Homily: The Risen Christ Among Us

This week’s Gospel story is the tale of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and their encounter with the risen Jesus and how they returned to Jerusalem to find the other disciples cowering still in the upper room. Two weeks after Easter, we’re very much like the earliest disciples, wondering about the things we’ve heard, and wrestling with the question, “What does all of this mean?” What we’re really wondering, deep in our hearts, is “What could all of this mean in my life? Is this just a story from long ago, or does it mean something important to me? Could it profoundly change my life?” Luke tells us that the disciples were frightened and confused and filled with questions. They had to confront their own doubts and disbelief. Their heads and their hearts both needed help.

No one then and no one now really knows how to explain the resurrection, so the disciples long ago – and we, in our own day – can only try to describe a personal experience of it. When we read the story th4se stories, we’re reading about ourselves, too. This week’s passage speaks of an offer of peace, a request for food, a blessing and a commissioning. Both of these stories describe the very earliest Christians hearing and doing the very same things that 21st century Christians do: journeying, questioning, fearing, but also feeding and being fed, listening for and receiving God’s call, and, of course, like any good church community, doing Bible study.

We have some sense of what the disciples were like, and how they were feeling. But what was Jesus like? Apparently, not like anything they had ever seen before! Not like Lazarus, a resuscitated corpse, and not exactly like Jesus was before the crucifixion. On the one hand, locked doors didn’t keep him out, but on the other hand, he could still eat solid food, just like them! In the face of this new reality, the disciples have to embark on a steep spiritual learning curve. Time is short, and there’s so much to do, here, not at the end but at the beginning of something new. Jesus has to prepare them for their mission not just to the people of Israel but to the entire world. He’s been working on this for some time, but they’re clearly not quite ready. They need something more. Their eyes still need to be opened; their hearts still need to be opened: they are in need of transformation, dramatic transformation.

He explained the scriptures to them. He drew their attention back to Moses and the prophets, who faithfully “proclaim God’s word” in the face of rejection and suffering but are still affirmed by God. That is the pattern of trying to understand how the resurrection can affect us. The combination of seeing Jesus, of being with him, and the sharing of the Word together, opened the disciples’ hearts and minds, the Gospel tell us. Whenever we shine the light of the gospel on our lives, our hearts and minds have the chance to be similarly opened.

This appearance of the Risen Jesus is so ne, so different for them. Even our own culture, in its marketing messages, loves the idea of ‘new and improved’. But this “something new” represented in the resurrection of Jesus is so far beyond any advertised product, beyond anything we can get a handle on; it breaks all the rules of reality that we’ve come to accept as dependable and true. What God did and is doing something new in the resurrection of Jesus, and in a sense, God is doing something new each time we experience the risen Jesus. What does all of this mean in our lives? How could this profoundly change each of our own lives?

In the remembering and telling of this story the church is, like Jesus, interpreting our experience of the risen Jesus – something that happens to us in many different ways – in light of the living Word of God. Trying to make sense of it all seems to be easier, or at least more fruitful, in a community that shares our experience, our questions, and, in the end, our call. And it is not insignificant that Jesus ends up sharing food with them at the table, because it’s still at the core of our story and at the center of who we are. The experience of the early disciples who touched Jesus, put their hands in his wounds and heard his voice, fed his hunger and received his blessing, is the same experience of Christians today who feed the hungry, break bread together, hunger for God’s blessing, and respond to the call to turn our lives toward God once again.

Because of the resurrection, everything is different for Christians, and not just on Easter Sunday. That’s the challenge of preaching two Sundays after Easter and for forty-nine more Sundays after that. New life never slips in the back door quietly or painlessly. They were confused. All the sorrow and shock that immobilized and confused the disciples was transformed. It redirected them and set them on a new path. Isn’t that what repentance is? Isn’t that what transformation feels like? Nothing ever is quite the same, including us. And yet this doesn’t have to be (and isn’t often) something that happens completely and all at once, for us or for the disciples long ago. Instead, for them and for us, it happens by fits and starts, in hours of doubt and moments of exhilaration, with days of numbness and mourning punctuated by brief moments of holy presence and powerful certainty. This, is “good news” for our lives, even in the spaces and places where resurrection may seem most unexpected.

The text of Luke’s Gospel is exquisitely descriptive of the embodied experience of Jesus, the way he drew their attention to his hands and his feet. The hands and feet of Jesus had been important in his ministry, healing people, breaking bread, traveling around with the good news. Now, wounded and bruised, those same hands and feet were proof to the disciples that he had gone through the danger and not around it.

Through the danger, and not around it. Much of our time and energy in life is spent on finding a way around things, rather than living ‘through’ them. We don’t want to experience pain or danger, or even to come face to face with the suffering of other people, or the suffering of the earth. What can we do about all of that? And yet, we bear hope for the world because of the commission Jesus gave the disciples and the whole church long ago, for we are the Body, and the Image, of the Risen Christ in the world today: Not our pretty faces and not our sincere eyes but our hands and feet – what we have done with them and where we have gone with them.

Do you remember on a British talent show several years ago, how Susan Boyle stunned a disbelieving crowd that had already judged her undeserving of their affirmation because of worldly standards that determine how a ‘star’ should look and speak. Three notes into her song, however, there was a mass transformation of the crowd, their hearts moved by her exquisite voice, completely unexpected from an unemployed woman from a humble village. Their and our categories didn’t work anymore, the labels and the predictable reactions that fuel audiences on such shows. On a dime, as they say, the crowd pivoted from cynicism and disbelief to wholehearted support, embracing this woman and her dreams. Millions around the world have joined them, not able to explain what happens in their hearts and minds as they watch this unfold, over and over again. It’s been asked, legitimately, if the unkind attitude of the crowd would have been somehow justified if her voice had turned out not to have been so beautiful. Of course not.

Still, it’s also worth reflecting on how we encounter one another in our bodies with their talents and gifts, and their appearances, too. The goodness of this woman’s gifts, given by God, made her radiantly beautiful in the eyes of those who watched and listened. But the transformation was of their hearts and minds, not of her, for she left the stage the same beautiful but humble woman who had walked out onto it, claiming her dream of being a great musical star. Only now, they had eyes to see that loveliness. The risen Jesus enters our lives and turns us around, too, when we’re jaded and critical and judgmental and closed-off in heart and mind. On a dime, everything is different. It should enough to move us to tears, every time.

The power of experiencing of the risen Jesus enabled the early Christians to endure persecution and trials, and it enables us to step out in faith in every new occasion in response to the Stillspeaking God who continues to save, send, and bless us today. Where are you, and where is our parish two weeks after Easter? Is our experience similar to the Emmaus encounter, on the road, or more like the disciples locked in a room, hiding and fearful? What have we witnessed that strengthens our belief, our understanding, our trust in the resurrection? And what have we as a parish, huddled and fearful, seen to make us truly believe in the risen Jesus? In turn, what are the ways we ‘witnesses’ to what we have experienced of the resurrection? Do you as a part of our parish connect our feeding of the hungry with our own feeding at the Table of the Lord? And do the Scriptures now make more sense to you now that you truly realize that ‘The Lord is Risen, He is Risen indeed!    (Kathryn Matthews Huey)


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