Fr. Philip Sang: Disappointment to Delight

Sermon delivered on Easter 3A, Sunday, April 30, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the lesson from Acts, Peter speaks of the resurrection of Jesus with such power that some 3,000 people are numbered among the first Christians. Forgiveness of sins and the presence of the Holy Spirit are amazing gifts offered to all who hear the Lord’s call. In Luke’s Gospel, we find the risen Jesus unfolding scripture to two disciples as they journey to the village of Emmaus. Only when “their eyes were opened” did they truly understand who he was and what he had said.

Have you ever had the experience of not being able to see something for looking at it? You go into a room for something, you spend ages looking for it, you can’t find it; yet it’s right in front of you. It’s normally the case that someone else will be able to spot it immediately… You’re looking at it, but you just can’t see it.

What maybe worse, though, is when you’re looking at someone. You know you should know them, you chat away, but all the time you’re thinking ‘who are you?…’ I’ll confess that this has happened to me several times, this past week at the synod i met somebody i knew I should know him, but it took ten full minutes of conversation and stumbling questions before I worked out who he was.

This morning in our reading, the two disciples have a series of experiences just like this. They’re walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and they’re talking about what had happened in recent days. As they walk along, they’re joined by someone they should recognise, but they don’t know him. They see him, but they don’t recognise him.

When he asks what they’re talking about, they’re amazed he even asked the question. ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?’

Cleopas and his friend had been followers of Jesus. They knew he was a prophet mighty in deed and word – but he had been crucified. Listen to the disappointment in their words: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’ They had high hopes, but they had been dashed. Their expectations had been exhausted. Their dreams are deflated.

Now as if that disappointment wasn’t enough – they’re confused by the strange events of the morning. All this talk of visions of angels and word of Jesus being alive. Yet Cleopas and friend haven’t stayed around. No one has seen Jesus yet; It all seems so strange. They just can’t make sense of it all.

They’ve been expecting Jesus to redeem Israel – by kicking out the Roman oppressors and winning the victory. They thought things would work out in a particular way, but they haven’t. I wonder if you’ve ever found that as well? You have your life all planned out, but things don’t turn out that way. You expect a life of ease and comfort, but then sorrow surrounds you – what should have been victory turned into defeat. You’re left wondering if God is really in control. Where is God when these things happen?

It might be hard to see where Jesus fits into it all; it might appear as if Jesus isn’t with you in the middle of the trouble. You’re confused, disappointed, sad. They just can’t see Jesus; can’t understand what he’s doing – even when he’s right beside them; even as he’s speaking to them.

Yet Jesus enables them to see. Now notice that he doesn’t immediately say: ‘There’s nothing to worry about, sure, did you not recognise me? It’s me, Jesus, alive and kicking…’ Rather he helps them to see his death and resurrection as laid out in the Old Testament.

Jesus says that these two were ‘foolish… and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.’

Jesus is saying that they should have expected his death and resurrection, precisely because it had been written about in advance in the Old Testament. They didn’t see Jesus in the scriptures, which was why they were finding it hard to understand what was happening that very day. He goes on: ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ He then shows what is written in the Bible explaining from Moses and all the prophets the things about himself ‘in all the scriptures.’

The Old Testament isn’t irrelevant for us; because it’s all about Jesus. Over 300 specific details of his life, death and resurrection are given, hundreds of years before he was born – all of which gives us confidence that God knows what he is doing; how he is in control of history; how his purposes do not fail.

Cleopas and his friend talk later about how their hearts ‘burned within us’ while he was opening the scriptures. That excitement of knowing and understanding the Bible, seeing it all click together; seeing the Lord Jesus in the Scriptures – what a thrill to be able to open the Bible together and hear God speaking to us. Do you take time to hear him speak? Their hearts were open to see Jesus in the scripture; yet they still didn’t know who the man walking with them was. They come to the end of their seven mile walk (as if they’d walked from downtown columbus to westerville), but the stranger appears to be heading on further. They urge him to stay with them. He is the guest, yet he takes the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

It’s the same set of words used of the time Jesus fed the five thousand; the same words from the Last Supper just a few days before. And it’s at that moment that their eyes are open; they recognise Jesus; they see him for who he is; and he suddenly disappears from their sight.

Though they didn’t realise it; though they couldn’t see him; Jesus was alive – Jesus had been with them the whole time. The knowledge that Jesus is alive is enough to transform these sad, disappointed, weary disciples into joyful resurrection people. Despite the hour; despite having walked seven miles, they get their coats on and go back the same road; back to Jerusalem and the eleven and the others. They have good news to share!

The good news is shared – Jesus is risen, he’s alive; he has even appeared to Simon (Peter – the one who had denied Jesus). These disciples share how they recognised him in the breaking of the bread.

Perhaps today you’re weary, sad and disappointed. You’re wondering why things are the way they are. You just can’t see God’s purpose in the events of your life. Jesus invites us to meet with him at his table – as we break bread together, we’re reminded of God’s love for us; of how God could use the darkest of days to bring about the brightest of days; how violence and shame and hatred were transformed in the cross of Christ to offer hope and forgiveness and victory.

As we hear his word and share at his table, so he meets with us. He invites us to see him, to know his presence with us – not just here, but everywhere we go, in whatever situation we find ourselves. The good news of Easter isn’t just for one day in the year; we live each day in the light of the resurrection – the knowledge that Jesus is alive; that Jesus is with us; that God is fulfilling his promises, and will continue to do so. Just as Jesus met his disciples on the Emmaus road, so he’ll meet us on the sunbury road, the Main Street, or East wind or wherever he has prepared for us.

With the miracle of Easter still fresh in our memory, let us be filled with passion and conviction like Peter, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior with the hope of meeting him at every place and in every situation we find ourselves in.

In the name of God the Father the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.