May 4, 2014

Luke 24:13-35

“A Meeting Place on the Journey”

There is a beautiful benediction that I learned several years ago. It was the favourite of a minister with whom I studied in Toronto. And it’s the perfect benediction to go with a reflection on today’s Gospel reading about the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

I’ll share the benediction with you now… but don’t take it to mean that we’re done after this and you can go home. I’ll still have a few more things to say.

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet
walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands
stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart
open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet
and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.

Today’s Gospel is about the risen Christ, who comes to walk with two of his disappointed and disillusioned disciples as they travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know much about Cleopas and his friend, except that they had been followers of Jesus, and now, I guess, they’re not.

You see, it’s Sunday as they start the seven mile walk to Emmaus. Only hours earlier Mary Magdalene and Joanna and the other women had come to them and told them about a strange and wonderful occurrence at the tomb where Jesus had been buried two days before…

Early that morning, on the first day of the week, the women “came to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’”

That was the story that the women had shared with Cleopas and the other disciples that morning – the Easter story, the resurrection story, the good news story about which Christians today sing, and shout, and rejoice with great joy!

But Cleopas and his friend thought, “Huh?” They certainly weren’t sure that it was anything more than an idle tale, or wishful thinking, or delusional women. And even if it was true, what did it mean? What should they do?

Well, for whatever reason, Cleopas and the other disciple didn’t hang around in Jerusalem. Maybe it didn’t seem safe. Maybe they just needed to get out of there. Maybe going back to their normal, everyday lives was the only thing they could think of to do while they figured all this out. So they set out on the road for Emmaus, about a seven mile journey. And they didn’t sing any “Hallelujahs” as they walked; they just scuffled their feet and felt a bit sorry for themselves.

But as they walked, the risen Christ, the Christ with wounded feet, came and walked with them on the road.

It’s not that these disciples didn’t already know about the good news of God in Jesus Christ. As they walk with the stranger, they actually give him a summary of Jesus’ mission and the story of his passion. They tell it, but they don’t fully understand it.

It’s the risen Christ, walking with them, who explains it and makes sense of it… telling them not just WHAT happened with Jesus of Nazareth, but WHY it happened… because Jesus was the Messiah, the one prophesied to come, the Suffering Servant who would redeem the whole world.

When they talked about it later, they realized that their hearts were burning within them as he explained the scriptures to them on the road. But in the moment, he still seemed like a stranger. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

For some reason, though, they invited him to stay with them. When they got to the village, the stranger “walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

And then, the risen Christ took his place at the table with them. He took the place that he always took. He took the place of the host. And the Christ who serves with wounded hands “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

Faith is a mystery. We struggle to understand why some people believe and others do not. We are challenged to explain how we came to believe… Was it because of a book we read, or a bible study we did, or a teacher or minister who explained the Gospel so clearly? Was it because of an experience in worship, or the beauty of creation, or the loving kindness someone offered in the name of Christ?

It’s hard to explain faith, and harder still to replicate. There is no formula for producing faith either in ourselves or in others, but somehow we know it when it comes – a pure gift from God, undeserved and unexplainable.

But this story makes one thing clear, and it’s that Christ is present with us on our journeys whether we have recognized him or not. Christ is present in the midst of our disappointment, or sadness, or confusion. Christ is present with us even when we are walking away from the church community, when we are giving up on faith, when we cannot get our heads or hearts around the point of this religion we have joined.

Christ is also present with us when we gather in Christian community to do the things that Christians do – when we study the scriptures together and grapple with their meaning for our lives, when we come to the Table of the Lord to share bread and wine as he told us to do, and when we offer hospitality, or receive it, or care for one another in the community of faith. Christ is present with us, and we are invited to open our eyes and recognize him in Word and Sacrament and in one another, as well as in the presence of the stranger in our midst.

As I was deciding what to say to you this morning, I opened an email from Andrejs Sics. Andrejs is a young man who came to St. Andrew’s five months ago, and joined us for a short part of our journey. Andrejs emailed yesterday to let me know that he made it safely back to Northern Ireland where he will be looking both for a new job and a new church community to join.

I hope that Andrejs won’t mind me mentioning him in my sermon this morning because I think that the time that Andrejs spent with us here at St. Andrew’s was very much like the disciples’ encounter with Christ on the road and at the dinner table in Emmaus.

You see, when Andrejs came to us, he knew the story of Jesus already. He had read the bible, and studied theological writings, and he had already decided to be a follower of Jesus. But I think something was missing for Andrejs because he was all alone. He had never been in a church, or studied the scriptures in a church community, or experienced the fellowship, and support, and challenge that come from being part of a church.

Part of what Andrejs did while he was here was to study the scriptures with us. He came to every bible study opportunity, discussed the sermons intently, and asked more questions than the rest of the congregation put together. And every step of the way, it was like his heart was burning within him as he experienced the presence of Christ through God’s Word.

Another part of what Andrejs did while he was here was to experience what it is like to be part of a Christian community… sharing bread and wine together at the Lord’s Supper, sharing food and fellowship week by week and day by day, giving time and talent and treasure to the ministry and mission of our church, and supporting one another through prayer, and presence, and practical help. Although we’re not a perfect church by any means, I have no doubt that Andrejs recognized the presence of Christ among us as he joined with us in this Christian community.

Our prayers are with Andrejs as he continues his journey, as he looks for a new job and a new church in Northern Ireland. As he wrote in his email, he got home to Ireland as “a new man” – a man who has recognized the presence of Christ, who has received the gift of faith, and who will continue to walk with Christ throughout his life wherever he may live, or work, or worship.

But it wasn’t only Andrejs who encountered the Risen Christ in our meeting. Those of us who had the chance to talk with Andrejs and get to know him met Christ in him as well. Those of us who were challenged to answer his questions, to think about how to explain our faith and what it really means to us, experienced the presence of Christ once again. Andrejs walked with our church community for a short time, and along the way Christ was truly present with us.

The Christ who loves each and every one of us with a wounded heart opened our hearts to welcome Andrejs into our community and to love and be loved by him.

Sometimes I think about the different people coming and going from our church community, and I feel sad about it. Many people are here for a relatively short time, and then they’re off to another city, or another country. They go away to school or for a job, or to be close to their grandchildren. Sometimes they go on to another church, another denomination, or another community in which they are called to live out their faith. Or sometimes they die, and they go on to the next phase of their journey.

I often wish that our church would grow so that we could do more, and offer more, and have a greater impact on our community. Wouldn’t that be great? But today, the Gospel is prompting me to think about our church – not as the thing we need to build up as the goal of our ministry, not as a final destination – but as a stopping place along the journey.

Can St. Andrew’s be a place where we meet one another along the way – to study the scriptures and grapple with their meaning for our lives? Can our church be a place to encounter Christ in Word, and Sacrament, and in one another… not so much so that our church will grow bigger… but so that our lives will be changed by the meeting and we will go out throughout the world — to our families and neighbourhoods, to our workplaces and schools, to our new churches, or cities or countries to tell others with confidence and joy that Christ has been made known to us in the breaking of the bread?

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And Christ is present with us now. As you participate in this community, and when you go out from this place, may you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you. Amen.