first thing you will notice is that I’ve given this sermon a different
title from the one printed in the bulletin.
That’s the trouble with inspiration, what little I may
have—it doesn’t always meet print deadlines.
A few here will also notice that my title is borrowed from a
dictum from my favorite Biblical scholar,
John Dominic Crossan
. More on that later:
on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus,
about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each
other about all these things that had happened. 15While
they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went
with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each
other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then
one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only
stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken
place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What
things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who
was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and
how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to
death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the
one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third
day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women
of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and
when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that
they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some
of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the
women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said
to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe
all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary
that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his
glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28As they came near the village to which they were going,
he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When
he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it,
and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and
they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They
said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he
was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to
us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to
Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered
together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed,
and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had
happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the
breaking of the bread.
a story from Kathleen Norris. A
good member here gave me her book, Amazing Grace, after I made a
disparaging comment on the notion of “wretch” in Christian theology
last week. Norris has a
different take on what being a “wretch” means, historically and
linguistically more accurate than my own perspective without question.
It was very enlightening to read.
Didn’t change my mind, but at least gives me some new insight
into Newton’s use of the term in his popular hymn.
But that has nothing to do with this sermon so I’ll say no more
for now and leave that for another day.
story from Norris that does relate to my topic is in her chapter on
revelation, though the story is neither about the text from Luke nor the
book of Revelation, rather it alludes to a story in the first book of
the Bible when Jacob has a vision of the Divine.
The story is short, so I’ll share it in her words in the
a little boy came up to me and said, “I saw the ladder that goes up to
God.” I closed the book
that I was reading, which happened to be The Ladder of Divine Ascent,
by a fierce sixth-century monk, John Climacus, and I listened.
The boy told me that the ladder was by his treehouse and that God
had come halfway down. God’s
clothes were covered with pockets—like a kangaroo, he said, and we
both laughed. Even God’s
running shoes had pockets, he told me, full of wonder, and we laughed
again. He told me that God
carried food in the pockets to feed all the dead birds and the dead
boy had recently experienced that most fierce of childhood experiences,
the death of a beloved dog. It
had been bitten by a rabid raccoon on his family’s ranch, and his
father had had to shoot both animals.
As the boy told me of his dream, I thought about Jacob, who
during a crisis in his life had also seen a ladder going up to heaven.
Jacob’s response has always appealed to me; when he wakes, he
says, “God is in this place, and I did not know it.”
is not explanation, and it is not acquired through reading John Climacus,
or anyone else. It is the
revealing of the presence of a God who cares for all creatures, even a
little boy who lives on a ranch in a part of America that has often been
called “Godforsaken.” A
boy whose dog has died, and who needs, and receives, divine consolation.[i]
boy distraught over the death of his dog, wondering, perhaps, who will
feed him now, encounters a God with pockets of food.
Two travelers leaving Jerusalem, fleeing perhaps, distraught over
recent events and perplexed by more recent news from that Sunday
morning, encounter the risen Christ in the breaking of bread.
One a child’s story, silly fantasy to some, the other sacred
story, Gospel truth to many. But
I say, if one is false, both are false.
And if one is true, both are true, for they are simply different
variations of the same story.
probably does not surprise you, coming from me, but this might.
It is not because I know the Emmaus story to be true that I can
believe the God with pockets story, but because I know the God with
pockets story to be true that I can believe the Emmaus story.
That requires a little explaining.
regarding Emmaus. A few
weeks ago I introduced the concept of the new or emerging paradigm for
understanding our faith as described by Marcus Borg and others.
We’ll be starting in the next week or two a study group which
will explore this topic on a deeper level.
In fact, since I announced this group. the response has been so
positive, that we are now looking at starting two such groups to make
room for everyone who has expressed an interest.
So make sure you are on my list if you are one of those and
we’ll get you the details this week.
you asked me to name one story in scripture that illustrates this
paradigm, it would be the Emmaus story.
There are many examples of paradigm shifts in the secular world.
Borg uses the example of astronomy.
Prior to Copernicus, everyone thought that the earth was the
center of the universe, literally.
It was assumed that the sun, stars and planets all revolved
around the earth. The idea, introduced by Copernicus, that the earth revolved
around the sun, was so radical that it was condemned as heresy by the
Church. Moving from an
earth-centric universe to a heliocentric universe was an enormous
paradigm shift that forever changed astronomy.
Covey used the more humorous story in his best seller, The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People, of a battleship on a collision
course with another vessel in the middle of the night.
According to the rules of the sea, smaller ships always make way
for larger ones. Thus the
commander of the battleship signaled the other vessel to change course.
The reply, of course, was a polite refusal. Not pleased, the commander told his signalman to send a more
terse message, saying “I am the commander of the fleet, I order you to
change your course.” Again
came a refusal. Furious,
the commander signaled, “I am a battleship, change your course now!”
The final refusal ended the argument simply with, “I am a
lighthouse.” That is a
Emmaus story contains not one, but two such shifts.
The first occurs within the story itself.
The two travelers, Cleopas and an unnamed companion, often
assumed to be his wife, understandably assume that Jesus is dead once
and for all. Crucifixions
were terribly final. No one
had ever survived them before and there was no reason to suggest that
this one would be any different. Even
with the incredible reports of the empty tomb, these two were not
prepared to see Jesus again in their lifetime.
It is not until Jesus does something very familiar, breaking and
blessing the bread as he had undoubtedly done many times before, that
they realize who he is and in that moment, everything changes.
Though he disappears suddenly from their midst, they now know
that he is not dead, but is alive to them in a whole new way never
before conceived. So
complete is this change in them that they immediately go back from where
they had just come to share the news.
second shift occurs outside the story.
It is not what happens to the subjects of the story, but the
objects, if you will, which are the readers.
It does not happen for everyone, nor does it need to.
Many people are able to connect with this story in different,
powerful ways. Some will
relate to that experience of the journey, traveling with the unseen
Christ. Others may recall a
similar time when their hearts burned within them in a passion for the
Gospel message. And many
Christians will resonate with the experience of encountering Christ in
the breaking of bread, perhaps in the Eucharistic sense of the Lord’s
Table or in a more generic sense of table fellowship with companions on
a common journey. These are
all powerful images which speak to our own experience of the risen
Christ, but in and of themselves, they do not represent the shift of
which I speak.
second shift occurs when we see in this story, as Crossan puts it, a
generation of encounters with the risen Christ told in one parabolic
afternoon. This is
precisely what Christian faith is all about—encountering the very real
presence of Jesus in a way that opens our eyes, burns in our hearts and
turns us around. On such
both the older and the emerging paradigm can agree.
What is new in the emerging paradigm is how we see this story and
our relationship to it. As
I’ve said many times before, what matters most is the truth of the
story, not the facts of the story.
It is not that facts do not matter, for the fact that Jesus was
crucified matters deeply. Facts
as to the various details of his death matter less.
Same for his resurrection. The
fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead is central to our faith,
the facts as to the manner of his resurrection, bodily or not, is of
put it differently in regards to the Emmaus story, there is a hard truth
and a liberating truth in this story.
These truths were summed up powerfully for me in the afore
mentioned dictum of Dom Crossan in just six words.
The first three reveal the hard truth: “Emmaus never
happened.” This is hard
because some will hear in such words a challenge to Biblical truth.
So let me be as clear as I can be on this.
I believe in the importance and centrality of scripture to
Christian faith with my whole being AND I believe that such belief does
not require that I give up my intellect.
For me the two work hand in hand.
the Bible informs my intellect. At
other times, my intellect informs how I read the Bible.
In the case of the Emmaus story, my intellect tells me when Jesus
pops in and out of the story at will, when followers have their eyes
opened on cue like magic, when no other gospel writer mentions such a
fabulous story, and when it concludes with an obvious reference to the
Lord’s Supper, this is theology in story form, not biography in
history form. In other
words, taking his cue from the parables of Jesus, this is Luke’s
parable of the resurrection. But
as an historical event, Emmaus never happened.
second half of Crossan’s dictum reveals this liberating truth:
“Emmaus always happens.”
This is how the Bible informs my intellect.
It tells me that there are truths beyond what I know, what anyone
knows. That the followers
of Jesus did not just have fond memories of their teacher around which
they created a whole new religion, they really did encounter the risen
Christ in the ways described by Luke in this one story.
They found him walking with them as they discussed those events
in Jerusalem, they heard him teaching them again as they re-read their
scriptures, they felt him open their eyes just as he had done for the
blind and most of all, they saw him in the breaking of bread when they
sat down together and spoke the words he gave them: this is my body,
this is my blood. That
presence of the risen Christ was so real, so powerful that it changed
everything for them, and even sent those who fled Jerusalem in fear back
to share this incredible good news:
the crucifixion had failed, Jesus would not be contained to a
tomb, God has transformed his death into new life not only for Jesus,
but for all.
makes this truth so liberating and so powerful is when we recognize that
the experience of the two on the way to Emmaus need not be any different
than our own, that our own encounters with the risen Christ can be just
as real and powerful as theirs. Thus
we can affirm the truth that “Emmaus always happens” with confidence
and conviction because it is not dependent on historical facts from 2000
years ago, which we can never confirm, it depends only on what we know
in our own hearts, when we have felt that same burning within us, what
John Wesley called the “strange warming of the heart”.
then, is finally why I can affirm the truth of Luke’s account, that
Emmaus always happens. I’ve
been on that road, I’ve struggled with that despair.
We’ve all been there, lost a loved one when we weren’t ready.
You never are. Last
weekend it was saying goodbye to Frances, a key leader here since 1937,
as we sent her on her way to live with her daughter.
Last night I said goodbye to Jessie Bork, another key leader of
our congregation for 60 years and another dear friend, as she quietly
slipped away at home with her two cats and a few close friends, her only
family. Jessie entered into
her eternal rest with God a little after 8:00 this morning.
every time on that road filled with all of its sadness and grief, every
time I’ve found myself in that same place, that same destination,
always there, in Emmaus where I’ve seen Jesus in the breaking of the
bread. It was early in
1999, three or four months after the very unexpected and very public
death of my mother. I was
in my office sitting at my desk when mother came walking in and
sat on the love-seat across from me.
You may think I was dreaming, at first I thought I was dreaming.
You know how dreams always do strange things?
One moment you are at work or school and all is normal other than
the fact that you are stark naked, which no one seems to notice but you.
The next thing you know you are being chased through a forest by Arnold
Schwarzenegger in a clown suit when you fall out of an airplane and you
realize the parachute you were carrying is actually the sack lunch you
made that morning. You’ve had that dream too?
dream wasn’t like that. Nothing
was unusual about it. Everything
in my office was the way it normally is—piles of paper on my desk, the
same pictures on the wall, plants and rocking chair all where they
should be. And there sat
Mom, as real as could be. “Mom!”
I said, “You’re dead, what are you doing here?”
Pretty normal reaction, don’t you think?
I am pretty sure that is just what one of the disciples would
have said when they saw Jesus. “Jesus, you’re dead!
What are you doing here? You
are supposed to be in your tomb!”
Mom just smiled and said, “Don’t worry about me, I’ve got
lots to do so you may not see me for a while.”
And with that, she was gone.
Call it a dream if you like, I just know the feeling it left in
me was very real and very comforting.
A strange warming of the heart.
see that little boy, the one who saw God with the pockets full of food?
That’s me. And
Luke and the two on the road to Emmaus.
It is everyone who has encountered the living Christ. For us, you
see, Easter is now, Emmaus is always.
[i] Kathleen Norris, Amazing
Grace: A Vocabulary of
Books, New York: 1998. p.