Where shall we go with this Gospel text today? It is a treasure chest of meaning. I think that we could preach on this text for several weeks, for the whole Easter season, maybe for the whole year, and still be finding new things. But we must pick one.
One possible response is to comment at length on the fact that our two disciples have Jesus right in front of them--literally, right in front of them!--and yet they require several rounds of enlightenment in order to place him.
How can you miss Jesus standing right there?
We could go that way, but I would rather not do that.
would rather not do it because I know myself. I know how easy it is for me to miss the Easter possibilities for whatever situation in which I find myself. And this is the case even though I have the benefit not only of being two weeks into Eastertide, but also of two thousand years of church tradition. We celebrate Jesus' resurrection every year. We know it is coming! So while it is never any less special, it is human nature that over time it becomes somewhat less shocking.
But in Luke's telling, this story happens the very Sunday evening of the resurrection. There are no lilies, there is no brass quintet, and as far as these two disciples know there is not even any good news. They had been hoping for the redemption of Israel and to the best of their knowledge the guy who was supposed to bring it was in the ground. I can't blame them for not recognizing Jesus.
I can't blame them because of what the Scripture says: "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Kept by what, we want to know? Well, the answer is not given in the story. But I suspect that the answer might simply be, by their grief. Their sense of loss so profound, their grim determination to plod on in the face of the painful vicissitudes of life. Perhaps as a mental defense mechanism, they had steeled themselves against hope so that they wouldn't once more be disappointed.
Let's give these fellows a break...they had been through enough. If anything, I want to consider them heroes. After all, they did eventually recognize the risen Lord Jesus. And if I'm in their place, it's probably going to take me a lot more than a couple of hours to put together the pieces of the puzzle.
So how is it that the eyes of their hearts are finally opened? According to the lesson, there are two things.
The first is the breaking of the bread. We are familiar with this one, as Episcopalians we love this one. We have this rich heritage of beautiful liturgy and of sacramental appreciation that prepares us to recognize Jesus in a special way when we come to the altar. We take a little bread and a sip of wine and by faith we know that we have really received Christ.
But the Emmaus story teaches us, perhaps, to also look at our Eucharists as training grounds for recognizing Jesus:
Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love us,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
We can learn to see him in the everyday, the seemingly mundane, the things that happen outside of this building in addition to those within it. Our Eucharists must be learning opportunities, for when the disciples invited Jesus into the house in the village, we don't hear about a high altar and the beautiful ceremony and vestments and music that make our liturgy the heavenly action that it is. Those are all beautiful, good things, but they are not the point.
The point is simply that by sitting at a dinner table with the disciples and revealing himself in the breaking of bread, Jesus reminded us that this rich service of worship is, as much as anything else, a way of reminding us to be on the lookout for his presence wherever we are. Just as Cleopas and his friend probably never watched someone break bread again without remembering this moment with Jesus, so it can be with us when we have been formed by sharing in the bread of heaven. A wholesome meal delivered to a family in a hospital room...a cup of cold water poured at the Community Kitchen...a few shared moments around a table with Family Promise guests. If we have trained our eyes and our minds and our hearts to be aware, we will begin to see the presence of Jesus in all these places and more.
But there is a second reason the disciples were able to discern the presence of the risen Christ. The Scriptures. Granted, the ah-ha moment, as it were, is when the bread is broken. They recognize Jesus, and he vanishes from their sight--this, apparently, is one of the many advantages of a resurrected body. But after the double shock of realizing the appearance of their Lord, and then seeing him disappear before their eyes, what do they say: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?"
According to Luke, when Jesus wanted to explain himself to these disciples, he went right to the Scriptures.
That is why we read the Scriptures every week, you know. When we gather to hear the stories of our faith, we are hearing how our ancestors in the faith heard God, and what difference that made in their lives. And when we listen to those stories together, we can begin to explain to one another the ways that they resonate with our own stories. Our triumphs, our failures, our successes, our confusions, and our joys--when shared with each other in the light of the Scriptures--come alive with God's meaning. We hear the word, and if we reflect it to one another, then sometimes--all of a sudden--we realize that Christ really is here among us. He is here, living and active and powerfully working in our lives both individually and as a community of faith.
These disciples were, as we are, humans. They were limited by their finite nature and by what they knew to be true. They knew that Jesus had died, they knew that dead people stayed dead, and so they knew that they would never see him again. And so they didn't see him again, until their minds were opened. Let us pray that, as we hear the Scripture together and come to the Lord's table for the breaking of bread, that our minds may be opened, too.
Or in the words of the old hymn:
We would not live by bread alone,
But by that word of grace,
In strength of which we travel on
To our abiding place.
Be known to us in breaking bread,
But do not then depart;
Saviour, abide with us, and spread
Thy table in our heart.
1. The world is getting hotter.
That is not a political statement…at least it shouldn’t be. The vast majority of climate scientists agree that the world is getting hotter, and that humans have something to do with that. Now, the political solutions to that, that’s worthy of a big debate. But as sea levels rise and coastlines recede and millions of people are displaced in the coming years by changing climate patterns, it will be harder and harder to avoid the conclusion that the world is getting hotter.
Western civilization, such as it is, is in peril. You can find articles predicting the demise, and attributing to everything from the United Nations to Brexit to Democrats to Republicans to lack of civil education. I even saw an article this week—I kid you not—connecting the demise of Western civilization to the 90s TV sitcom Friends.
The nation is in trouble. Russian hacking, North Korean missiles. A survey out this year shows that less than half of people my age say that it is essential to live in a democracy. A large plurality of those surveyed say that it would be ok for the military to step in—just temporarily—and run the country until order can be restored and the right leader installed.
Our town is growing too fast. We’ll never be able to keep up, and pretty soon we’ll all be faceless, Gallatin will be the size of Nashville, and it will have lost all its charm. Every bit.
And you’ll never believe what’s happening on my street.
Or, as one of my new favorite poems puts it,
When life seems gray/And short of fizz
It seems that way/Because it is.
How’s this for the beginning of a Lenten sermon?
2. There are serious problems to be dealt with in our world, but technology is allowing us to fixate on them like never before. If you’re not careful, you can forget that there has been bad news for a long time.
Like in Ezekiel’s time. Israel has gone into exile, their national identity has crumbled, it seems that they feel absolutely hopeless. Why even go on? they say. We are lost.
God plucks Ezekiel up in a vision and puts him down in a valley full of dry bones. Not just bones. Dry bones. No life left in them at all. “What do you see, Ezekiel?”
“Can these bones live?”
“O, Lord God, you know.” It’s almost as if Ezekiel knows that it’s a trick question, and yet he can’t bring himself to say “Yes.” Don’t you see how dry those bones are?
“Prophesy to those bones and say, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” And the skeletons begin to put themselves together. But then they’re just dry, lifeless skeletons, instead of piles of dry bones.
But God is not finished yet.
“Ezekiel, now prophesy to the breath.” (Now, this is the tricky part of translating sacred Scripture. Did you know that in Hebrew, the word for breath is the same as the word for wind, and it’s the same word for spirit. Breath, wind, and spirit, all the same word.)
So it’s just as true that what God is saying is “Prophesy to the Spirit!” Well, Ezekiel does.
“Thus says the Lord!” he says, “Come from the four winds, O spirit, and breathe on these bones, that they may live.”
Then there is this mighty rushing sound, the wind blows over those skeletons, and they stand up.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
3. We are faced with big problems, just as every age is faced with big problems. They require our best efforts and our serious engagement.
Sometimes it might even feel like we are standing all alone in a valley filled with heaps of bones.
But the people of God have never faced a problem that the holy spirit of God could not reimagine.
The dry bones of broken relationships. “Prophesy to those bones!”
The dry bones of injustice and despair. “O bones, hear the word of the Lord!”
The skeletons that haunt our society’s most pressing bad dreams: “Come from the four winds, O spirit, and fill these bones with life!”
Now, that all sounds great, you might say. Very inspirational. But what does it have to do with me? Doesn’t sound like my everyday life.
4. Maybe. But there’s a lot of room for the Spirit of God in everyday life.
In the Christian Century this week, the publisher’s column is about Ruby Bridges. 56 years ago, when she was six, she was escorted into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans by U.S. marshals, who were there to desegregate the school. Angry crowds jeered and waved Confederate flags. Someone actually put a black doll in a coffin and rolled it in front of her as she walked in the door.
The white parents all pulled their kids out of the school in a giant boycott that went on for weeks. But Ruby kept going to school.
Robert Coles was a psychiatrist in the 1960s studying children in the South affected by segregation. He met six-year-old Ruby, and her strength and grace caught his attention. He began to meet with her every week.
One day Ruby’s teacher told Coles that she had noticed Ruby’s lips moving as she was walking into school. So Coles asked her, “Who were you talking to, Ruby?” “I was talking to God and praying for the people in the street,” she said.
“Why were you doing that, Ruby?” “Well, because I wanted to pray for them. Don’t you think they need praying for?”
Coles said yes but pushed some more. “Where did you learn that?”
“From my mommy and daddy and from the minister at church. I pray every morning and every afternoon when I go home.”
“But Ruby, those people are so mean to you. You must have some other feelings besides just wanting to pray for them.”
“No,” she said. “I just keep praying for them and hoping God will be good to them…I always pray the same thing: ‘Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.’”
5. In Ruby’s everyday life, she found herself carried into a valley of dry bones. But despite the tremendous injustice…despite the fact that she had every right to be bitter, and every reason to be…that six-year-old young woman called for the Spirit of God, and those bones began to come together toward the new life that God intended for them.
Whatever valley you find yourself standing in, remember Ruby, remember Ezekiel, and then prophesy to those bones and call for the Spirit of God.
A parish of
The Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee
The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt, Bishop
The Rev. Joseph R. Woodfin,
Ms. Dottie Delionibus,
Childcare/Christian Youth Formation
704 Hartsville Pike
Gallatin, TN 37066
8:30am Holy Eucharist
10:30am Holy Eucharist*
*Childcare 6 and under Available
6:15PM Holy Eucharist w/Healing
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The Church of Our Saviour has been a welcoming community of Christ's love in Gallatin since 1956. We invite and include all as we go about God's work in the world--restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
Suzy Perry, Junior Warden & Clerk
Tammy Hawks, Senior Warden
Janet Smith, Treasurer