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Easter 3, May 8, 2011

Easter 3A RCL May 8, 2011

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41
Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1: 17-23
Luke 24: 13-35

Peter’s sermon which we read today takes place after the Holy Spirit descends in tongues of fire at the Feast of Pentecost. Peter calls upon the people to be baptized and become followers of the risen Lord, and three thousand persons respond. Peter very clearly tells them that the Jesus who was crucified and the one who has risen are the same person.

Peter, or more likely, a disciple of Peter, expands on this theme in the epistle He tells us that through Christ we have come to trust in God, who raised Jesus from the dead. He calls upon us to “Love one another deeply from the heart.” He tells us that we have been “born anew, through the living and enduring word of God.”

In our gospel for today, it is evening on the first Easter day. Two of Jesus’ followers are going from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all the things which have happened. Jesus joins them and walks along, but they do not recognize him. He asks them what they are discussing and they are astounded. “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what has happened?” they ask. And then they explain step by step about how the authorities had Jesus condemned and killed and how the women went to the tomb early that morning and found it empty and how they had seen angels who told them that he was alive, and how they came back and told the others, and the others went and saw the tomb empty but did not see Jesus. And then Jesus speaks to them and tells them about how the prophets had foretold the messiah.

Then they reach the village of Emmaus and he acts as if he is going to go on, but they urge him to stay with them, for the night is coming. They extend hospitality to him, still not knowing who he is.

And then he takes the bread, blesses the bread, and breaks it and gives it to them just as he did with the apostles at the Last Supper. This is the basic action of the Eucharist: to take, bless, break, and give. Even though they have invited him into their home, he is the host at this feast of his presence, and they recognize him. Then he vanishes, and they reflect on this wonderful experience. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was taking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Then they get up and go back to Jerusalem and they find the eleven and their companions still gathered together. Still praying, still a community of faith. And the eleven are saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” As they share with each other, they are echoing each other’s experiences of his presence.

In these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, there is something different about him. He is the same person, but he has been transformed, so that his followers do not always recognize him. In this case, though, the breaking of the bread conveys the reality of his presence. They know who he is, and then they are able to go back in their minds and reflect on how he has affected them, how he has helped them to understand so clearly what the scriptures say about the messiah and his ministry.

As we move on through the Easter season, we will experience more of these encounters that people have with Jesus, people who thought it was all over, that he was dead and gone, and that his vision and his ministry would die with him. And then, more and more people see him and the word spreads: he is risen!

If he came and joined us as we were walking somewhere, would we recognize him? Would he look somehow different from what we expected? Would we be so discouraged that our perception might be a bit blinded? But the whole point is that he always manages to do whatever is necessary to allow these discouraged followers to realize that it is he, that he has come through it all, and that he is with them, to teach them, to give them hope, to welcome them into newness of life, here and now.

He is walking with us right now. And I believe that we are here because, in some sense, we know that, and we want to be with him, to learn from him and follow him and do his work, and build a world that is in harmony with his ministry and his teachings and his life and the life that he shares with us.

Though he walked this earth a long time ago, two thousand years ago, and though we have not literally seen him, we have indeed seen him and we have walked with him, and we believe in him, and we want to continue to be close to him. He is present with us in the breaking of the bread; he is the host and we are his guests at the best thanksgiving feast ever. Eucharist means thanksgiving in Greek.

Our hearts can still be set on fire with his love all these years after his earthly ministry. Millions of people gather with him on a daily basis all over the face of the earth. Millions of lives are buoyed up with faith and hope as a result of his birth, death, and resurrection. Because he has faced death in all its forms and come through on the other side, risen and transformed, we can experience life in an entirely new way, and we are in a process of transformation.

Risen Lord, be known to us on the breaking of the bread. Open the eyes of our faith that we may see you, listen to you, and follow you.

Amen

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