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Recognizing Jesus

April 26, 2020

For this third Sunday in the Easter season we jump over to Luke’s gospel to hear the familiar Easter story of two disciples who are on the road to Emmaus. Listen for God’s Word as it speaks to you today.

READ Luke 24:13-35

“But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” That’s the line that gets me in this story. They don’t recognize Jesus walking there beside them on the way to Emmaus. This whole theme of not recognizing… of not being able to see… it’s a theme that keeps coming up. Mary, over in John’s gospel… the story we read on Easter morning… Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus. Mistakes him for the gardener. She can’t see him through her tears. They’ve taken his body. If it was you who did this… or witnessed someone doing this… tell me… tell me where his body is to be found. As John tells the story, Mary was there for just one thing that morning… to mourn Jesus’ death. She had no hope of anything else. She had witnessed Lazarus coming out of the tomb… but it didn’t penetrate her awareness. It didn’t change her expectations… her sure knowledge of what is and what is not. Jesus was dead. Betrayed by Judas. Tried unfairly by the religious authorities. Brutalized and crucified by the Romans. Body prepared and placed in the tomb by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. To perceive of anything different... to believe the story could go any other way. To see the story under any different light was impossible for Mary alone. Someone has stolen the body. That made sense. That fit the pattern and her experiences of the world. Jesus tried to challenge the way things were. He was destroyed because of it. That’s the way it works.

And then Jesus says her name… and all those patterns… all that experience drops away and a new way… a new path is there before her. That’s our faith. A new path. It doesn’t always have to be the way it is… there is always God’s way... the living Word calling us by our own name to the way of life and resurrection. Sure… that way that may get lost in our perceptions… that way that may get cut down and replaced by other gods begging for our fidelity… that way may be buried in brutality or other means and tricks of the darkness. But the way of resurrection and life is always there… even if our perception has been obscured. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t right there next to us… walking along with us.

These two on their way to Emmaus… walking with Jesus… telling Jesus the story about what had occurred in Jerusalem. They tell him his own story to his face… and they still don’t recognize him. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. We had hoped he would have set us free. But the Romans were still in power. The Sanhedrin’s conscience wasn’t racked with guilt. The way the world works… and has always worked as far as our experience tells us… didn’t change in the slightest. Although… there’s now these stories about the body not being in the tomb… but…

But… You know what comes after that “but” don’t you… but let’s be realistic. The women’s tale of an empty tomb is just an idle tale. How many others in whom we hoped… how many others have met the same fate as this Jesus of Nazareth? Why should things be any different this time?

Walking with him. Telling his story to him. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him because… why should things be any different?

And what was it that shook them out of their blindness… the blessing and breaking of bread. Jesus did this simple and innocuous act and somehow that made all the difference from that point on. A simple symbolic act helped them see through their faith… helped them hear that living Word… gave them the courage to change… to make different choice by following the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit.

This year was the fiftieth celebration of Earth day. And? So? Is there anything different this year? Is there anything that moves us in our ecological understanding? Have we learned about our environment through the hard ecological lesson of a pandemic? How we are not above or somehow immune and separate from the world around us. Or do we know the way the world works and it is not going to change… the powers that be still have too much political clout… too much money… have muddied the information waters so much… do we really expect anything to change or to be different? The younger generation made a decent squawk since the last Earth day… trying to get people around the world to take them seriously that what was happening now… what has been happening for decades… is going to affect them. That the seeds being planted are not the seeds that will bring a good crop in the future… but will bring with it greater devastation and hardship. We have to plant better seeds now… more healthy seeds in this time of challenge. Did that make a difference? Did seeing and hearing a generation’s impassioned plea move the needle so that something different might happen by the time the 100th anniversary rolls around and this generation will be the elders in the land? What’s it going to take?

I know I’ve spoken with some of you about it this week. Seeing how nature reacted when the world stopped because of the Covid-19… that was a breaking bread moment for me. I mean, it’s not like that was totally unexpected. I’ve watched the TV shows that showed what it would be like if humans suddenly disappeared. But seeing it unfold in real time like it has… somehow that was different. That helped my eyes see better. Maybe it was because the air was bit cleaner or the water was a bit clearer. The impact we have on the planet is huge… but before… knowing that… reading about it… being told about… it wasn’t enough to penetrate the blindness. And it is hard to find that healthy balance in the dark. Because it’s hard to let such knowledge in… it’s easier to go along with the tradeoffs we make. Yeah… I know I’m damaging the earth… but this is so convenient… it saves me time… it employs lots of people… it produces more crops… it makes me money… the earth can handle it… on and on and on.

I look at these two on their way to Emmaus… and even though they can’t see Jesus… at least they aren’t trying not to see Jesus. They are not deniers. They are not grasping after conspiracy theories. They are not being willfully ignorant… which is a virus that has infected us more and doing more harm to us than Covid-19. They tell the story and they tell it correctly… but like everyone else in the gospels… resurrection is so far out there from the normal experience of how the world works that they can’t conceive of its possibility. They can’t conceive that there is something greater and more powerful than the Roman cross. They can’t conceive that there is a work of God that isn’t polluted by the lies and schemes of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. They can’t conceive that there is another way. Until they do. Until they are shown in a blessing and breaking of bread that means more to them than the belief that nothing can change.

Resurrection is an experience that transforms us. It is not of our own doing.

Resurrection is the result of the tenaciousness… the persistence of God. The living Word of God goes on despite anything we try to do to kill it. What scripture is telling us is that the living Word of God will outlast our sin… our short-sightedness… our willful ignorance. Let me give you a nature metaphor to finish on today…

At this point in the sermon, the video went outside... well, look... if you're interested head over to our Facebook page to see the video from April 26. The keyword for the end of the sermon... persistence.

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