April 15, 2008

Easter 3

On the Road
Acts 2:14a; 36-41
Luke 24:13-35

It is often the case that, when a woman appears in the scripture, she is not named. Of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, one is named and the other is not. I can imagine that unnamed disciple as a woman. And I also think that because the second disciple is not named, that person might be us. Somehow we are invited into this story. Somehow we, too, are on the road. So reflect on me with this story, of how it might have been then – and how it might be even now.


I hardly know where to begin to tell you this story, so I guess I’ll just start in the middle of it -- when Cleopas and I were on the road. We were going back to Emmaus, leaving Jerusalem. There was nothing for us there anymore, no reason to stay, no future really, so we were giving up, going back to the old way of life.

It had been awful, just awful. More horrible than anything I have ever seen before, or since. Jesus, crucified, dying a terrible death. I had been there with the others; I watched the whole thing. And then there was the news we had heard only that morning, from the other women who had been to his tomb. I didn’t go; I didn’t think I could bear to see his poor dead body again. But the women who went came back saying that they had seen angels, that his body was not there. For me, this was beyond belief and, quite honestly, it was like insult added to injury. First he was killed and then his body was gone.

With something so bad as all of this, you would think we would have just wanted to forget the whole thing. But it seems it is human nature to need to talk through terrible things. That’s what we were doing on the road – that long and lonely road -- talking through it, going over and over it, trying to figure it out.

We had so many questions. How could it have gone so wrong? How could the crowd have turned on him that way? Why did Judas do it? And wasn’t there something we could have done, should have done?

We walked and we talked, pouring out our grief and guilt to each other. I felt so heartbroken that I could barely pay attention to anybody else on the road. So when one of the other travelers fell in with us, I hardly even noticed. He walked alongside us, eavesdropping I suppose, because after a bit he asked us what we were discussing. Cleopas turned to him and said, “You’re coming from Jerusalem. Are you the only person who’s been in that city who hasn’t heard about the things that have happened?” Well, apparently he hadn’t.

So Cleopas and I told him all about Jesus. Seems strange now looking back on it, us telling him about Jesus, but it wasn’t strange then. We told him how Jesus was a prophet mighty in word and deed and how we had hoped, oh how we had hoped, that he would be the one to redeem Israel, to save us. We told him how our hopes were as dead as our Lord – dead and buried and gone. And we told him the unbelievable tale from our friends, that he wasn’t in the tomb anymore.

The stranger listened to us and then he said an odd thing that I didn’t really understand at the time. He told us that we were foolish. He said something about our being slow of heart. And then he began to explain to us about the Messiah, opening the scripture for us. He went all the way back to the beginning, to Moses, and then all the prophets, explaining how it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die and then to enter into his glory.

I listened and I began to feel a flicker of hope, my heart warming a little as he talked. Maybe, just maybe, it was true. Maybe it was not over. He seemed to know, and listening to him, I could almost believe it, too.

Well, we were so intent on what he was saying that we reached our village in no time. But the stranger seemed to be traveling on, like a man with a long journey ahead of him. I couldn’t bear to see him go and we begged him to come and stay with us. He agreed and we took him home.

We were tired, worn out with grief and despair, exhausted from all the activity in Jerusalem, and it was late, but we had a guest. So we began to prepare a meal. Cleopas made a little fire, and I unpacked our bags from Jerusalem, laying out some cheese and dried fruit, a small container of wine. And then when the fire was going, I got out the flour and a little oil to make some cakes of unleavened bread. And that simple ordinary act almost overwhelmed me with grief, because I remembered being in the kitchen near that upper room and mixing the unleavened bread for another supper, the supper that turned out to be the last one. It all came flooding back to me and I think I must have salted the dough with my tears. But there was hospitality to be offered and so I set aside my feelings and brought the meal to the table.

The three of us gathered there to eat, and then the most amazing thing happened. Our guest became the host. He took the bread, the bread that I had made, and began to say the blessing: “Baruch et ta adonia elahaynu melech ha olam ha motzi lechem mean ha aretz.”

And as he broke the bread to give it to us, I saw, I knew. He was holding my bread in his ruined hands, and my eyes were opened. I remembered what he had said the last time he held my bread like that. “This is my body broken for you, do this and remember me”. I wasn’t at the table that time, I was watching from the door, but I saw, I heard, and this was no different.

It was, somehow, his own life that he was holding out to us -- blessed and broken and given away. It was true. It was the kind of thing that was impossible to believe, and at the same time impossible not to believe. It was true, he was alive, in a different way, a new way, but alive.

And I have to say, I think the same thing was true for me. In that moment I was alive in a different way. I saw him holding my bread and it was as though he had taken hold of my own life. I received his blessing. And when he held that broken bread, it was as though he laid his hands on my broken heart. His life was given to us just as the bread was, and I knew in that moment that it must be the same with us. Our lives must be given away, too. We were to become bread for a hungry world..

Well, he was gone, all too soon, but somehow our grief had vanished, too. It was late, it was dark but there was no question about what we would do. We got up and went back to Jerusalem. We found the eleven and all the rest of our companions, and they were telling similar stories, that he was alive. And we told them how he had been with us on the road, how he had opened the scripture, and how he had been known to us in the breaking of the bread.

And that’s the end of my story. But, to tell you the truth, this story doesn’t have an end. It goes on and on because he goes on and on. He is alive. And he will be made known. This is a promise. And the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far away, all whom God calls.

This is the promise:

Wherever two or three offer what they have to a stranger, he is there. Wherever broken-hearted friends seek to comfort each other, he is there. Wherever life is hopeless and the road is long and lonely and dark, he is there. Wherever the Word is opened and bread is broken and lives are shared, he is there. Wherever his friends gather around the table in faith and love, he is there.

He is alive. It is true. He is alive and he is here.


Anonymous said...

Your wonderful text comes close but can't compare to being there and witnessing your beautiful sermon. Thank you for taking me back to a wonderful moment. I hope others will come to Battell, share, experience and enjoy your and the community's efforts. God bless you.

James said...

Martha, this was really well done. You write beautifully and I continue to enjoy it.