Between noon and three

…spare us in the youngest day when all are shaken awake, facts are facts, (and I shall know exactly what happened today between noon and three); that we too may come to the picnic with nothing to hide, join the dance as it moves in perichoresis, turns about the abiding tree. — W.H. Auden, "Compline"

Tag: Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus

This Sunday at the 9:15 service, Bp. Smith confirmed and received almost fifty of our youth and adults into the Episcopal Church. This sermon was preached at the other services, at 8am, 11:15am, and 5:30pm.

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35

The road to Emmaus is one of my favorite of the resurrection stories, because it makes Jesus seem like he has such a good sense of humor. I can just imagine him grinning to himself as he walks along the road with these disciples: they haven’t gotten the joke yet, they don’t see yet that it’s him, risen from the dead, walking there with him. But it’s not a cruel joke: he takes time to explain to them what’s going on: he takes the whole journey in fact. And so warmly do these disciples feel towards this mysterious companion that they beg him to say with them that night.

It’s a wonderful portrait of Jesus’s light-heartedness, and the affection he elicits from people just in the course of conversation. At the same time, I think the road to Emmaus functions in a really important way for all of us, as we think about the task of Christian learning in the first place. April is almost over and May is coming: the end of the school year looms in front of us. At the 9:15 service today, the Bishop will confirm almost fifty students and adults in the next step of their journey into the life of the Church. Learning and its tasks are in the forefront at such a time as this.

When we think about learning, especially in the Church it seems, we think about learning things: facts, figures, stories, reference points, processes. How many eyes does a seraph have? Why do we have four Gospels? What does salvation mean? Why do different churches add or subtract certain books from their Bibles? What is heaven about? How about the Trinity? The Sacraments? 

We learn all these things in the course of our lives as Christians, and continuing to learn more and more is an essential component of growing in faith. But increasing the sheer quantity of information in our brains is emphatically not the point of Christian learning; I might argue it’s not the point of any other kind of learning either. The Road to Emmaus for me is the clearest illustration in Scripture of what learning is really about, of what growth as a disciple is really about.

When Jesus appears alongside them, he presents the question that cuts to the quick: what is this all about? It’s almost a test – tell me what you know, tell me what you make of all these events. And they tell him plainly, that they don’t know what to make of them all: they had believed Jesus to be the Messiah, they had been prepared to believe he would deliver Israel. But their grief is all the greater because they don’t understand how to make sense of his crucifixion.

So Jesus teaches them on the road. He opens the Scriptures to them, he goes through the whole thing, showing that from the Books of Moses on forward, all the prophets bear witness to himself. What always strikes me here, is that even after spending an entire day alone with Jesus, hearing all of these things explained to him, they still don’t recognize him. They know they’ve been affected, they say later their hearts burned within them, but they still cannot see what is there to be seen. 

Only when they beg him to stay with them, and they sit down to dinner, where he blesses the bread and breaks it; only then are their eyes opened and they see. This is the point of the whole operation. Only when the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them, only when they invite him to share this meal, this mundane but intimate encounter, only then are their eyes prepared to see what has been there all along.

This is the point that I want to make about Christian learning and growth in discipleship. All the doctrine in the world, all the most brilliant explanations and arguments, all the facts and figures, knowledge and data, finally do not avail. They cannot bridge the gap between earth and heaven. All that knowledge can do, all that learning can achieve, is to prepare us for the encounter with Christ: it can only ready the ground in our hearts to behold him alive for ourselves.

This is why, when it comes to faith, we cannot rely merely on books, why prayer is absolutely the central companion of Christian discipleship. Because knowledge is nothing without encounter, without the actual personal encounter with the risen Christ, who transforms our lives and our world.

The disciples dropped everything and ran all the way back to Jerusalem when they recognized Jesus. Knowledge alone cannot achieve that kind of transformation. It can only prepare us, as it prepared them, for encountering Christ himself, for recognizing him right in their midst, as, himself, the only explanation for all their wondering, all their confusion.

So it is with us: Christian life is meaningless, Christian learning is meaningless, if it is not ultimately oriented towards Christ himself as the final source of all meaning, all knowledge, all life. Seeing him, recognizing him, loving him.

This Easter, you and I are invited afresh to let all our learning, all our growing point us finally toward Christ himself, to let all our striving teach us not to be satisfied with mere facts about him, but to long for his presence, to love him more and more: in the bread that he breaks for you and me, the bread that is his body, which gives life to the world; and to love him in all the places where he himself has said he would be: in the Church, in our neighbors, in our enemies, in the needy.

This Easter let us look for him himself, and be satisfied not with any amount of facts or figures, but only with love. As we grow in love, let us see him more and more clearly; and as we see more and more clearly, let us love all the more, and find the world shining with his glory to the ages of ages.

Amen.

Easter Evening, 2016

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.

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Luke 24:13-49

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.