There are seven post-resurrection stories in the four gospels. While all the stories and narratives on the crucifixion are visceral and painfully real, these seven resurrection stories feel more like rumors than reality. Luke 24:13-35 is the longest and the most fascinating of all! In fact, this story has, in recent times created an entire Christian spirituality movement called "The Emmaus Walk." Some of your spiritual lives have been transformed through the Emmaus Walk or Cum Christo or other such movements of spiritual transformation. Others of you have been touched by the men and women of faith who have gone and more deeply explored their faith, grown on their walk as disciples of Christ, and shared their transformation in real ways with you.
This story of the Road to Emmaus, it is real or rumor? Let us look deeper.
Late afternoon on the first Easter, two unnamed disciples are walking to a village seven miles outside of Jerusalem called Emmaus. The two are joined by a third man whom they do not recognize. This curious mystery man asks what they are talking about. They stop. Sadly standing there, they look like they have lost their best friend. We discover that one's name is Cleopas, whom we know by the name Peter. Cleopas says, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened the last few days?" Then our mystery man coyly responds, "What happened?" (I compare this to being in Rome this past week and asking, "What is everyone worked up about? Did someone die here?'). They reveal to this early day "Rip Van Winkle" the story of Jesus' death and disappearance from the tomb. They believed their friend Jesus was the Messiah. They thought he would live forever and save the people!
The Stranger now responds strangely. He interrupts them. He speaks abruptly: "You're so thickheaded and slow-hearted! Why can't you simply BELIEVE ALL that the prophets said? Don't you see that these things had to happen? The Messiah had to suffer and only then enter his glory?" Starting with the five books of Moses, and then the Hebraic Prophets, the mystery man tells them the rest of the WHOLE story about the Messiah! Time passes as scripture is revealed. Finally, their seven mile walk ends in Emmaus. Rip Van Winkle/ Mystery Man appears ready to move on the road. But, they invite him to dinner (and like all his disciples ever since, Jesus never walked away from a dinner invitation - either before he was crucified or after he is risen!).
There at dinner the guest takes over as host. He surprises both men when he takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it and gives it to them. Open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognize him! Then he disappears. They don't hesitate. They don't waste a minute. They excitedly move back to Jerusalem and share this good news with the other disciples. This story is certainly real to them. What may have seemed like rumors from the lips of the women, in undoubtedly real to these transformed travelers! Rumor revealed as real. That is the Road story of Emmaus. But, what makes this resurrection real?
Resurrection always finds it's seedbed in disappointment, death, and sadness. The Road to Emmaus is the road of deep disappointment and walking it is the living definition of sad. Have you not walked this road in your life? It is the road you walk when you lose a big game, or your candidate for office loses, or you lose your job, or you lose your loved one to death. It is the long road of loss. It is the long road back to an empty house, an empty seat at the table, an empty place in bed next to you, piles of unopened mail, calls on your answering machine from creditors demanding you call them back instead of friends or family offering you a cup of water in your misery. The Road to Emmaus is real. (Drawn from Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, Cowley Publications, Boston, Mass, p. 20).
The sad realness of the Road to Emmaus is one in which hope is in the past. Peter says, "We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel." Hope in the past tense is one of the saddest sounds we make as human beings. We had hoped he was the one. We believed things could change but we were wrong. He died. It is over. No more fairy tales. No more illusions. Back to business as usual. (Ibid., p. 21).
Hope, and love itself, feels dead to us when we say things that begin with: "I had hoped . . . " I had hoped . . . this relationship would be the one. I had hoped . . . we could climb out of debt this time. I had hoped . . . I could have had more time to love my wife, my husband. I had hoped . . . that my children and I were closer. I had hoped . . . I would end up with a better relationship with my brother, my sister. I had hoped . . . I had hoped . . .
The revelation of the Risen One comes streaming out of the Mystery Man when he hears, "We had hoped . . . " He yells at them. "You idiots! If you had read your Bibles, none of this would surprise you. Christ, the Messiah, is not an undefeated champion. He is the suffering servant. He is not the one who wins the power struggle. He loses it. He is the broken one. He is the one who comes to his glory through suffering and pain." (By the way, I don't recommend that become your first response to loved ones who are saddened in the past tense of hope.) What always amazes me in this story is that they don't know him when he calls them idiots. Seriously. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples is one in which he often chastises them for not seeing, not hearing, not knowing, and certainly not believing! The don't get it when he is alive. Why should they get it now? To which I say, "Watch out Jesus, I resemble that statement!"
How many of you don't get it? Be honest. How many of you can put defeat behind you and hear good news of resurrected hope? Be mindful that it is the revelation of scripture which reveals hope to the wounded ones. It is the good news of God's glory in the five books of Torah, the prophetic teachings, and the whole of Hebraic Scripture as revealed by Jesus which grabs hold of the grieving ones and grounds them in hope. Maybe, they begin to think, we are losers after all. Maybe the rumors are true. Maybe, there is a reason to resurrection crucified hope.
The questions are swirling around in their gloomy minds when he comes to the dinner table in Emmaus - upon their invitation. As a guest, he acts like the host of the meal. This is one strange stranger! For these men who may not have "gotten" the movement of brokenness to glory when revealed through words on the highway, the Risen Christ shows them the blessings of brokenness in the bread, once again. Now, they get it! And their are opened wide. And their minds are opened wide. And their hearts are opened wide. And the Holy Spirit flows into that place and into those men and they know who this stranger is. And once he is known, he disappears. Mystery or rumor? Reality or make believe? You decide.
I will tell you this - if you have never been broken, never felt pain, never known hope in the past tense, then I can truly believe that the Risen Christ is not the right Spiritual Presence for your life. If you are a person who only know glory through victory, then the defeat of Jesus will mean nothing to you. And I encourage you to seek glory from glory. But, I guarantee, someday, the music will stop. Someday, the applause will stop. Someday, you will wake up and realize hope is a past tense reality and mystery is last the novel you read.
But, for those who have experienced brokenness and loss, I give you Jesus. Jesus, who is, in the words of the United Church of Christ's statement of faith, "our crucified and risen Lord, who has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death" and reconciling the world to God. Jesus, who meets people on the roadway of disappointment, sadness and distress and teaches them about the powerful prophetic words of brokenness is the Bible. Jesus, who seems to prefer working with people whose hearts are broken, whose dreams are broken, whose lives are broken, whose world is broken. Jesus, who in his brokenness, takes whole bread and breaks it - as a way to help us feel his solidarity.
Count the ways he does it in this story alone! First, he meets the broken disciples where they are and establishes FELLOWSHIP and relationship with them. Second, after giving them an opportunity to weep and mourn, he TEACHES and thus reveals the Word of God to them - you know - the story of God's identification with a broken world and a broken humanity. Third, he accepts their HOSPITALITY and is so doing becomes the host at their table by breaking bread. Fourth, he reveals in this action, the SACRAMENT OF LIFE - taking, blessing, breaking, sharing! Finally, he DISAPPEARS. That's right. He goes away so they can rekindle the gift of God within them and become the church he intends them to be - a church of brokenness, which identifies with people and a world broken. A teaching church. A church of hospitality. A sacramental church. A church which engages the world for the life of the world. Now you may want to call that rumor, but I call that real presence!
One story, and I know you all want to get out into this beautiful spring day. But, one last story. On Friday night, I was very moved by a PBS documentary on the life of Pope John Paul II. As one man said, "if you really want to know him, you must understand him from the inside out." How true for all of us! This story illustrates the realness of Resurrection in Poland during Communism.
As the filmmakers walked through his life revealing a story of a powerful and God's power in a grounded man of God, I thought of the Emmaus Road. I realized the pain of the Polish people who lose World War II twice - once to Nazi Germany and then in "Liberation" to Communist Russia. Through it all, they had a shepherd who believed in Christ and believed in them. His is an amazing story of faith.
But, there was one story I wish to relate now. The story starts in 1956 when the Communists of Poland build an industrial city called Nova Huta. Nova Huta is close to Krakow, where the Bishop is Karol Watolya. They build this city without a church. The Communists proudly declare this as the city without God. For the next twenty years Bishop Watolya battles with the communists to build a church in Nova Huta. Winter, spring, summer, and fall, people gather in an open field each Sunday for worship. Whether four feet of snow, or beautiful spring weather (like this) or heat of summer, people gather by the thousands in the open air of Nova Huta to worship the Lord our God!
Finally, in 1976, the Ark Church is constructed on this field by the labor of the people of God! They pull 20,000 rocks from the river to build the outer wall of the church. It is a beautiful, modern church. The crucifix over the altar has a Risen Christ who appears to be flying free! At the dedication Bishop Watolya says to his flock, "This city belongs to you! No one can arbitrate your beliefs. No one can take your city away from you. You are free in your hearts and minds. This city belongs to you, for you are the children of the Living God!" You see, the Resurrection is not a rumor. It is Real.
One could say that Pope John Paul II, like Jesus, has disappeared. I would rather say, that like Jesus, Karol Watolya is in heaven, cheering us on to live the resurrection here and now. At the beginning of his papacy, Pope John Paul II called out from the balcony of the Vatican, "Be not afraid." As we move along our Emmaus roads, Jesus cries as well from the pages of St. Luke's Gospel, the words that follow today's text: "Do not be afraid. Don't let all your doubting questions take over. Look at my hands. Look at my feet. It's really me. Touch them. Look me over head to toe. After all, a Ghost doesn't have muscles and bones" (Luke 24:36-40). The Risen Christ is not a rumor. He is Real. Thanks be to God! Amen.