I was at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Summit, New Jersey, May 8, the week of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Summit lost many people on that September 11th day 2001. The text for the day was Luke 24:13-35. Here are my thoughts that I wove together with that text:
On that same day, that same first-day-of-the-week-day,
That same they-found-the-tomb-was-open day,
Two of them were walking along, going to their village, Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.
And they were talking,
As no doubt you were talking on this first-day-of-the week day,
As you were walking—well, probably most of you driving-- here.
As the two of us, my husband, Burton and I were talking as we drove here yesterday from Philadelphia, where, by your gracious gifts, I have been serving as the St. John’s Summit visiting professor at the Lutheran Seminary this spring semester.
So, what were you talking about?
It’s Mother’s day. Where are you having dinner? What’s been going on in your daily life this week? And, of course, what has been going on in the world? Osama Bin Laden was killed. And there are the terrible floods in the Midwest. And a child or grandchild was sick. What were you talking about?
That’s what Jesus asked, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
Important question. “There’s a bench on the campus on the campus of St Michael’s College in Burlington, Vt. With the inscription of that question from this “Walk to Emmaus” passage. “What are you talking about as you walk along together?” during those college years.
The seven-mile walk was not too long for all the things those Emmaus disciples had witnessed. Two men. One a man. One a woman? We don’t know. We do hear that one, whose name was Cleopas, answered this stranger who came near. Our text says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing.” “Why didn’t they see the Jesus who was right there, right there, beside them?” I think the key is in the first part of the sentence, “while they were talking and discussing.” They were so busy, so distracted, so overwhelmed, they didn’t see Jesus right there.
Even though they don’t see Jesus, Jesus enters their distractions, and asks. And so they tell him. I hear in Cleopas’ voice in my own, (Maybe you hear yours, too.) Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know that’s happened there these days? About Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
WE HAD HOPED….. that he was the one to redeem Israel.
And, and, besides all this, it’s the third day since all this happened. And moreover, some women of our group simply astounded us. They went to the tomb early this morning and when they didn’t find his body there, they came back and told us they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. And some of the rest of us went to the tomb and found it just as the women said, but they didn’t see him.
Can you imagine. Walk along side those disciples. Listen. Hear yourself in their hurried speech.
Think of some series of events in your own life. When my father died suddenly when I was 11. Or, when a collision turned your car or your life upside down. Or when those whom you thought to be your leaders did the unthinkable. Think about the global events of tornados, Tsunami. Yes September 11, 2001. We had hoped. It began as a sunny day. And then, and then… And now, and now that Osama Bin Laden is dead.....
What are you thinking about? What are you discussing? And then there are the less sudden events, the every-day-thousands die because in inequitable distribution of food, the displacement of people because of war, the reality that we in the U.S. have 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the those in prison. The injustices that continue, the complexities of global economies. The problems that just don’t seem to ever get fixed.
Do you, too, look around to see an empty tomb, but no Jesus?
A death, but where is the life? We had hoped…..
But then, right there beside them, right there beside us, not just here at the altar, not just sitting beside us here in the pew, right there beside you as you are walking along on Tuesday afternoon when you have a difficult decision to make, right there beside you on Thursday morning when your family or friend situation is so complicated, you are too worried to reach out. We had hoped it would have been different. Right there in the middle of the night, when you can’t sleep, mulling all these things over in your mind for the hundredth time, Jesus is there. Jesus the patient teacher: “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.” Jesus the constant companion, who walked every step of the way with them.
We need that of course, Because, in the midst of things we forget, Jesus called them foolish. Not fools, but, well, they had heard Jesus talk about possible death, but they didn’t realize it could actually happen. And we, too, we’ve heard it before, but we together, need to keep walking along together, discussing, seeing Jesus right beside us. We have the great gift that this teacher who sends us out to teach, is walking right beside us as we grieve all over again and try to make sense of our daily lives, both personal and communal life together in this community, in this nation, in this world. We, yes the priesthood of all believers, the laos in ministry, have the privilege of Jesus entering our discussion. See him. Recognize him. He wants to listen to you, speak to you in the languages of your daily lives about the real things that matter so that the “We had hoped” longings might be fulfilled in him.
You know the Gospel story: He kept walking with them, all the way to the village. And then, just as it seemed he might be going on beyond them, beyond their town their village, their lives, they urged him strongly, “Stay, stay.” What did he say? “No, just forget it…you had your chance.” He went in to stay with them. All they needed to do was ask. (You hear that, don’t you.)
And yes, we, you, who gather regularly for the Lord’s supper, remember “When he was at the table with them he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Then, then they saw clearly. They recognized the one who walked beside them during their day’s journey.
And then the table time was over. But don’t focus on, “He vanished from their sight.” Then, then, they talked more to each other. Wasn’t that amazing? He was talking to us on the road and opening the Scriptures to us.
The discussion went on because they recognized the Christ in their midst. There’s so much we need to help each other comprehend so that we know what we are called to do in this world. Not just this past week, but the week before. Remember the tornadoes in the south? You saw the images on TV and the Internet, more stories than we can imagine, of people clinging to each other in Tuscaloosa Alabama. And the challenge in Cullman Alabama where every church in town was damaged or destroyed, to pick up, and clean up and rebuild where it seemed death had won and nothing but emptiness remained. But the students at the University of Alabama, classes cancelled, stayed on, to prepare and deliver thousands of meals.
In Christ, we are called to care for and can, care for one another.
President Obama visited Ft. Campbell, Kentucky Friday to say thank-you to the troops. Even closer here, he visited New York City Thursday. Low key visit, a prayer and a wreath at Ground Zero, and yes, a meal together with those first responders, in that fire house who had lost so many, eating the food prepared by the firemen themselves. They broke bread together.
And this very morning, the lower Mississippi continues to rise.
And, in your own village, household, a new baby, a mother honored, a mother remembering, a friend near death, an agonizing decision, a grievous loss. Possibilities realized, and hopes devastated. We had hoped.
What are you talking about with each other? Are you continuing to open the Scriptures with each other? Are you opening the book of faith? St. John’s, Summit, New Jersey, has a long history of connecting faith and life around the catechism in lifelong learning. Jesus is here, in you and you and you, as close as your brother and sister in Christ, ready to listen to those fears, and doubts and disappointments. And as you gather at the table, feeding together on Christ’s very own self, together the body of Christ is strengthened, together with the whole Christian church on earth.
That same hour those disciples, surprised that Christ opened their eyes at the table, got up and walked those seven miles back to Jerusalem and found their companions. Jesus opened their eyes. Jesus opens our eyes so that we can open our doors to the world, unafraid, bold, caring, courageous. What are you talking about as you have conversations about the Church's vocation in the public world? Where are you going? Christ is already out there. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed.” “Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed”