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On looking backwards
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on May 4, 2014

Christ Church Andover
Easter 3, Year A
May 4, 2014

Click for the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sigh, O God our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

One of my favorite films is an Akira Kurasawa samurai film called ‘Rashomon’, which chronicles four conflicting versions of the same story, told by four different people, four witnesses to the same event. The film is brilliant in part because it doesn’t particularly tell you which story is the right one- even at the end, the ‘truth’ if you will.

The stories in our gospels after Easter are a bit like ‘Rashomon’. Each gospeler has a different account or version of what happened that Easter morning, about who went to the tomb, who was found there, who believed or didn’t believe, and of course, about what happened afterwards. Like Rashomon, the general overall accounts match, but vary greatly in detail—and no, we are offered no one ‘truth’ to satisfy us at the end. Last week, we heard the story of the disciples staying in their upper room the night of the resurrection, fearful that what had happened to Jesus in the trial and on the cross would happen to them. This morning, we hear from Luke about *his* version of what happened that Easter evening. In Luke, the women find the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb already, and are met by two men in dazzling white robes, who remind the women that Jesus promised them that he would rise from the dead after three days. The women then head to the disciples to tell them this news, but they dismiss it as an ‘idle tale’, with the exception of Peter who goes to see the tomb for himself.

And that brings us to this morning’s road to Emmaus. We are transported back again to the evening of Easter, with the empty tomb still fresh in our minds, when the knowledge that Christ had risen was still suspect—theoretical at best, but hard to imagine at that time and in that place. It was too early, too soon, to be convinced of any type of resurrection, too soon into the heartbreak of the past few days, and the two men walking on the road out of Jerusalem were deep into their wonder about everything that had just happened. And then they are joined by a fellow journeyer.

Jesus, unknown to them, walks with them, inquiring about ‘all that had happened’, and all that they were discussing and pondering and saddened by. He doesn’t reveal himself. He listens. And he explains the scriptures to them. And he stays with them even when his journey seems to be taking him in a different direction, and shares a meal with them. And then the eyes of the two men are opened and Jesus vanishes.

Here is a different story than that of John’s upper room. No proof here. No hand in wound. No disciples, even, here. Just the story of two ordinary people, visibly saddened and shaken, working out the death and resurrection that had just happened before them, and welcoming another pilgrim to join them and walk with them along their way.

There is a bit of hokey story (with some suspect theology in it, be forewarned) that came to me this week as I was praying over this story of the Road to Emmaus. A man was caught in a flash flood, and climbed to the roof of his house, as the waters rose. As he sat on his roof, the man prayed to God to save him. Soon, a man in a canoe came along and offered him assistance in getting off the roof. The man on the roof said no, that he was a man of faith and was waiting for God to come down and save him. Later on, as the waters rose, a motorboat came by and the driver said for the man to get down and come in the boat with him. The man on the roof said again, that he was a man of faith, that he didn’t need help, that God would save him. As the waters kept rising, a helicopter came by and offered to pick him up off the roof. A third time, the man said no, that he was expecting a miracle to happen as he was a man of faith and God wouldn’t let anything happen to him. As it happened, the waters kept rising and the man died. When he arrived in heaven and met his God face to face, the man was livid. ‘You let me die!’ he said. ‘What happened to you coming and saving me?! I waited for you, God! I waited for a miracle!’ God answered him, ‘I did try to save you, three times! I sent a canoe, a motorboat, and finally, a helicopter! What more of a miracle could you want?!’

Do you often recognize Christ as you walk along your day to day journey? Or are you waiting for something far grander than just a fellow pilgrim to knock you from your horse in awe?

The two men on the road to Emmaus were heartbroken. There are some telling words in the gospel that remind us that this wasn’t just another walk for them, but they even stopped and stood still for sorrow. They ‘had hoped’ that this would be the beginning of something new, something transformative. ‘Had hoped’ is a painful phrase. It belies a disappointment that goes beyond the surface. But they made room for another in their sorrow, and invited them to walk with them, to connect with them, to teach them, to eat with them. And that’s when they saw Jesus.

Too often it feels that we paint an encounter with God as something that should have a fair amount of drama in it. A miracle should be something grand, or at least grandiose, and notable from far and wide. I wonder if we wait for the lightning strikes and epiphanies to signal our interaction with the Divine more than we think we do. If I asked all of you here today if you had had an encounter with God, or Christ, already today, what would you say? Would you say no, that’s what I come to church for? Would you say no, it’s been an ordinary sort of morning? Would you say no, I’m not that kind of person who believes in that stuff?

The crux of our faith- the resurrection—happens in all of the gospel stories we hear of Jesus after Easter (the only consistent part of the Rashomon story, if you will) in Jesus surprising people as to where he shows up. He lets himself into the upper room, the locked and fearful place. He joins ordinary folks on the road, discussing and pondering all that has happened in their lives, the places of brokenness, and the places of joy. He reveals himself in a shared meal, not only when his disciples are learning (from him or each other), but when they are relaxing and being a community.

God happens in the most unexpected and yet ordinary moments of our lives; through the most unexpected and yet ordinary of people; in the most unexpected and yet ordinary places and times. And sometimes, it’s only looking backwards as those two men did—noticing that their hearts were burning within them while they were with Jesus—that we see the presence of the Divine.

This morning we celebrate our 7th and 8th graders in our Rite13 youth group in a ceremony of adulthood. As in all of our youth groups, the emphasis in Rite13 is not in just learning, or memorizing, or getting all the details down of our faith or what it means or how to know all the working parts of it. Those are important aspects, but they are not the only ones. It takes practice to recognize God in the ordinary moments. It takes practice in learning how to be a beloved community and what that can look like. It takes practice in learning how to love one another, and to love oneself, and to seek out Christ in one another as we walk together. And that is what they do as a group. They practice being Christians and following Jesus in all the ordinary ways. It’s what their mentors and parents model for them.

And it’s ultimately what we do here together. We practice every time we gather. We teach each other to watch for the canoes and boats and helicopters which will be the less divine hands of God. We recognize that in our true broken-heartedness and dashed hopes—whatever they might have been—that we are not left alone in them. In this story of the road to Emmaus, we see a blueprint of what we do here, together, every Sunday. We don’t promise radical twists of faith or epiphanies every Sunday morning. That would be exhausting. But we do intentionally walk together. We listen to and open up and make sense of the scriptures together. We bless bread and make a meal together. And then we go on our separate ways, empowered to live another hour, another day, or another week, in the deep knowledge of the love of God. And perhaps that is the one truth, the secret of Rashomon, of the gospel stories for us.


Last Published: May 9, 2014 2:05 PM