“The Risen! (and Vanished?) Christ”
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 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.’
Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When 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.
They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Over the centuries, Christians have made this proclamation time and again,
and, over the centuries, Christians have pondered and wrestled with its true meaning.
From the earliest days of the Church, people have honestly asked:
What does it mean that Christ is risen? He is risen indeed!?
What does it mean that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead?
What kind of truth is this? Is this historic reality that could have been captured by security cameras
placed strategically inside and outside of the garden tomb?
Or is this symbolic truth, based in a mysterious event,
an event that birthed the early Jesus movement, which ultimately became the global Church?
How do our scientific, techno-savvy brains even begin to consider the proposition of resurrection,
resurrection of the body?
Volumes have been written over the years wrestling with such questions.
Some of the best minds in the world, as well as typical Sunday pew-sitters,
have wrestled mightily with such questions,
and biblical scholars across a broad spectrum will disagree quite vehemently on what this means.
These are questions which today’s seekers should continue to ponder, to wrestle with, to read about.
There are great minds in this room, deep thinkers, who might add to those conversations.
Countless books and articles, produced by some of the world’s greatest minds, are readily available.
But these are not questions to spend time on today, not on Easter Sunday.
This is a day to celebrate! This is a day to rejoice and be glad.
This is a day to sing Hallelujah! and to decorate the cross with flowers
and to gather with family and friends for Easter lunch.
Why celebrate? Why we honor the day with bright flowers and colorful clothing?
Why drive for hours to spend time with family and get up and go to church on a Sunday morning
when that is not our typical behavior?,
when perhaps we are more accustomed to sleeping in or hanging out with friends
or reading some good book on the first day of the week?
Beyond all those questions of “what does this mean?” and “how is this to be understood?”,
beyond the deep questions of faith and life that you may be wrestling with even now,
while sitting in Easter worship…
beyond these real and important questions are the very real experiences of the risen Jesus Christ,
of Jesus showing up when we need him, time and again, both in days of old, and even today.
I would venture to guess that more than one person sitting in your pew today
could share a moving story of when Jesus showed up for them.
Theirs are powerful stories, some of which I have heard,
stories often only understood through the eyes and ears of faith.
Yes, even while many will be glad to share their stories of faith,
I also venture to guess that many here today might relate more to the phrase:
“he vanished from their sight.”
For many who have some seedbed of faith that perhaps may be lying dormant,
the question of Jesus’ absence may be struggled with more often
than the question of how or in what manner was he raised.
What do you do when you feel like when it seems that Jesus has left the building?
What do you do when you are feeling orphaned, alone, and without much help in this world?
A recent song by Lauren Daigle, a Christian artist, has climbed to the top of the music charts.
Her songs have become popular with a broad audience because they struggle authentically
with the human experience. She sings:
Where are You now When darkness seems to win?
Where are You now When the world is crumbling?
Oh I, I hear You say, I hear You say, Look up child, ayy Look up child, ayy
Where are You now When all I feel is doubt?
Oh, where are You now When I can’t figure it out?
Perhaps you can identify with Lauren Daigle’s questions.
Or perhaps you can identify with Mary at the tomb early that morning.
Mary was grieving, grieving over the death of her loved one, grieving over lost hopes.
Tears streamed down her face as she went about her tasks and duties.
She no longer expected anything extraordinary from this life.
Her head was bowed low; her spirit heavy and weak….
when suddenly two men in dazzling clothes said to her: “He is not here! He is risen!”
He is not bound by death, not held by the tomb, not defeated by the powers of this life.
He is alive! He is risen!
And even before she could leave the garden, there he was, calling her by name: “Mary!”
Or perhaps you can identify with Cleopas.
Cleopas and the other disciple walked away from Jerusalem.
Backs turned away from Jerusalem, they were moving away geographically and spiritually
from what they had experienced in the past with Jesus.
We don’t know what their plans were, or if they had any real plans.
All we know is that they were walking away.
Suddenly this stranger engages them in conversation.
This stranger is so compelling that they invited him to have dinner with them.
Then, after the stranger breaks bread, and their eyes were finally opened,
they realized that Jesus had been with them all along the way, even when they did not know it,
even when they pretty much decided to walk away from him.
Perhaps you can identify with Peter and those other disciples gathered in the upper room, hiding out.
Peter had suddenly become afraid to talk about his faith;
when he denied Jesus, he was afraid of consequences he might face.
When he thought about Jesus, he became ashamed, embarrassed by his actions.
Then suddenly, behind closed doors, there Jesus was among them.
“Peace be with you”, he said. Shalom.
Yes, I am still with you, and I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.
And yes, Peter, I have work for you to do.
Lauren Daigle’s song continues:
Oh I, I-I-I, I hear You say, I hear You say, Look up child, ayy
You’re not threatened by the war; You’re not shaken by the storm, I know You’re in control;
Even in our suffering, Even when it can’t be seen, I know You’re in control
Oh I, I hear You say, I hear You say, Look up child…
Biblical scholar William Barclay once wrote: “it has been said that true friendship begins
only when people share a common memory and can say to each other, ‘Do you remember (when)?’”
True belonging to Jesus, to the risen Christ and to others, begins when we remember
what we have seen and heard, and we speak up about it.
When we remember our stories of faith,
when we share stories about when our hearts were burning within us,
then we discover deeper belonging with those around us and with our Savior.
For some reason this week I was reminded of one of those first times when I “understood’ resurrection.
We were at a youth event. I was a young high schooler.
We were about to share bread and grape juice in some outdoor amphitheater chapel,
and we were singing that old campfire song:
Have you seen Jesus my Lord? He’s here in plain view.
Take a look, open your eyes; he’ll show it to you.
Have you ever stood in the family with the Lord there in your midst?
Seen the face of Christ on your brother? Then I say, you’ve seen Jesus my Lord.
Today we proclaim: Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!
In a time when it might seem that Jesus has vanished from our sight, we remember.
In a day when the stories of Jesus are not even known among local school children, we remember.
In a day when the name of Jesus is not welcome in the conversations of academic institutions,
In a day when colleagues may deride us at the mention of the word resurrection, we remember.
Just as Mary who went to the tomb early ran back to tell the others what they had seen and heard,
just as Cleopas and the other disciple, after confirming their hearts were burning within them,
walked seven miles back uphill to Jerusalem that night, to spread the good news to others,
just as Peter and the other disciples, who were embarrassed and had been hiding out,
later shared boldly what they had seen and heard, and the news spread throughout the world,
so may we share our stories, however small or strange or insignificant or mysterious they may seem.
And, if perhaps you don’t have one of these stories to tell,
if you have no remembrance of the presence of the risen Jesus Christ,
then hang around here for a while.
Participate in singing the songs of faith. Wash a neighbor’s feet.
Come to a Bible study and listen to what others hear and say.
Serve as a mentor for a young person.
Marvel at how generous this congregation can be.
If you want to see him, if you want to recognize him, if you want to break bread with him,
then gather regularly around at this table.
Sometimes I forget how strange and preposterous beyond these walls is the claim:
“Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!”
But within the community of faith, around this table, serving our neighbors both near and far,
the claim seems very common, and perhaps as taken for granted as a grand cathedral
sitting right in the midst of downtown Paris.
Today we celebrate. Today we do not take for granted.
Today we exclaim “He is risen! He is risen indeed”, because HE IS….
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church