My Easter Sermon for Second Friends Meeting follows.
When I was meditating about what to say for Easter the first thing that came to mind was the wonderful story of freedom and redemption that we celebrate. I thought about “How can I tell the story of Easter — for this is the center of our Christian faith.” I realized that it was no accident that the passion and the passover share the same spot on the calendar, so I thought about how to express this.
In order to stimulate my thought, I watched the classic movie “The Ten Commandments”. Three hours into the movie, I realized that the whole story of Easter, or even setting the context for Easter by explaining passover, is too much for a single day. I realized that Easter is the core of our faith — and is something we struggle with throughout the year. For today, all we can do is try to make a connection with a small part of the story.
Making the connection — I quickly realized that I might be Egypt, or Rome. I might be Peter, who denied Jesus, or I might be the Pharisee who called for Jesus’ death. I might have been one of the disciples who ran away abandoning our Lord to his enemies. The one thing that I know is that whoever I would be, it would not be the hero of the story. The more I thought about it — the more I realized that I would likely be anonymous — a person in the crowd there for passover and who returned home after it was over trying to make sense of why this year was not like other years.
Luke is an interesting telling of the Gospel, because it includes the poor and the obscure. At the birth narrative, it is Luke that tells us that God announces the good news to shepherds — the poor and the unknown hear the choirs of heaven. The gospels tell us that Jesus first appeared to women — but, Luke 24 tells the story of Jesus meeting an otherwise unknown person, Cleopas, on the road home. I would like to read from Luke 24:13–35
Reading: Luke 24:13–35
Now that very day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. While they were talking and debating these things, Jesus himself approached and began to accompany them (but their eyes were kept from recognizing him). Then he said to them, “What are these matters you are discussing so intently as you walk along?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” He said to them, “What things?” “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied, “a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” So he said to them, “You foolish people – how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.
So they approached the village where they were going. He acted as though he wanted to go farther, but they urged him, “Stay with us, because it is getting toward evening and the day is almost done.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he had taken his place at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. At this point their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Then he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” So they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and those with them gathered together and saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.(NET)
I will do my best to tell the story of Cleopas — Remember that there is nothing written about him outside this brief text.
Emmaus is about a two hour walk from Jerusalem, so this story begins with him walking with others to Jerusalem. Was Cleopas there when the people yelled out Hosanna? We do not know — perhaps as was closer to Jerusalem, he had the luxury of traveling later. What we do expect is that he came to sacrifice. He and his family ate together, and remembered the story of Moses. They remembered when Israel was in slavery to a cruel oppressive nation that had no respect for God. They remembered that God sent a deliverer.
Perhaps Cleopas remembered the prophecy that though Israel was conquered again, that there would be another deliverer — perhaps he looked to the empty chair knowing that just as Moses delivered them from slavery the Messiah was coming to deliver them from Rome, and from the system of sin that drug so many down into death. As he was singing “It would have been enough”, he likely remembered that God promised even more — though what God did for the ancestors would have been enough, there was promise that God would continue to be the God of Israel.
After this celebration, there was a public execution — a rather popular Rabbi called Jesus. Cleopas had listened to Jesus teach — he was not in the inner circle, but he was known to them, for when the crowds left he was still there. Did this man see Jesus die, or did he just hear rumor of what happened? We do not know — but I imagine that he watched the crucifixion. I imagine him crying at the injustice of the beating — and the shock of the sky turning dark when there should be daylight.
As Cleopas sees this played out — does he hear our Lord praying “Father forgive them, they know not what they do?” Was he there at the sermon on the mount? Did he hear Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies? Here at the crucifixion was proof that Christ was more than a man who taught perfect righteousness — here was one who lived the hardest part of it. Did he see Jesus forgiving the sin of the thief, or telling John to take care of his mother? Did he see that Christ was extraordinary even at this worst moment? That Christ was so special that even the sky and the earth mourned the crucifixion.
The temple veil was ripped, and Jesus died. A minor follower of Jesus saw their leader killed even though he did nothing more subversive than calling on people to love each other, putting others before themselves. Everything seemed insane. The hope that Cleopas had was dashed — as he said: “We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.” It seems that this hope was buried — and, as the body was somehow lost, even proper mourning was impossible.
The 11 and the women, and others were still in Jerusalem mourning. Cleopas and another walked home — again taking the couple hours necessary to get there. They talked and talked, trying to make sense out of it. Shocked, they found that their world had fallen apart — hope is dead, and grief is stolen.
A man overheard them, and joined in the conversation and asked questions — this man went through the law and the prophets, and explained the prophecies. The one journeying with them offered them resurrected hope where there seemed to be none. I don’t think it is time to enumerate and explain prophecy — remember, this conversation likely lasted 3 hours — and we have to leave something for another day! The point is their hearts burned with hope where there was hopelessness. This was good news.
When they arrived, sharing a meal with Jesus — they finally recognized him. Instead of realizing that the sun had set, and it was time to rest after a long and exhausting week — Cleopas, leaving his bags packed, picks them up and walks back to Jerusalem where he finds the 11, and swaps stories with Peter. It is clear, Christ is risen just as he said.
This story is special to me, because it shows that our Lord reaches out to the obscure. Christ spent hours giving personal attention to an unknown friend. Where a person was returning home with hopeless despair, Christ placed hope and joy into his heart. When all the news was bad — this was turned into good news.
Another reason this is special to me is that it is a sign of Christ’s real presence. This is only one of many stories of Jesus appearing risen. He appeared to the women first, to Cleopas, to Peter, to the disciples, and Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians to more than 500 people. Paul continues this list by telling that Christ appeared to him as well. The Roman soldiers were not able to kill Christ — he is risen just as he said. Here is the gospel of the resurrection: He is risen, and he has chosen to remain here with us. We wait and listen in faith that this good news is true.
Merciful Jesus, you who lived with us, tasted death for us, and rose. You who gave the promise that we can share our resurrection — thank you for staying with us. Help open our eyes that we might see you. Open our ears that we better hear and obey you. Teach us the gospel of your resurrection — so that we can hold it in our hearts and live by your power. Amen