Sermon for 3rd Easter, April 26, 2020: On the Road (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
God be in my head and in my understanding; God be in my eyes and in my looking; God be in my mouth and in my speaking; God be in my heart and in my thinking; God be at my end and in my departing
The prayer I just prayed is a medieval prayer known as the Sarum Primer, which first appeared in 1514. Sarum is the medieval term for modern Salisbury England. If you perceive an echo of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, you would be right.
This Sarum Prayer may help understand the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter.
The story of the Couple traveling on the road to Emmaus on the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, I believe, maybe be the most beautiful scene Luke ever drafted. It is both a wonderful, unique, captivating tale and a model for a great deal of what being a Christian, from Luke’s day to this, is all about.
The Couple, probably wife and husband, are walking the 7-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus while discussing and arguing over the events that have taken place the last three days. I think they were probably expressing their extreme sadness and disappointment. Circumstances, especially those involving loss, are usually perceived as difficult because reality does not mesh with our expectations. The two followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus undoubtedly felt utterly alone as they mourned the death of their dreams. While this Jesus appeared to them as they were walking, something kept them from recognizing him. During their suffering, God was indeed nearby, and He allowed their pain to continue until their desires no longer held them captive.
Jesus asked the Couple what they were discussing as they walked along. Luke describes the couple as appearing downcast as one of them, Cleopas, replied to Jesus that he must be the only person in Jerusalem that does not know the things going on for the last few days. (Talk about an irony). Jesus replies with the question, “what things?” They explained to him, as best they knew it, about the events of Jesus’s crucifixion. About witnesses who were told by angels that Jesus had risen but that no one has seen him. They express their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah that would redeem Israel.
The still incognito Jesus scolded them as foolish people so unwilling to put their trust in everything the prophets spoke! Then starting with Moses and all the profits he explained to them the things that can be found throughout the Bible concerning himself. But before they could begin to understand what had just happened, they had to be prepared. They, like everybody else in Israel, had been reading the Bible, as N.T. Wright says, through the wrong end of the telescope. They had been seeing it as the long story of how God would redeem Israel from slavery and suffering, but it was instead the story of how God would redeem Israel through suffering; through, in particular, the suffering which would be taken on himself by Israel’s representative, the Messiah. When Luke says that Jesus interpreted to them all the things about himself, 1throughout the Bible, he does not mean that Jesus collected a few, or even a few dozen, isolated texts, chosen at random. He says that the whole story, from Genesis to Chronicles, pointed forwards to a fulfillment that could only be found when God’s anointed took Israel’s suffering. Hence, the world’s suffering, on to himself, died under its weight, and rose again as the beginning of God’s new creation, God’s new people. This is what had to happen, and now it just had.(1)
May God be in our heads and in our understanding.
“When [Jesus] was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” They recognized him as the one they had left for dead in Jerusalem. They recognized him as the one who had accompanied them on the road to Emmaus. They recognized him as the one they had hoped he would be. We can only now know Jesus, can only recognize him in any sense, when we learn to see him within the true story of God, Israel, and the world.
May God be in our eyes and in our looking.
After Cleopas and his companion recognize Jesus, he disappears. Where do you think he went? Was he abandoning them? Was he playing hide and seek with them?” Was he undoing everything that just happened? No. It was not anything like that. He was no longer before them because he was now within them. Jesus was the burning heart within them, and it had been there all along. Sometimes that burning is felt as brokenness, sometimes as hunger, or being broken open, and other times as deep joy and gratitude. Always, it is Jesus.
And “that same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.”(3) To proclaim to the 11 what they had experienced, Christ is risen.
God be in our mouths and in our speaking.
Luke also intends that we his readers should see this simple meal pointing forwards, to the breaking of bread, which quickly became the central symbolic action of Jesus’ people. Though Jesus was no longer physically present, they were to discover him living with and in them through this meal (Acts 2.42). Scripture and sacrament, word, and meal, are joined tightly together, here as elsewhere. Remove scripture, and the sacrament becomes a piece of magic. Take the sacrament away, and scripture becomes an intellectual or emotional exercise, detached from real life. Put them together, and you have the center of Christian living. Pope Francis said, “when people open themselves to the word of God, “Jesus explains the Scriptures to us and rekindles the warmth of faith and hope in our hearts, and, in Communion, he gives us strength.”
May God be in our hearts and in our thinking.
We are invited to accompany Jesus on a journey of faith, faith that will take us through anxiety and sorrow to meet the Jesus who has accomplished his Father’s work and longs to share the secret of it – and the gift of his presence – with us, his followers. The risen Christ is only gradually made manifest to us journeying disciples. Physical sight is not necessary for a heart alive with faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).(4)
Luke has therefore described for us, as he said he would, the new Exodus from slavery that Jesus would accomplish at Jerusalem for our redemption.
The real slave-master, keeping humanity in bondage, is death itself. Earthly tyrants borrow power from death to boost their rule; that’s why crucifixion was such a symbol of Roman authority. Victory over death robs the powers of their main threat. Sin, which means humans rebelling against God and so conspiring with death to deface God’s good creation, is likewise defeated. Jesus has led God’s new people out of slavery and now invites them to accompany him on the new journey to the promised land.
May God be at our end and in our departing. Amen
T. Wright. Luke for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 298). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.