4 May 2014
Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3A (RCL)
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 17-23
The story of the Road to Emmaus is one of the most recognizable stories in the Gospel (Luke is the consummate story teller — more of his stories have names than any other Gospel writer). There are paintings depicted it, poets refer to it (T. S. Eliot’s, “The Waste Land” has one of the more famous and oblique references), and we all know it. oAnd with good reason: it’s a great story.
The irony in the story is part of what makes it work so well. We, the readers, know something that the characters in the story don’t know: the third companion is Jesus. As readers, we can see the outcome and feel a huge relief with the veil is lifted and the two companions recognize Jesus. But the irony also invites us to compare our stories with the story we are reading: it invites us to take an ironic perspective on our own lives.
Exegetes have long recognized that the story follows the basic pattern of a eucharist. The two movements of liturgy of the word and liturgy of the table are there. And Luke’s little tag line that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread is too formulaic not to hint at the church’s eucharistic worship. Luke uses the same formula in the passage from Acts we will hear next week: the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Again, we have the two movements: liturgy of the word (apostles’ teaching) and liturgy of the table (breaking of the bread). Luke is telling us that the early church recognized the risen Jesus in its eucharist.
But the irony invites us to step back from our own lives and ponder where we meet the risen Jesus. The two are walking away from Jerusalem crest-fallen at the disappointment of their dreams. A stranger joins them, and pretends not to know what is going on, and then explains to them the scriptures about the Christ, begin from Moses and the prophets. When they arrive at their destination, he appears to be going further. Hospitality requires they at least invite him in, but they could very easily have let him go beyond. Is there perhaps a bit of instruction here to the churches? Don’t just invite strangers to join your eucharists; persist, because they just might be the risen Christ. We often think that we have Jesus on offer to those who visit us; church is what they need. What if we turned it around, and pondered what visions of the risen Jesus we are missing because of those we have not been persistent in insisting they join us?
And when are we like the stranger, just too busy to stop in for a coffee with those who need a vision of the risen Jesus? The resurrection is not just a fact about an empty tomb, but an ongoing revelation of God’s resurrecting activity in the midst of life, and especially disappointments. A kind word may not be enough — it may take a seven mile walk, and a fair amount of explaining to bring us to an encounter with the risen Christ, or for us to be the risen Christ for others. It takes getting to know deeply, both the other and the story of God’s saving activities in a new way.
Our worship is a training ground for seeing the risen Jesus out on the byways of life. Each Sunday we interpret scripture and break bread, so that we may know how to do that out in the world, both discerning the presence of Jesus in others and being that presence for them.