Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 04/30/2017

For this year’s final resurrection appearance story we move from John’s gospel to Luke’s.  As you have perhaps heard me say way too many times, John’s gospel is different than Matthew, Mark and Luke but it strikes me that today’s Road to Emmaus story could fit quite nicely into John because it could be seen as another “encounter with Jesus” story like all those we had from John during Lent. Today, the encounter is between the Risen Christ and Cleopas and the other unnamed walker on the road. 

Like many of the characters in John, these two don’t show up in any of the other gospels or anywhere else in Luke for that matter.  That always makes me wonder if such characters are intended to be seen primarily as representative individuals whose faith journeys we might identify with, as opposed to being specific historical characters.  My conclusion is that I don’t think their actual identity really matters at all; it is more about what they represent.  So that’s another similarity with John and yet another is the way the dialogue is presented with the characters seeming to talk past each other, failing to make the right connections, which happens a lot in John.

There’s also a similarity between this road to Emmaus story and the Doubting Thomas story from last week.  In John, Thomas is the poster child representing those who have questions.  He is the one who isn’t afraid to say what we’d all like to say as we try to make rational sense of things that are hard to understand.  In Luke though, this kind of questioning has been something of a recurring feature throughout, not a major feature perhaps, but one worth paying attention to. 

It started with Mary’s “How can this be?” question when the angel Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God and would give birth to a child who would be called the Son of the Most High, the Son of God who would reign over the house of Jacob forever.  “How can this be?” was a logical question for Mary when presented with this announcement.  Then, in Luke’s story of the twelve year old Jesus in the temple, it is Jesus himself who asks questions of the teachers who were there, amazing them with his knowledge as he perhaps tried to sort out and understand his own identity.  There are also other examples of the disciples and the religious leaders asking questions as they seek clarification about one thing or another, so the dialogue on the road to Emmaus does fit the pattern.

Maybe the key phrase in this dialogue though, is when the two on the road say, “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”  We had hoped; for them, Jesus’ crucifixion had been about hopes being shattered and that, like asking questions when things don’t make sense, is something else that we can all relate to; we’ve all been there.

It could be a family leaving the hospital saying, “We had hoped that the new treatment was going to cure Dad’s cancer.”  It could be parents watching their daughter go through a painful divorce saying, “We had hoped this marriage was going to make her happy.”  You can fill in the blank with your own example of “we had hoped;”  In some fashion though, large scale or small, serious or not so serious, we’ve all been there; it is the reality of disappointment.

What gets more problematic is when God is seen as the source of the disappointment; people leaving the funeral saying, “We had hoped that with so many people praying, she would get better.”  From that kind of “we had hoped” it’s a short jump to “How could a good God let this happen?” or “I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen.”  There is a lot of faith wreckage scattered on the rocks of “We had hoped.”

What a story like the road to Emmaus does is to acknowledge the reality of disappointment and the loss of hope, including the loss of religious hope.  Now there are those out there who can make it sound like that if you just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior all your troubles will go away and you’ll live happily ever after.  For me though, that’s the Bible and Christianity as a fairy tale when in reality what the Bible and faith in Jesus witness to is life as we live it, real life.  It witnesses to life lived in relationship and any honest relationship can include those times when disappointment sets in and hope seems lost.

With its many different voices, the Bible describes an honest relationship with God which, like any other relationship, isn’t always a smooth ride.  What is made known though, in many and various ways, is that in this relationship, loss of hope is not the final stage.  If we continue on the journey, like the two on the road to Emmaus, if we continue on the journey and in the relationship, new life and new possibilities will present themselves; that’s part of what faith is about.

 Today, what starts as a sad story becomes a story of hope as Cleopas and his companion continue to walk with the Risen Christ.  It takes awhile, but finally, as he explains scripture to them and as he breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened, they see that it is Jesus and their perspective changes, hope begins to return.  Then, of course, he’s gone; Jesus vanishes from their sight but based on what they had seen and experienced they become the latest witnesses of the Risen Christ.  They returned to tell the disciples and others about what had happened.

For them, it started with the scriptures being opened to them.  After failing to recognize Jesus at first, when he showed how Moses and the prophets had spoken about how the Christ had to suffer to enter into his glory, they wanted to know more.  Then, when he broke bread with them, their hearts were warmed and their eyes were opened to the truth of what they had already been told, the truth that the tomb was empty and that Jesus had indeed been raised.

What interpreting scripture and breaking bread effectively does, is to place us on the road with Cleopas and his companion.  The historical distance between us and them is gone.  We might think that we are at a disadvantage because we weren’t there 2000 years ago, but being there for the most part didn’t help those closest to Jesus either.  It wasn’t until the events of Good Friday and Easter that they began to recognize Jesus as the Christ.  Even in this story today, just being with Jesus didn’t make a difference for the two on the road; for them, recognition came in hearing the word and breaking bread.

That is exactly what happens now in the church in Word and Sacrament.  What  Luke gives us is an image of the church.  It is in the church that the scriptures are opened in the readings, in the preaching, in the hymns, in the choir anthem, in the liturgy.  Bread is broken and shared as Holy Communion is celebrated.  With that, the presence of the Risen Christ is made known and we become his body as we go out into the world, serving in his name.

Today, as we gather around the table to celebrate Holy Communion, we honor some of our young people.  For some of them it is First Communion, for others, they have been receiving Communion for awhile, several years in some cases.  For all of them though, the past couple of weeks has been the first time they’ve had some instruction concerning the sacrament. 

If you’re confused by the fact that some of them have been receiving communion without having had instruction because, “We had to understand it before we received,” well, if you really think that, if you really think you understand, I challenge you to explain it. 

What has happened is that our sacramental theology has become more consistent.  We’ve always baptized infants who don’t understand what is happening.  Addison didn’t have to pass a test last week before she was baptized.  Now, for younger kids whose parents are OK with it, our practice concerning Holy Communion is the same.  It’s the Holy Spirit at work in both sacraments and our Lutheran theology says that it’s by the work of the Holy Spirit that people are brought to faith.  If we believe that, by denying communion to some, we’re hindering the work of the Holy Spirit.  Kurt Hendel who spoke here the other day said he would commune anyone who comes through the door; it’s not about understanding.

Anyway, we do celebrate today with Jacob, Faith, Ashley, Reid, Brady, Delaney and Killean as they join us around the table.  Like the two on the road to Emmaus, over time may their hearts be warmed and with that, may they too be inspired to say, “The Lord is Risen!  He has been made known to us in the breaking of the bread!”          

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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