Good evening members and friends of Pleasant Grove UMC. We are into the 5th week of our shutdown of worship. I have to say that last Easter Sunday was a totally different way to worship. Ann and I have never missed an Easter Sunday worship. This Easter was different than the past. For twenty-five years, I lead or participated in the formal Easter worship, this year I was an observer. Ann and I watched Adam Hamilton from The Church of the Resurrection in Kanas City, Missouri. It was a moving expressive service that proclaimed the Easter message: Jesus Christ is alive: Hallelujah. I recommend that, during this shutdown of worship at Pleasant Grove UMC, that you tune into Adam Hamilton, www.cor.org — Sundays at 10:15AM or Noon EDT.
Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Bible tells us that Jesus appeared in human form to various people-before the birth of the church at Pentecost. For the next five weeks we will examine some of these stories so that the reality of the Resurrection will be real to each of us.
“With Burning Hearts”
Luke 24:13-35 —13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still; their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleophas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Let’s us spend a few moments looking at the story of the men walking to Emmaus and how their world changed when their vision changed. They are down-trodden – discouraged — disheartened— fearful –– afraid — all that they had hoped for was gone – in the death of Jesus – no question – Jesus was dead. All future was wrapped up in Jesus and now he is no longer with them.
Have you ever felt that way? – You have lost you job because of the Covid-19 shutdowns — and now you do not know what is going to happen to you and your family. Money is in short supply — hope for the future is dwindling fast. And you feel like you are walking alone? Or maybe you are in the midst of a painful family situation – your marriage may be in jeopardy — your relationships with dear family members are fractured — hope is dwindling fast. And you feel like you are walking alone? Or maybe you have just received the word that all of us dread – you have cancer – for many it sounds like a death sentence — hope is dwindling fast. – And you feel like you are walking alone?
This is the way that the men walking– slowly – painfully – that afternoon — felt as they traveled towards Emmaus – they were walking alone. Then Jesus appeared – but they did not recognize him — A stranger in their midst who walked along with them.
You never know when you’ll run into Jesus. It can be in church, at the moment of a baptism, when you behold the innocent, hope-filled face of a child of God. Or Jesus can appear during Communion, in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, when your eyes meet the eyes of the person who is offering you the bread of life or the cup of salvation, someone who maybe you’ve never really thought of as Jesus before. But suddenly, in that moment, when your eyes meet, you realize that in that connection, Jesus has been made known to you. But of course, Jesus isn’t always seen in church, is he?
Jesus can appear in the form of a cashier at Walmart; the person who works hard all day, but still takes the time to be kind and personal with you and shows you generosity and compassion in the midst of a really bad day.
We never know when we will run into the Spirit of Christ, or how long the encounter will last. We can no more control the Spirit than we can control the wind. The gifts of God’s Spirit are free, spontaneous, and always, ALWAYS, surprising. But whenever Jesus appears, our own spirits are lifted. It is only afterwards, when we reflect on it, that we realized that the moment was like a fire burning inside of us, and that we have been in the presence of God. Then we may wish, like Cleopas and his friend, that the visit had lasted just a little bit longer—that Jesus would stay with us, because it is so good being with him.
When we are troubled and discouraged and struggling for answers– can we be like the men in the walk to Emmaus and ask Jesus to stay with us? – It is a wish or a plea — Asking Jesus to stay —- These are words of faith — Jesus – stay with me for a while. Jesus stayed – but still they did not recognize him.
But, at the breaking of the bread – they recognized that the stranger was Jesus — they remembered and talked about how their hearts were strangely warmed by the words that Jesus was speaking to them as they walked along — they heard the scriptures in a new light – the light of the resurrection and the Scriptures made sense — they began to understand that Jesus was who he said he was.
Henri Nouwen writes in his spiritually illuminating book – “With Burning Hearts” — that it is at this time in the communion that God wants to come close to us, so close that we can see him with our own eyes, hear him with our own ears, touch him with our own hands – so close that there is nothing between us and him, nothing that separates, nothing that divides, nothing that creates distance. This is what we experience in the breaking of the bread. Holy Communion – the Eucharist — is that intimacy that comes from both sides –the bread — the broken body – freely offered to each of us and freely received by each of us —- God becomes near us – with us as we share the meal.
And with burning hearts – the men rose from the table and ran back to Jerusalem to tell the good news – Jesus is alive – we have seen him — he walked with us – he talked with us – he shared his life with us — and we have to tell everyone we see. As we rise from the communion table — are our hearts burning with the desire to tell everyone that it was Jesus who was with us during our times of trouble – during the suffering — during the struggle – during the pain – that Jesus was with us. – Now is the time to go and tell.
Jesus did not go back into the tomb —- Jesus came forth – to be with us forever and ever – the pain and suffering was gone – the hope that springs forth from the resurrection was there. Hallelujah!
Concluding Prayer: Risen One, you showed yourself to the early followers to bolster their faith and to glorify God. Help us to recognize you not only in our breaking of the bread of the Eucharist but also in the breaking of the bread created by the actions of our everyday lives. Be close to us, Lord, as you were close to Cleophas and to Simon Peter and to all the unnamed disciples who saw you with their eyes. Lord Jesus be with all of us who must now see you with the eyes of faith. Reveal your resurrected image in a world being transformed through the power of your love. Amen
“God is Still in Control” by Merle Monroe
Recommended by Ed Lambert