Rev. Teri Peterson
8 April 2018, Easter 2 (personal favourites week 1)
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Today is the second Sunday of the season of Easter—a season that lasts fifty days, including seven Sundays, beginning with Easter Day, and leading up to Pentecost. Easter is the longest feast season in the Christian calendar, and is also intentionally longer than any season of fasting, because it is the most important time, centring on the most important story of our faith. That means we get to sing Easter hymns for seven weeks, and the scripture readings are chosen to help us celebrate Christ’s victory over death and his continual presence with us here in the land of the living.
This year during the season of Easter, I’ve chosen my own favourite stories from the Bible to preach on. I read the Bible for the first time when I was about 15 years old, and I sometimes say that I was “converted by scripture”—it was through reading the story that faith took root in my life. Never let anyone tell you that something is “just a story”—stories are powerful, they help us make meaning, organise our worldview, and shape how we live. One of my favourite quotes is from the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who said "I cannot answer the question "What ought I to do?" unless I first answer the question "Of which story am I a part?""
Immersing myself in the story of God and God’s people has helped me to see which story I belong in, and that in turn has helped me know what to do, in all kinds of situations. And so as we seek to encounter the living Christ this Easter season, I thought I would share with you some of the pieces of that story that have been most meaningful to me on my faith journey, why they are important, and how they keep shaping my life. As we travel this feast season together, I’d encourage you to also think about how you are part of this sacred story, and how it speaks to you, and what pieces of scripture are particularly meaningful to you, and how they help you as you seek to live faithfully in the world today.
And so this morning we heard this story from the end of the gospel according to Luke. Usually we hear one little segment of it at a time, which obscures one of the things I love about this chapter: that it all takes place on the same day. It’s the story of the first Easter morning, afternoon, and evening. And it has two of my most favourite things in the whole world: talking and eating.
The women who encountered the angels at the tomb were apparently quick to believe—the angels say “remember how he told you?” And they remember! There seems to be a whole group of them: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and an unknown number of other women. These are women who have followed Jesus throughout his ministry, who used their resources to support him and their fellow disciples, and who must have been listening carefully and taking in all that he taught by both word and example. We don’t know much about them and they haven’t had their stories fully told, but that first Easter morning, they are the ones who become the Church, hearing the good news and believing it, and then running out to share it.
The response of the male disciples is so rude that our English translations have sanitised it to “nonsense”. A better but still child-friendly word might be garbage or manure. The men are having none of it. Maybe they don’t remember what Jesus said? Maybe they choose not to believe women—they are not the first nor the last men to disbelieve the words of women. Maybe they can’t fathom the truth of anything they haven’t seen for themselves.
Whatever the reason, they don’t recognise their friend and teacher and Lord in the story of that morning, and they begin to disperse...and two of them start their walk home, to Emmaus. Seven miles is a good two-plus hour walk. When a stranger joins them, they think nothing of telling their sad story, and even add that “some women of our group” told this tale of resurrection, but they obviously don’t believe it. And Jesus essentially says the same thing the angels had said to the women: remember what I told you? But they don’t remember, and he has to tell them again, for the whole of a two-hour walk. By the time they reach their destination, they still don’t understand, but they invite this stranger in. And only then, when he does the same action he has done with them hundreds of times before—takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them—only then are their eyes opened and they recognise him. And only then do they come to believe, which causes them to do the same thing the women did: to remember what Jesus told them, and then to run back—seven miles back!—to tell the others.
I think it’s so fascinating that the way Luke tells the Easter story, a crowd of women are first to hear and believe, and then two disciples we’ve never heard of before get to walk with Jesus for hours, and share a meal with him, and then they believe....and only then does Jesus appear to Simon Peter, and then the others. This is not a story centred on the 12 male disciples whose names we know so well. Ironically, they are the last to believe!
I imagine Cleopas and his companion running at top speed the seven miles back to Jerusalem, arriving out of breath, doubled over and gasping for air while they tell their incredible story...and hearing the excited chatter of their fellow disciples talking about what Peter experienced...and then Luke writes that while they were talking about this—so picture the clamour of at least a few dozen people, men and women, all talking about what happened at the tomb, on the road, at the table, in Peter’s living room—and while they are talking, Jesus appears among them. And even then, in the middle of talking about how he is alive and has appeared to some of them...even then, when they see him, they are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost!
I imagine Jesus must have been slightly incredulous at this point. He’s already shared the news, appeared to three of them, and now they are literally discussing his resurrection when he walks in, but they still think he’s a ghost and are terrified. And so he does what any ghost who wants to prove himself real would do: he asks for some food, and eats it in their presence, and they can’t see it going down his esophagus or anything, like you can in cartoons, so he must be real!
And even then, it says that while they were joyful, they were also disbelieving. Yet still Jesus tells them that they are to witness to the good news, to go out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, sharing what they have seen and heard. Even while they are still doubting, he commissions them to be the Church, to work for the kingdom, to preach and pray and heal, to remember what he said and to live as if it is true.
There are so many things to love about this story, it’s hard to pick just one.
Sometimes I think my favourite part is how Jesus is revealed more than once in the sharing of a meal—he promised that we would see him when we break bread together, and on that first Easter afternoon and evening he proved it was true, that every time we come to this table, we see him, and we learn to see him more clearly, until eventually we can recognise Jesus at every table.
Sometimes I think my favourite part is how big the community of disciples is revealed to be—not just the twelve, but first a crowd of women, then two people we’ve never heard of until this chapter, who talk about a large group of Jesus’ followers, and finally the people we would have expected Jesus to appear to first. It’s a reminder that even those who seem to be closest are still just on the same journey all of us are—and we are all in it together, no one is better or worse, and it’s important to listen to the experiences of encountering God that other people have.
This week, though, I think my favourite part is how often the word “while” is used. While the women were wondering about the open, empty tomb, angels appeared. While two disciples were walking on the road, carrying their sadness and confusion, Jesus reminded them of the story they were all a part of. While they sat at table together, he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened. While the whole crowd of disciples was talking about all these appearances, Jesus walked in. While they were joyful, they were disbelieving.
God doesn’t wait until we are ready, or until we understand and are prepared. The Holy Spirit doesn’t wait until we get to the right building or say the right prayer. Jesus doesn’t even wait until we recognise him...while we are walking along, talking to our friends, sitting at the dinner table...while we are sad, confused, joyful and disbelieving...while we are in church or at home or out and about...Jesus comes alongside us, opens our minds and hearts and eyes, because recognition is more than just seeing, more than just believing, it’s the work of eyes and ears and heart and mind and body together. While we sing and pray, or eat and drink, or cry and rage, or play and work...while we live our lives, that’s where Christ will be, calling us to witness to the good news, to build the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
May it be so. Amen.