “idle tale”. Actually, that is a cleaned up version in English. In the original Greek, Luke uses the word leros – the root of our word delirious, to suggest that the disciples’ response to the women’s good news is to say the women are out of their freakin’ minds!
Today we find another story of doubt and disbelief. Cleopas and his friend have been traveling together for some time. They are discouraged, and depressed, heartsick and grieving on their way to Emmaus when a stranger joins them. He seems pleasant enough. He certainly knows his Scriptures, even if he doesn’t seem to know the first thing about current events. Are you the only one who doesn’t know what has been going on? they ask him. And it isn’t until they sit down to supper – it isn’t until Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them – that their eyes are finally opened.
Those disciples are not so very different from us. We too have our share of doubt, when the lilies are gone, the brass and the timpani are put away, and we are left with one another. When we find ourselves on the road to Emmaus, wondering what difference Easter makes, after all. We know all about ordinary despair and Monday morning drudgery, and journeys that take us far away from hope. Just like Cleopas and his friend, grief and loss, failure and heartache can blind us to resurrection hope… unless we somehow help each other to open our eyes. When Alyce McKenzie reads this story from Luke, she says it always leaves her wondering:
How long will the disciples continue down the road without recognizing that the Risen Jesus walks with them? How long will you and I walk with them, not noticing any hope at all?
She goes on:
I’m talking about the spiritual condition of habitually expecting failure and sorrow where we have been promised victory and joy. I’m talking about waking up every morning and heading for the Garden Tomb looking for a corpse, or walking through a valley of the shadow of death that is darker than it needs to be because we’ve closed the blinds and unscrewed the light bulbs in the wall sconces in the hall.
Albert Einstein used to say there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle. Easter invites us to live that other way, as though everything is a miracle, everything is sacred, because God is really here and Jesus is standing alongside us and we have been given new life.
I think it is no coincidence that Jesus is recognized in the breaking of bread. Before his death, Jesus offered a glimpse of this resurrection meal. And when we gather at his table, he asks us for more than a simple recollection with him. He asks us for a re-membrance. In this meal Jesus asks us to put him back together, taking all that he taught us, all the love he shared with us, all the healings he offered us and reconnecting his loving with our serving. He is asking us to allow him to open our eyes to God’s presence and our hearts to Easter’s hope.
Did you know there are three different places in the Holy Land that claim to be the village of Emmaus? That, in and of itself, is not particularly remarkable. If you travel in the Holy Land you quickly learn that any significant event linked to a specific place will routinely have several spots claiming to be the location. But did you know that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any ancient sources – and that the only place in all the New Testament where it is mentioned is here, this story about Jesus walking with Cleopas and his friend?
This reality once led Marcus Borg to remark “Emmaus is nowhere; and Emmaus is everywhere.” Emmaus is wherever you meet the risen Christ and open your eyes. It is wherever life surprises you with grace. It is found in churches and in schools, in homes and in hospitals, in workplaces and in vacation resorts. Emmaus is where Easter comes to dwell within you and you finally open your eyes, doubts and all. Again, in Alyce McKenzie’s words:
There is a statute of limitations on the brand of persistent pessimism that stomps out every spark and blows out every flame; that has 20/20 vision for the worst in the most positive of situations. How far down the road will you go with those “misery loves company” disciples on the Emmaus Road before you say “No” to unfounded hopelessness and “Yes” to the presence of the Risen Christ walking by your side?
There is no staying put in an upper room or even at the Garden Tomb this morning. Jesus is asking us to re-member him at this table, and also in the world at large. And we are going to have to walk toward Emmaus with our eyes wide open. Maya Angelou tells the story of her grandmother, who knew what it was to walk that way:
One of my earliest memories is a glimpse of a tall cinnamon-colored woman with a deep, soft voice, standing thousands of feet up in the air on nothing visible. That incredible vision was the result of what my imagination would do each time Grandma drew herself up to her full six feet, clasped her hands behind her back, looked up into a distant sky, and said “I will step out on the word of God.” She would look up as if she would will herself into the heavens and tell her family in particular and the world in general “I will step out on the word of God.”
In the end, that may what the Emmaus experience is all about. It is about stepping out on the word of God and the promises of Easter – whenever and wherever they become known to you. It is about knowing that the risen Christ is in you and you are in Christ. It is about understanding that Emmaus is nowhere and that Emmaus is everywhere, because Jesus is alive and God’s love is on the loose in the here and now. Isn’t it about time you opened your eyes? Amen.