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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Meeting on the Road

Together in our journey we meet Jesus – in worship and in each other and everywhere we journey in our lives in the world – and our eyes are opened to God’s way in the Scriptures and to God’s presence among us.  And we are changed.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, the Third Sunday of Easter, year A; texts:  Luke 24:13-35; Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Two disciples are walking the seven or eight miles from Jerusalem to their Emmaus home, talking about the incredibly strange events of this day, following a deeply painful week.  A walking journey of that distance with that burden to bear is lightened by such companionship.

They had left the main group of disciples in Jerusalem, in the upper room, struggling to comprehend what some of the group – some of the women disciples – had claimed, that their master Jesus was raised from the dead.  A spiritual journey of faith and doubt of such import is lightened by such companionship.

When Jesus was talking to his disciples about life in the community, he said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20)  In a little house in Emmaus that was literally true, though the couple didn’t see it until he broke the bread.  In the upper room in Jerusalem that was also literally true.

We can easily see how this story of Emmaus is a story that encapsulates our worship life.  We gather together to worship and our Lord Jesus, the Son of God, comes to us.  He opens our eyes to God’s Word, we have fellowship with him and each other, we speak to him in prayer, and in his Meal he opens our eyes to the grace and presence of the Triune God in our midst.  We see him, literally, in the breaking of the bread.  We embody his promise that where two or three, or two or three hundred, are gathered in his name, he is there.  Each Eucharist here is our Emmaus story, every week.

What I wonder is this: are we neglecting the rest of our lives when we consider this hope, this promise, and limit it to this nave, this chancel, this holy ground?  We come here expecting that our Lord will be with us in this gathering, hoping to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit, our hearts’ eyes opened, trusting that we will be fed by the Bread of Life.

But we have much of our life’s journey, our faith journey, that happens away from this sacred space, these holy things.  It turns out we are more like the Emmaus couple than we might know, then.  They weren’t at worship or going to worship.  They were walking a familiar road to get to their home.  They were talking with each other, and then with this stranger on the road.  As evening fell they invited him in, and so learned it was their Lord.  But essentially, they were living their lives.

And that’s where Jesus met them.  Into the midst of their life came the Son of God.  What might our lives be like if we were looking for this beyond what happens here every Sunday morning?  What might it do for our lives if we took seriously the promise that wherever we are with even one other believer, our Lord meets us there?

We are all on a journey in faith and life, and we need each other.

This has been a mark of the Church since the beginning, and it’s essential.

It’s no accident that the disciples gathered together in the upper room.  And look what happened.  They gathered for mutual support and comfort.  But then Jesus came to them.  And Thomas missed it because he was by himself.  He wasn’t with the others.  Until the next week.

And then they kept coming together, and one day, fifty days after Jesus rose, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all of them, together.  Then, when they went out as witnesses, they went together.  And our Emmaus friends, they took this long walk together.

In our journey of faith, as we seek to be disciples, companionship is absolutely essential.  We need sisters and brothers on our faith journey to support and encourage us.

We need them to speak the truth to us so we can grow and confess and become new people.  We need them to help us listen to God and look at our paths so we can choose paths of life and not death.

If we are ever going to grow and deepen as disciples, we will do it with each other.  And that’s because when we gather together with others, Jesus comes to us.  This promise of “two or three” is a profoundly important promise.

Jesus is not saying God will not fill our hearts when we are alone, of course not.  Certainly the Spirit moves in us always and in all places.

But what Jesus has said is this promise: that if we have even one companion to help us in our faith and life, he will guarantee that he will be with us.  We will meet Jesus on our journey when we journey together.  That’s a promise.  And it’s not just a promise of when we come together here for worship.

So when we meet Jesus together, what happens?  He opens our eyes, feeds us, is with us.

It was with the two on the road that Jesus opened the Scriptures to them so they could understand why this cross and resurrection was God’s path all along.  And it was with the whole group of disciples in the forty days after Easter that Jesus continued his teaching and eye-opening.

So it is today.  When we gather together, we listen to God’s Word better.  And our Lord opens our eyes and hearts.

But not just in this room.  When we are with each other on our roads, the same thing happens.  Together we can correct and guide each other in God’s Word in ways we can’t do by ourselves.  Together we can help understand and explain.  At any given time any one of us can be confused, and having another sister or brother to help is immeasurably important.  And because our Lord comes to us when we gather, we have the added blessing of the presence of Christ in our midst, guiding, teaching, leading.  Wherever we are.

And it was also when the disciples were together that Jesus fed them with love and life.  At Emmaus he broke the bread, and they saw him.  In the upper room he ate with them and they knew he was truly alive again.  On the shore of the Sea of Galilee he made breakfast for them and showed them his love and grace for them.

And so it is with us, that when we are together we are fed by the grace and love of God.  Certainly as we gather for the Eucharistic meal each week.

But on our ordinary roads, too, we are fed when we meet together.  As we meet each other’s needs, we feed each other.  As we embody the love of the Triune God for each other, we feed each other.  It’s much harder to sense the nourishing love of God without another person there to embody it, and together that gift is given us.  Wherever we are with each other.

But remember what also happens after meeting the risen Christ: everything changes.

The Emmaus couple are getting ready for the end of the day.  After Jesus, they run eight miles to tell others.  The same thing happens to all of the disciples.

Mary Magdalene’s weeping at a tomb.  She meets the risen Christ with her sisters and they all run to tell others.  The disciples are locked in a room.  They meet the risen Christ and go out to proclaim the Good News.  Again and again, after meeting the Lord, disciples leap up and go out to change the world.

But notice that these are all changed, too, not just sent out.  Their experience of meeting Christ together changes them.  They are no longer fearful, but bold and joyful witnesses.  They lose their old habits of distrust and caution and live lives trusting God’s grace in all circumstances.  They change how they live with each other, how they act in the world, how their community is formed, how they go out into the world to bring God’s grace and love.

Look at the Acts story today: people are convicted by Peter’s sermon and ask what they should do.  Repent and be baptized, Peter says, be changed.  And 3,000 do just that.  And the Church explodes into existence.  They are, Paul will say twenty years later, new creations.

And so it will be for us as well, if we take this seriously.

What we have been longing for for so long is a connection between our Sunday worship and our daily lives.  The connection has always been there: that as we gather together, journey together, we meet our Lord and are changed.

And the whole world becomes God’s house, where we constantly expect to meet our Lord.  As we walk our faith journey together, looking to be met by our Lord, we begin to see everything as holy, all ground as sacred, all things as vessels of God’s grace.

Was not that ordinary road to Emmaus holy ground, as Jesus opened their hearts and minds?  Their hearts were burning within them as he spoke.  And they weren’t even in a church!  And wasn’t their little kitchen sacred space as he broke bread and blessed them?  Their eyes were opened to the presence of God in their midst.

And in their companionship, and the companionship of the disciples in the upper room, they met the Lord together on the road, found sacred ground together, and were changed.

Because Christ is risen, we are always on holy ground, in sacred space, with holy things.  When we listen to each other and speak truth to each other in our journeying, we open each other’s eyes to God’s Word and God’s way, and our hearts burn with the light of the Spirit.  Everything is holy now, now that Christ is risen and has sent the Spirit into the world.  And we, together, live in that holy space where our Lord always comes to us, wherever we are together.

And we are changed on this journey for the better, for the good, for life.

We find the keys to our locked rooms together so we, too, can burst out and live these new lives, unafraid, filled with the joy of life in God.  We find the strength and energy together to get up and go out of our homes and run the road so we can tell others “we have seen the Lord,” we can witness to God’s love that has changed us.

Everything we need to become we find together as we journey together, because we meet our Lord together.  This is how what we know in our worship here each week becomes what we live and believe in our daily lives in the nave that is the world.

This is the grace of our Emmaus journey, that we walk this together and with the Spirit’s grace help each other’s eyes open and hearts burn.

But it would be worth a word of warning here: if you don’t want to be changed, if you don’t want to see the world differently, if you don’t want to be called to make God’s kingdom and justice happen in the world, if you don’t want to become someone new, stay away from the risen Christ, and for goodness’ sake stay away from his friends.  Don’t invite him or them into your home for supper, or you might find yourself transformed and going out into the world with life and grace.  Don’t ever let him or them into the locked rooms of your heart because you might be blessed not only with the peace of God but also the Spirit of God and you’ll find yourself turning into an actual disciple and witness in the world to God’s love.

If, however, that’s your dearest and deepest hope and desire, as frightening as such a thing might be, then this is very good news indeed.  For Christ is risen, and he’s here for certain.  But he’s also walking out on the roads of your life, looking to meet you, meet me, and change us, together.

Let us go from here in joy.  Because everything’s holy now.  And wherever we go together, we will meet our Lord, that’s a promise.  And together we will be led into new life.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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