Sermon Preached (May 8, 2011)
3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A (Luke 24:13-35)
On Monday this week, I was (finally) sitting down to read the Sunday Chicago Tribune and ran across a brief column which referenced the exciting April news cycle culminating in coverage of the tornadoes in theMidwest, the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan, Donald Trump’s quest for President Obama’s birth certificate, and, of course, the royal wedding of William and Kate. The column went on to bemoan the fact that, by contrast, May was destined to be one of the dullest news cycles on record. You have to remember, I was reading this Sunday, May 1st column on Monday morning – just 12 hours after news of the death of Osama bin Laden had hit the wire. I laughed to myself as I put the paper down thinking, “what a difference a day can make.”
What a difference a day can make. President Obama’s approval rating jumped 9 percentage points upon news of bin Laden’s death. Celebrations erupted in all the predictable places – Washington D.C., Ground Zero, Pennsylvania, and on college and university campuses whose students were in their early teens when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred. What a difference a day can make.
“That very day” - the day on which Mary and the other women had gone to the tomb and discovered Jesus’ body was missing and ran to tell the other disciples – “That very day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” What a difference a day – or two – or three – can make. Certain that Jesus, this flesh and blood man they had come to know and respect – perhaps even to love – certain that he would be the one who would not only challenge the domination of Rome, but would, in fact, overthrow the government system altogether and usher in a new system based on a new kind of law, certain of all these things, two disciples walk along the road to Emmaus with their hopes dashed, their dreams broken, and their future as uncertain as it ever was. Because this would-be Messiah, Jesus, was arrested, crucified, lay dead in a tomb, and was now missing – rumors of his resurrection have reached the disciples, but they have had no proof, no tangible evidence of this news. And so they walk along sullenly.
Until they are joined by a stranger – a stranger, who seems to know nothing of the events of the preceding week and yet, learning of them, is able to give an accounting of all that has happened beginning with Moses and all the prophets and all the scriptures. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” But even through the stories of this stranger, the disciples remain unmoved, unconvinced. But as they near Emmaus, they invite the stranger to stay with them – even in their grief, they have not forgotten the basic tenets of hospitality.
But when they sat down to dinner, a remarkable turn took place, the stranger, their guest, became the host and “[w]hen he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” It was only a moment – long enough to see in his simple gesture of breaking bread, the same gesture used at the Last Supper; a gesture which perhaps reminded them of the words he spoke that night, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Walking beside them on the road to Emmaus – the body of Christ, given for them. Sitting down together for a simple meal – the body of Christ, given for them. Fears about the future relieved, hopes and dreams restored by the body – the presence of Jesus - given for them – given for you – for us; so that we know in the breaking of the bread that “The Lord has risen indeed.” In that instance everything that they believed and hoped about the pre-Easter Jesus was true again. And everything they and we would come to know about the post-Easter Jesus began to be revealed. What a difference a day can make.
There is much that we cannot know as one day turns into the next. We often assume, as the Chicago Tribune columnist assumed, that after a month or even a day filled with exciting news – good news or bad – that what follows will surely be a letdown. Isn’t that the premise behind post-vacation blues? We become lulled into a conviction that we have already seen and heard it all, that nothing can surprise us now. The weeks after Easter are perhaps analogous to this experience – after all the hype of Holy Week, after the exuberance of our Easter celebration – an ordinary Sunday can feel rather – well, ordinary. And yet, God promises that in just these ordinary moments - a quiet glance, a single word or a simple gesture - like the breaking of bread, can remind us that God is yet with us – yesterday, today and tomorrow. What a difference a day can make.