SERMON Easter 3A 4/26/20 St Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Last week, we were reminded by our brother Thomas about the challenges of unbelief. This week, we hear about two other disciples who experienced the Risen Christ along the road, but also were challenged by unbelief. Once again, we are reminded that this journey of faith includes disappointment and unbelief comingled with trust and faithfulness. We are like Cleopus and his companion who walked with Jesus, and we too, traverse the road that leads to doubt and uncertainty found in the difficulties of life, and trust and assurance found in the paschal mystery.
Cleopus and his companion were obviously early disciples of Jesus, a part of the larger band of followers, but after the crucifixion, they left the group locked behind doors, and disappointed, went back home. So, along the road, they meet a stranger, the not yet recognized Jesus, and said to him, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Can you hear their disappointment? Theologian Amy Hunter explains, “With Jesus’ death they have lost their faith and their hope. They are not looking for him; in fact, they don’t even recognize him when he joins them.” (1) Cleopas and companion represent us when we are disappointed, become angry, or just plain lose faith; we pack it all up and go home, or maybe to another parish.
Let me give you some examples of this phenomena. I have heard people lately say things like, “where is God in the midst of the over 50,000 US and nearly 200,000 worldwide deaths from this coronavirus Fr. Eric?” “Where is God in the grief of loved ones, the job losses of the working poor, and the devastation of lives forever changed, Fr. Eric?” “Where is God in all this, and why should I suffer now having my life changed, when all this just seems like any other annual flu?” We have to remember that even in our disappointment and fear, Jesus is on the road traveling with us.
Christ is in the midst of this struggle and Christ is calling us to be in it together. You see this story is not about us alone, but about all of us. Hunter writes, “The story (of the Emmaus Road) is not about them and their disappointment. It is about life, the universe and everything in it.” (1) This current story we are living every day is a story of Christians wrestling with belief and unbelief, loss and devastation, sacrifice and fear. It is a story not about we individuals and our individual disappointment. “It is about life, the universe and everything in it.”
Walking with and Seeing Christ
Cleopus and companion saw Jesus along the road on their way home to safety and comfort, but they left Jerusalem empty handed. They did not get what they sought, and so disappointment led to unbelief. Our daily road trip with Jesus is a journey like theirs, a trip of opening eyes, burning hearts, and inviting Jesus into a situation where unbelief is transformed into belief. Later in the story the two disciples finally got it, experienced the Risen Christ ,and believed and left us a legacy of how the church experiences Christ’s presence even today. We experience God’s presence in word and sacrament.
Cleopus and companion commented, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They found their story of belief clearly repeated by Jesus, in the stories of the prophets and people of God before them in the sacred scriptures. We also find our story of faith clearly repeated in the stories of those same saints of old, and the saints of today, who are out there turning tragedy into hope.
Think a moment about those nurses, doctors, hospital staff, first responders, military personnel, grocery clerks and stockers, truck drivers, police officers, pharmacists, and so many others who could have just as easily as Cleopus and companion made a decision to just be disappointed and stay home. These heroes could have said, “I’m just going to go home and be safe because I am giving up hope.” I am grateful for their witnesses of hope, faith, and sacrifice, and their stories should give us hope to trust God, especially in these times. So, we also have a mission to accomplish in this fight for our common life as a species. We who have experienced the Risen Christ in word and sacrament, have a job to do as well.
Word and Sacrament
We experience the Risen Christ in the Holy Scriptures showing and pointing the way to the hope, we have in the promises of new life emerging right now in front of us. In the story today, Cleopus and companion proclaimed they saw the Risen Christ in the sacrament. “At supper when Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives them the bread, they recognize him, then almost immediately lose him again as he vanishes.” (1) Taking, blessing, breaking, and giving are the actions of Eucharist they experienced on that day, which hearken back to the Last Supper Jesus had with the disciples, the one we commemorated on Maundy Thursday, and the one we commemorate every Sunday.
In today’s Eucharistic prayer you will hear these words, and I encourage you to listen closely, “On the night he was betrayed he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his friends, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” Most of you have not received the blessed sacrament in a long time and you may ponder, how can I receive the benefits of holy communion, when I cannot receive? In times of extreme circumstance, there is a tradition in the Christian Church called Spiritual Communion, which assures the faithful of the grace abundant, even when we are unable to receive.
On page 457 of the Book of Common Prayer we find this rubric, If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth. So, in times like these I encourage you to consider saying this prayer today which is excerpted from Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. You know St Augustine the son of our patron saint Monica. The prayer can be found in the description of our YouTube video today and it states, Dear Lord, I believe that you are truly present in the Holy Sacrament, and, since I cannot at this time receive communion, I pray you to come into my heart. I unite myself with you and embrace you with all my heart, my soul, and my mind. Let nothing separate me from you; let me serve you in this life until, by your grace, I come to your glorious kingdom and unending peace. Amen.
Now, I am not saying that you will not ever, nor do you need to never receive the Body and Blood again in person. Not at all, what I am saying is that when we are unable to be present here together and receive, our tradition reminds us that we are assured that we receive the grace of communion, even in times in which we are unable to receive the blessed bread and wine, Body and Blood of Our Lord physically.
So then, just like Cleopus and his companion we experience the Risen Christ each time we participate in this Holy Meal and thus, it is there that we find the mystery of the story today. The key teaching for us is that you do not have to be an apostle, a clergy person, or a so-called saint to experience the Risen Christ. Hunter explains, “Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us. Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day.” (1) Reception and presence alone is the beginning of the journey, the call to discipleship, and just like the two disciples on the road, that leads us to begin doing the job we haveto do; we must to go back and tell others.
Like all those heroes sacrificing their lives for us that allows us to stay safely home, like all those who are showing us hope in these times of unprecedented abnormal and disabling sacrifices, we must too be icons of hope and grace. The church must show others the hope and grace that sustains us every single day.
Hunter writes, “(The Emmaus story’s) image is of God and a church that walk alongside human confusion, human pain and a human loss of faith and hope. Emmaus invites us to expect God to find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.” (1)
My hope is that when we are so anxious for things to return to “normal,” that we might recognize that we still have a job to do as disciples of Jesus. We must realize that we are not in this struggle alone, and we struggle not only for ourselves but for all of us. We must realize that our temporary sacrifices of remaining safe at home, practicing social distancing, remaining aware of our mutual vulnerability, and doing so with hope and trust in Christ, stands as a faithful witness to others that we truly trust the Risen Christ. Our faith in times of struggle tells others that we truly believe that Jesus is with us, Jesus stands by us, and Jesus is walking this road of uncertainty and fear, right here with us, every step of the way.
(1) Hunter, Amy B. “Road Trip.” The Christian Century, vol. 119, no. 7, Mar. 2002, p. 18.