Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 05/04/2014

One of the spiritual exercises we practiced when I was involved in the Grace Institute program down in Iowa, was to listen to a Bible story read slowly and deliberately several times, and during times of silence as well as while the story was being read, to try to picture yourself as a participant in the story. It might be as one of the named characters or an unmentioned bystander or even an inanimate object that might be present. There’s no right or wrong way to do it but it’s a way to take you deeper into a story and one of the stories we used in this exercise was today’s gospel about The Road to Emmaus.

When we did this in Iowa I found that it was quite easy to imagine myself as one of the walkers on the road because what they present is a picture of dejection, walking, heads down, oblivious to what was around them on what could have been a very pleasant spring day but not aware of any of that, kind of numb, lost in thoughts and quiet conversation about what might have been. It’s not hard to imagine; most of us have been in that kind of situation or something similar. It’s not hard to enter into the story.

Having entered, we can then go a little further. When questioned by the stranger who was all of a sudden there with them but who they didn’t recognize, after recounting some of what had happened, the two walkers said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped; we’ve all been there too. It can be relatively mundane things like, we had hoped the snow would be gone by Easter, but it’s more important things too. We had hoped that the treatments would work, that the cancer wouldn’t come back. We had hoped that changing jobs or changing schools would make things better. We had hoped that negotiations would bring peace. We had hoped…One of the things I feel called to do is to preach hope…I think hope is at the heart of the Christian message about Jesus, about God…but in the face of the some of the realities of life that cause hopes to be dashed, it can be difficult.

Anyway, it’s pretty easy to picture this scene of dejection on the road to Emmaus with these two who you can picture coming into Jerusalem with Jesus on Palm Sunday only to then watch as the whole thing appeared to unravel. They had heard about some women who claimed that angels had told them that Jesus was alive, but how much stock could you take in that? As they walked that road, it appeared that the story was over, it was time to move on. Cleopas and his unnamed companion certainly weren’t open to any new possibilities and we’ve all been there too. In those “we had hoped” times, walking with our heads down kicking at the dirt or the pebbles on the road, we’re not looking for anything new and even if it were there, we wouldn’t see it.

We’ve all been there, those times of dejection, hopes dashed, faith fragile, and we wonder what we should do, we wonder if there’s anything we can do. It’s the same question the people asked Peter and the other apostles in today’s first lesson from Acts. The situation was different than it was on the road to Emmaus; in Acts the people weren’t dejected, they were excited. They were enthused about what Peter was telling them about Jesus, that he was the Lord, he was the Messiah and in their enthusiasm, they asked, “What should we do?” They wanted to know how to respond.

The answer they were given was actually quite similar to what transpired in the road to Emmaus story. In Acts, Peter’s response was “Repent and be baptized.” On the road to Emmaus the two walkers finally recognized Jesus as the scriptures were explained and as bread was broken. Repent and be baptized, scripture and bread broken, Holy Communion, are all aspects of the life of faith lived within the community of believers, the church. They’re all aspects of the Word and Sacrament activity of the church. On the road to Emmaus, engaging scripture and breaking bread were the way to recognize Jesus. In Acts, repentance and baptism were the way for new believers to begin to live out their faith. In both cases though, participation in sacramental ritual was part of the answer to the question, “What should we do?”

It’s really a very appropriate question in these early weeks of Easter. Two weeks ago on Easter Sunday we proclaimed and celebrated the resurrection and for that day that was enough. After that though, as the weeks of Easter go on, the question of how to respond, the question “What should we do?” should come up and in these lessons, last week and this week, directly or indirectly, it does and at least in part the answer given has to do with the church.

Last week, Thomas stayed with the disciple community despite his doubts and it’s a community we could think of as the beginning of the church. Today’s stories also suggest different aspects of church life and participation in that life. It’s not the whole answer to “What should we do?” There’s more to following Jesus than just going to church; how you live your life the rest of the week is pretty important too. But still, worship and the rituals of the church have been important in bringing people to faith and guiding them on the journey of faith for a long time.

In a sense I’m preaching to the choir here; you’re all here and that’s good, you find value in the worship and ritual of the church. In the overall scheme of things though, church participation is not a high priority for more and more people, certainly not as high as it once was. It’s the old I can believe in God without going to church or I can worship God in the woods or at the lake or on the golf course. All of that is possible, but we ought not quickly dismiss or trivialize the value of practices that have effectively encouraged and nurtured faith for two thousand years.

In the sacraments and other rituals of the church we enter into the realm of mystery and for many Lutherans that not a realm in which we are real comfortable. We tend to be people who like to think the faith; you could perhaps say we respond more to the Word part of Word and Sacrament than we do the Sacrament part. That’s OK, but the Spirit also moves in powerful ways through the rituals, especially the sacraments.

On the road to Emmaus, the hearts of Cleopas and his companion burned within them as the stranger explained scripture to them. But it wasn’t until he took the bread, blessed it and broke it, it wasn’t until those sacramental actions that their eyes were opened and they recognized that the stranger was the Lord, Jesus. And then…he was gone! Once they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, he was gone.

When Jesus shared the Maundy Thursday Passover supper with his disciples, as he broke bread and shared the cup of wine he said to them, “This is my body. This is my blood,” a way of saying that he would be present with them when they reenacted his actions in this ritual. In this story today, it’s as if the Risen Christ is saying to the two Emmaus walkers and to us, “It’s enough. I won’t be bodily present with you anymore, but the breaking of bread around my words is enough; I’ll be there. You’ll recognize me.”

And he is there; he is present! That’s the power and mystery of the sacrament. Jesus is present to us in those elements of bread and wine because he said he would be. As we share in the sacrament it does sustain us and nurture us in ways that we can’t fully understand. But we don’t have to; that’s the power of ritual.

Over the years, church has become more casual, more informal and there are pros and cons to that. One of the big cons though, is when Holy Communion becomes casual and informal. It ought to be practiced with reverence and approached with reverence because Jesus is present. As he was on the road to Emmaus, he is present in the breaking of the bread. As we move into the celebration of communion today, let your eyes be opened so that you do recognize Jesus.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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