There’s a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It includes the line “Easter in us…” It’s really a prayer. The word “Easter” which is normally a noun is used as a verb. Easter in us. Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come alive where we live. Let it permeate our souls. It sounds strange, but it makes you think.
Our scripture reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24 verses 13-35. The first 12 verses of the chapter, verses 1-12 recant the events of Easter morning. Our scripture reading describes events that occur later in the day. It describes how Easter gets into people, how it gets into us.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made
In recent years, we’ve seen a shift towards the local: A shift from big business and big government to local business and locally grown food. It’s a shift from decisions and rules being made in faraway places like Washington to the belief that the answers to our most difficult problems are found when local people come together to solve local problems.
This morning on this third Sunday of Easter, rather than talk about resurrection in broad general terms, I want to talk about what Easter means locally. What difference does the resurrection of Christ make when it comes to where you live? What difference does Easter make in the way you earn and spend your money? In the way you engage in relationships? In the way you raise your children or relate to your parents?
Two thousand years ago, a Jewish man named Jesus was arrested and tried, tortured and crucified, died and buried. Then, on Easter God raised him from death. What does that mean for how we live?
Our scripture reading is the story of the road to Emmaus. It was told, remembered, and cherished by the early Christian community because it helped them to understand Easter. It doesn’t address the question “How did God raise Jesus?” And, it doesn’t address the question “Why did God raise Jesus?” It deals with the question of how Easter comes to us where we live. On the road to Emmaus, the resurrection gets local.
Two unknown followers of Jesus are walking along the dusty road that stretches seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they are walking, the risen Christ joins them, incognito, on their journey. A face like any other face, his glory is hidden behind the countenance of a stranger. But, by the time they reach the end of their journey they have been moved from discouragement and despair to hope and renewed faith.
The first readers of this gospel would have been overjoyed to read this story. That’s partially because they would have recognized that the road on which the disciples were walking was not simply the road to Emmaus. It was the road that was “the way”. According to the book of Acts, the first name given to Christians was “Followers of the way.” For them the road to Emmaus was a symbol of the Christian life. They were called “people of the road”, “people of the way.” In this story, there was a promise: if you want to experience the resurrection of Jesus Christ in your life, where you live, get up in the morning put one foot in front of the other, and head down the road. Follow the way.
One reason people love this story is because it’s so ordinary. It’s about ordinary despair, ordinary Monday-morning drudgery. It’s about a journey, a trip. It’s about meeting a stranger. It’s about sitting down at a table and sharing a meal. It’s a story about Easter among us. Easter in daily life.
Tom Long, professor of preaching at Emory University Divinity School was once asked to be the guest preacher at a church conference in South Carolina. When the conference was over, he was on a plane headed home. He was seated next to a man who was in his seventies who had also been at the conference. Their conversation became quite candid. At one point, the man shared that one of his children was a son in his thirties who was confined to a nursing home. He had been in an automobile accident several years before and suffered severe brain damage. Now he was permanently comatose.
The man startled Tom when he said, “At one point we stopped loving our son. We visit him every week, it was our duty as parents, but we stopped loving him. Love is a reciprocal relationship, “the man said”, giving and receiving. Our son could not receive. Our son could not give. We went to see him but we had stopped loving him.”
Until one day we went to visit our son and were surprised that he already had a visitor in his room, we didn’t know the person. He was a stranger. It turned out that he was a deacon from the church down the street who just routinely visited people in the nursing home. We waited outside in the hall and we saw that this visitor was engaged in a conversation with our son. The man continued, I remember thinking to myself “As if my son could appreciate a conversation.” Then he took out a Bible and read my son a psalm. “As if my son could appreciate a psalm.” Then he prayed a prayer. “As if my son could appreciate a prayer.”
Then it dawned on me. He does know. He knows my son not through clinical eyes but through the eyes of Christ. He sees my son through the eyes of Christ and he treats him as a child of God.
The resurrection has a way of penetrating deep down into everyday life. It enables us to see the presence of God where others see only death and defeat. Easter is the experience of the power of God. The recognition that life is stronger than death and love is stronger than hate.
Biblical scholar Marcus Borg tells us that there are three different places in the Holy Land. All which claim to be the village of Emmaus. In addition to that, he tells us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in ancient sources. The only place in all of the writings of The New Testament where we hear of the village of Emmaus is here in Luke’s gospel.
In one sense, we don’t know the location of Emmaus. In another sense, Emmaus is everywhere. It’s wherever you meet the risen Christ. It can be at church, at a nursing home, or at the family dinner table. It can be at work, at a soup kitchen, or at a soccer field. Emmaus is wherever in your life you meet the risen Christ and Easter comes to dwell within you.
May Easter dwell within us. May we share it with each other, and then, may we go out and share it with others. It’s the hope of the world. Amen.