run back to jerusalem
A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, preached at the 8am service
We meet travelers on a road this morning. Disciples of the crucified prophet Jesus, who have left Jerusalem in grief. These disciples are dejected, in deep mourning, and in many ways are simply done with the work that they have been so passionately doing in their recent past. How can they be expected to continue when the leader of their movement, a man and prophet whom they had hoped would redeem Israel, was summarily dismissed, tortured, executed for trying to redeem Israel. These disciples leave the city of their grief, Jerusalem, striking out on the seven mile walk to Emmaus. This is not a terribly long walk (it’s roughly the same length as next Sunday’s Bloomsday), but it is enough time to clear one’s head, to discuss with each other the grief over the loss of Jesus and in many ways the loss of their movement because of his death and the overly negative reactions that the religious authority have made towards this movement that they have devoted so much of their lives to. It is into this grief, the dejection, the mourning, the simple done-ness of these disciples, that a stranger greets them on this road.
We know that this stranger on the road is Jesus. Luke is quite helpful in tipping us off in that regard, but for some reason these disciples are kept from seeing him for who he really is. Perhaps, it is their grief that keeps them from seeing. Perhaps, it is the fact that they have already resigned themselves to the death of the movement, just three days following the death of their leader. For me, I see disciples who have had their hopes and dreams for the world shattered. I see disciples who cannot see Christ because they can’t even see their real selves in this moment. They have struck out for Emmaus to escape Jerusalem and the grief that exists there, and in doing so, they, in a way, are heading back to their old, pre-Jesus lives. The world is crushing down upon them in their grief, and they are giving into the reality that the world tends to crush down upon us all, and they are simply to accept this fact as they go back to work as a fisherman, or tax collector, or tent maker. And yet, here comes Christ among them. Here comes Christ teaching them once more. Here comes Christ setting their hearts on fire. Here comes Christ and we must ask will we see Christ when we are dejected, mourning, done, will we see Christ when the world is crushing down upon us? How can we be open to the presence of Christ in these moments when we are barely even able to breathe?
If you will allow me to be brutally honest for a moment, I would like to share with you where I am dejected, disheartened, in mourning, today. Not all of you listening to me today will agree with how I interpret some of the events I will mention today, but I promise I have a point for us all, if you will let me take you there.
I find myself wondering today where Christ is present in:
- The ever present threat of war with North Korea, and not just war but what will be the nuclear decimation of an entire country (or two or three)
- The dismantling (or attempted dismantling) of services and resources, from healthcare to low-income housing to national monuments to the arts to protections for the environment (aka God’s creation), services and resources that serve all, and the dismantling of which adversely affect the poorest among us in greater magnitude than we can even begin to imagine
- A blatant disregard for the needs of the many in favor of the desires of a very select few
- The building of a literal wall to keep people out
- Threats, both realized and looming, to our very systems of justice
- 11 scheduled executions in 8 days, including the first double execution in our country in nearly 20 years, simply because the lethal drugs were set to expire
- The reality that scientific facts have become points of political debate
Some of these political actions I can accept, not because I like them, but because I understand that we live within a manmade structure of governance that is our best attempt to keep order, and that we all clearly do not agree on what that order should look like. But, I find it hard to accept those actions where I cannot find a trace of Christ present in the actions. I find it hard to accept those actions that I see as an embodiment of evil at work in this world. And because these things are so hard for me to reconcile with my faith, to understand how people, especially people who identify as people of faith, can support these actions, I find myself wanting to strike out from this city of Jerusalem and head to Emmaus. I want to find that road where I can clear my head, and perhaps clear it of my idealism and accept that the order of this world is not the world that I want to fight so hard for. But, I also want to find that road where I can meet Jesus. I want to see Christ again in this world. I want to recognize Christ here and now.
I think this is a reality that all of us share. We would not be coming here if we did not want to see Christ again in this world. This story then needs to serve for us another lesson about the ever-present nature of Christ. The disciples still do not recognize Christ for who he truly is as they reach Emmaus, but whether it be out of loneliness, or kindness, or a need for friendship, or recognizing something in this stranger, they invite this fellow traveler to share a meal with them. And, it is in this meal, in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of Christ’s body, they know and see their companion from the road for who he truly is.
It is in this moment that we need to draw our own understanding of the reality of Christ. It is in this moment that we, like the disciples, need to be so inspired to immediately run back to Jerusalem to continue the work that we have done before and is laid before us still. It is in this moment that we realise that there is always hope in this world. It is in this moment that we realize there is always a meal to share with one another, a table that we all can come to, bread that can be broken in communion with one another. It is in this moment that we realize there is always a chance to see Christ present among us, to have the veil lifted from our eyes, to see the traveling companion for who he truly is, to know that we are so empowered to carry out the mission and ministry that is our call as followers of Jesus.
This story of these disciples on a road leading away from their ministry, leading away from their fellow disciples, leading away from Christ himself in many ways, serves as a reminder that even in times where we are dejected, questioning, even done with the hard work that it is to follow Jesus, even and perhaps especially so in these times, it is important as ever to be people of faith, to be followers of Christ. It is in these moments, in these times on the road, that Christ often makes himself known, physically, tangibly. It is up to us as the followers of Christ to see him present before us. To know and be empowered that even as we attempt to flee the reality that is the hard work of doing the mission and ministry that Christ has left for us to do in this world, a world that can be so distorted through the manmade structures of society, not the least of which is a government of the people that seems to forget that means all people and not just those who agree with the ideology of the ruling party at the moment, that even through all of this, Christ still makes himself known to us, Christ still teaches us, Christ still breaks bread with us, and in doing so is ordaining us for this work that lays before us.
We break bread together, all of us, regardless of political identity, regardless of how we think this world should look, regardless of sexuality, gender identity, race, color, theology, we all break bread together because it is in this breaking of the bread that we get a glimpse of Christ before us. It is in the breaking of the bread that our eyes are opened to the reality of Christ present here with us. It is in the breaking of the bread that our eyes need to be opened to the fact that regardless of however we label ourselves or society labels us for us, we still are all at the same table, receiving and acknowledging the same presence of Christ. And, if we can do this, if we can see Christ present for us individually and us as a community, then we can be inspired to run back to Jerusalem and do the hard work of ministry that is laid out before us. If we can do this, we will start to see past our labels. If we can do this, we will start to see each person as a person, and treat them as beloved children of God. If we can do this, we will not allow others, whether it be our neighbor or our government, treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, our brothers and sisters in God, our brothers and sisters in creation, with anything less than the same level of respect, fairness, and justice that we have the privilege of demanding for ourselves. When we choose to be in a position to have our eyes opened through encountering Christ here at the table, we can’t help but accept our call to be a modern disciple of Christ.