(a sermon for April 28, 2019, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on Luke 24:13-35)
Every once in a while you come across a story that just says it all regarding the conundrum of human existence; and such was the case for me this week, courtesy of Max Lucado’s book In the Eye of the Storm, from which comes the tragic tale of Chippie the Parakeet.
Chippie, you see, “never saw it coming,” writes Lucado. “One second he’s peacefully perched in his cage, the next he’s sucked in, washed up and blown over.” What happened is that Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage… with a vacuum cleaner! (Don’t get ahead of me here!) She’d removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage, and wouldn’t you know, at that moment the phone rang and she turned way – just for a moment, mind you (!) – to answer the call. But, as Lucado puts it, “She’d barely said ‘hello’ when ‘sssop!’ Chippie got sucked in!” (Actually, with all due respect to Max Lucado, the better description might be courtesy of Tim Conway’s Mr. Tudball: “She got sucked up into the Hoooover!)
Of course, immediately the bird’s owner knows what’s happened; she drops the phone, turns off the vacuum, rushes to open the vacuum cleaner bag, and… there’s Chippie, stunned but still alive! And of course, the bird is covered with dust and soot; so the woman grabs him and races to the bathroom sink, turns on the faucet and holds Chippie under the running water. Then, Lucado goes on to say, “realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird own would do – she reached for the hair dryer and blasted her pet with hot air.”
Poor Chippie never knew what hit him! In fact, a few days after this happened, the reporter who’d initially written about this event contacted Chippie’s owner to ask how the bird was recovering. “’Well,’ she replied, ‘Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore – he just sits and stares.’” And it’s not hard to see why, is it; after all, when you’ve been “sucked in, washed up, and blown over… that’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.”
Actually, it’s an all-too familiar scenario. I mean, one minute you’re going along smoothly in this life; maybe things aren’t perfect but at the very least you know where you are, things are moving forward and the horizon looks pretty good… but then, out of nowhere it hits. The notice comes that you’ve been laid off. The doctor’s office calls with bad news about the blood work you had done. A rejection letter comes in the mail. A policeman comes to the door to inform you of the unimaginable. In an instant, everything changes: the life that had once seemed so normal to you and so predictable is now full of turmoil and utter uncertainty. To quote Lucado once again, you’re “hailstormed by demands. Assailed by doubts. Pummeled by questions. And somewhere in the trauma, you lose your joy.” You discover that somewhere along the way your song’s been stolen.
And if you’ve ever been there – or if you happen to be in that place right about now – then I’m here to tell you that this morning’s gospel reading is for you.
In fact, Luke’s story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus is, in a very real way, the resurrection story for “the rest of us;” that is, an account from the point of view of all of us who weren’t there at the empty tomb to experience firsthand the good news of Christ having risen from the dead. But even more than this, this is a story for those of us who tend to carry around Good Friday darkness even though the light of Easter Sunday has dawned! Thomas Long says it well when he writes that the Emmaus Road story is “about ordinary despair, and ordinary Monday morning drudgery.” This is about what happens after the trauma’s hit; how when your heart is broken and your life is shattered somehow life still has to go on.
And that’s how it was for these two disciples, walking along and “talking with each other about all these things that had happened;” lamenting to one another about all that they’d lost over the past few days. Oh, sure; earlier that morning a couple of the women had returned from the tomb in hysterics, talking about how “they did not find his body there,” speaking some nonsense about “a vision of angels” speaking good news of resurrection. But they knew better than to give any credence to something like that; no one was going to convince the two of them Jesus was alive; because they’d seen him die on the cross! The pain of their grief and despair was far too great for them to ever dream otherwise.
And we can understand that.
Nothing hurts quite so much as the wounds inflicted by shattered hopes; nothing nearly as painful to the soul as the cold, stark reality of what’s been left behind in a dying dream. As far as these two disciples were concerned, it was over and done, all of it: and honestly, the best thing they could do under the circumstances was to just get out; and really, what other choice was there? So they embarked on this long, seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a pathway that interestingly enough was known by the people of 1st century Palestine as “the Way.”
But then there was this stranger…
…a fellow traveler who came near them on the road and walked with them; one whose face they didn’t or couldn’t recognize, and yet whose words and whose very countenance felt strangely familiar; in fact, someone with whom they felt immediately wholly comfortable in pouring out their hearts, and from whom they seemed to receive all the kind comfort and healing they’d been needing so badly! It was as though this stranger had somehow opened up the door of their hearts so that the heavy burden of grief within them could be released and the pain relieved. And not only that, as they were walking along something like a flame was being kindled within them and in the midst of all their confusion and sadness – perhaps in defiance of it (!) – they were feeling strangely warmed.
It’s only when they sit down at the table with this stranger for the evening meal – only in the familiar intimacy of breaking bread with Jesus as they’d done so many times before – that “their eyes were [finally] opened and they recognized him.” Only in that familiar ritual of bread blessed, broken and shared do they realize that this was the Risen Christ in their midst; and, of course, then the truth of it all comes together for them: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” He’d been with them all along, and they knew it because they’d felt it all along! And almost immediately, the two of them are on their way back, no doubt running back, to Jerusalem (no small feat, because remember it was seven miles to Emmaus and then seven miles back, and all on the same day!). A journey that had begun in such deep despair and utter hopelessness is transformed by faith and filled with renewed joy: there was good news to tell, a new life to begin, and an incredible song to be sung; so why wouldn’t they run!
Do you see what I mean about this being the “resurrection story for the rest of us?” Truly, the traumas and storms that come barreling at us in this life seek to take away our faith and joy and to drive the songs from our hearts; but even as we’re on the journey trying to make some sense of it all, even as we’re seeking to get as far away from our pain as we possibly can the risen Christ comes to encounter us “on the Way,” even and especially in times and ways when we may not be aware of at all!
The glory of the resurrection and our infinitely “good news” is that whatever darkness we face along the way, both around us and within us, Christ is right there with us to assure us that there is light to be found, that the storms will pass and the traumas will subside in time. Granted, in the midst of such trauma, we might not always recognize him, but nonetheless Christ is there. For this is true revelation, beloved: for in the end, we come to recognize our Lord not by the limits of our sight but by the abundance of warmth we feel within our hearts; truly, it’s by the graceful love which burns in our hearts that opens our eyes to that which has always been there before us, making “the Way” ahead wide open and full of promise.
This is actually what the 19th century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was talking about when he spoke of the miracle of our being Eastered. Now, I realize that it may sound strange grammatically, but I’ve always been fond of how Hopkins used the word “Easter” not as a noun but as a verb. It’s there in his poem entitled The Wreck of the Deutchland: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
I love this because it’s a reminder to us that Easter is not merely a day on the calendar, nor simply a celebration of the church but rather something that happens in us: Easter in us, O Lord! It is the experience of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as it gets inside of us, comes to live where we live and permeates our souls.
This, friends, is the difference between talking about “resurrection” and “atonement” and “eternity” as high theological concepts, on the one hand, and actually coming to understand what God raising Jesus from the dead really means for you and for me, on the other; this the radical difference it makes for our lives and living! The former might well address our questions of how and even why the resurrection took place, and that does have value, but as you and I are walking along our own personal roads to Emmaus, it will always be the latter experience that burns within our hearts and leads us to open eyes that embrace the power of God’s great and infinite love for our lives and living. When you’ve been “eastered,” friends, the road still might not be easy to walk at times but you will always still be able to sing; and at the end of the day it’s the song that matters.
The fact is, unless I miss my guess there are a great many of us here this morning who can relate to Chippie the Parakeet – I know I certainly can – and I know I’m not alone in feeling at times as though we’ve been sucked in, washed up and blown over; as though all the stuff of life that is unfair and unjust and unmanageable and uncontrollable has beaten us down to the extent that we wonder if we can ever recover. In truth, a whole lot of us will leave here this morning and immediately be back on our own roads to Emmaus; because as Marcus Borg has put it, “Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is everywhere.” Emmaus, you see, is wherever you and I happen to be on life’s journey: at home or at work, at school or at the dinner table or out in the yard, in church and out, in the company of friends and family or dwelling amongst strangers, facing the challenges that are taxing but seem manageable, as well as the crises that appear to be so burdensome and insurmountable as to undo us. Emmaus is to be found in places such as these and in so many more: because ultimately, Emmaus is wherever those places in life where you meet the risen Christ and by God’s grace become “eastered.”
I hope and pray, beloved, that wherever that journey takes you and me this coming week, we will indeed find ourselves in Emmaus; and at that place and in those moments we’ll feel the burning of our hearts within us, recognizing the risen Christ there in our midst, knowing not only that he is risen but also that he is risen for us; and that because of this, we’ll be moved to sing loudly, and “loverly” and with all the joy that’s been set within us!
Thanks be to God who in the risen Christ, has indeed “eastered” us, now and forever!
AMEN and AMEN!
c. 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry