Easter Evening, 2016
by Fr. Blake
The following sermon was preached at 5:30pm on Easter Sunday, at the Church of St. Michael & St. George.
Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:
The road to Emmaus. This has always been one of my favorite Easter episodes. It’s evening of Easter Sunday. These two disciples have already heard the good news, reports going through their company that Jesus has risen from the dead. There is uncertainty in the air. Can it be true? As they say on the road, they had hoped that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel, and yet he was crucified in a public spectacle only three days ago. They need some air, they need to get away, and so they decide to leave Jerusalem and walk to a familiar town, Emmaus, a day’s journey away. Perhaps some distance will help them understand, perhaps a change of scenery will clear their heads.
On the way, Jesus meets them as they go. As with Mary Magdalene earlier this morning, Jesus surprises his disciples by catching them unawares, absorbed as they are in the emotional demands of the moment. Equally amazingly, these disciples don’t recognize him any faster than Mary did. They find it unbelievable that he hasn’t heard about Jesus of Nazareth and his crucifixion, so they tell him. He finds it unbelievable that they still don’t understand, so he explains the scriptures to them again, as he must have done a thousand times while he was with them: the Messiah was meant to suffer and die, and be raised up again. They reach their destination, and they beg their new friend to stay with them, rather than going on as he seemed intent on doing. So he does, and they eat together. Finally, as he breaks the bread over supper, they recognize him as Jesus, and he suddenly departs.
It’s a story full of deeply human characters and emotion, entirely believable from a psychological perspective. Grief, coping, encounter, journey, friendship, hospitality, there’s a lot here to relate to. The specific observation I want to make tonight is that among the many familiar human aspects of the story, there is also a lot of explaining going on. The disciples explain to Jesus the last few days in Jerusalem. The risen Jesus explains to them the Scriptures. The disciples explain to Jesus their plans to stay the night at Emmaus, and, in the course of agreeing to stay with them, and blessing and breaking the bread, Jesus explains his own priorities: namely, to be with them where they are, and to reveal himself as the bread of life, broken for the salvation of the world. As if all these explanations aren’t enough, he disappears as soon as they recognize him, and they a left with more questions than answers. So they rush all the way back to Jerusalem, no doubt arriving in the middle of the night – the same hour as the Resurrection by the way, early that morning 24 hours before – and tell their story to Peter and the other disciples.
More questions than answers. Explanations leading onto further investigation, further investigation leading onto further experience, leading onto further life and love and beyond. The point here is that, when it comes to the Gospel of the Resurrection of the Son of God, the final meaning is always a step beyond the last explanation we’ve heard. When it comes to the Gospel of the Resurrection of the Son of God, the final meaning is always a step beyond the last explanation we’ve heard.
Why? Why is it that we can never quite seem fully to nail it down? For the same reason the nails of the soldiers could not keep Jesus on the cross, or the stone keep him in the tomb. This God of ours, who comes to earth from heaven, dies at our hand, and rises from the tomb, this God is always his own explanation, and his own final meaning. There is no mastery of his Gospel apart from the knowledge of himself, the personal knowledge of who he is — which is to say, the personal experience of his grace and love. There is no mastery of his Gospel apart from the knowledge and love of himself. And as a Person, there is always more to him than we might see at any given moment, just as there is always more to the other people in our lives.
Thanks to Easter Sunday, the Christian life is a fundamentally adventurous one. No explanation is finally sufficient of itself, for God himself is his own meaning and his own explanation. No portrait can be complete for Jesus, who bursts through the tomb, through every limit and every convention. There is no explaining the extent of his mercy or the wide breadth of his creativity. There is no grasping the depth of the wellspring of his grace, or his capacity to forgive. There is no telling where he might take us or what might be next. This God is our God, and he is always one step ahead of us, calling us to follow him further up and further in, through the tomb, through the Garden, to Emmaus, his own Ascension, Pentecost, and beyond. What’s next? Where will he take us? How will we recognize him in an hour, tomorrow, next year? There is no telling. His final meaning is always a step beyond the last explanation we’ve heard.
And yet no matter where we are on our own roads to Emmaus, no matter what sense we’ve been able to make of the last few days, of our own lives, or the talk of his Gospel, Jesus Christ meets us on the road, listens to us explain to him whatever sense we’re able to make of him, and stays with us when we ask. He stays with us, eats with us, shares himself with us – and then goes on ahead of us to draw us further on to where he is. He has led the way through life and death, hell and heaven, and he calls us further we know not where. And yet we know that where he is, there he longs for us to be also.
Will you ask Jesus to stay with you this Easter Sunday? He comes to us on whatever road we walk, and offers himself at this Altar to be the true nourishment of our souls. Will you ask him to stay with you? Will you prepare a place for him in your heart? Will you follow where he leads? Will you trust he goes on ahead of you to prepare a place for you? There is always more to him than we can grasp now, and yet his whole purpose is for us to know him forever, to dwell in his love till the ages of ages. He stays with us; he goes beyond us. Won’t you follow him on this unknown adventure? Know that wherever he leads, his love will be our end, our support, our map; his resurrection our guarantee, our gate; and his glory our inheritance and our home.
The Lord is risen indeed! Come, let us worship. Come, let us live — in the surprising, beautiful, ever-widening world of his eternal life.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Amen.