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From Broken hearts to Broken Bread

Easter 3, Common Lectionary Year A 

Luke 24:13-35

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio file

It is, as Terry said, one of our faith tradition’s favourite Easter stories; Jesus meets disciples on the road, in the middle their lives, in fact in the middle of their moment of utter heartbreak and despair. He opens Scriptures with them to make sense of texts that seemed to have nothing to do with their dashed hopes and broken dreams; he showed them how this narrative of faith, thousands of years in the making, is relevant and real to their particular Emmaus road. Then he breaks bread with them, and they encounter the depth of holy grace in ordinary bread. And they, in response to their holy encounter with remembrance and  promise, they return, trip over themselves to return to the world, bubbling over with good news of God to share.

Now, scholars have frequently somewhat drily pointed out that this story is not so much about a resurrection event, some happening in time, as it is about the  earliest communities of the church. Luke shapes the story deliberately to mimic and model the shape of community worship and action:   -we are met in the middle of our lives by the holy, -we open scripture together, to see how this ancient narrative of faith is relevant to our own faith journey -we gather around a table to break bread in remembrance and promise -and then we leave, fed in spirit, to find our purpose as we share with our workaday world this gospel,  this good news of God’s love. But the best way to kill a story is to try to explain it, or worse, theologize it! Stories, especially Gospel stories are meant to inspire, to take us to the place of imagination and hope, and to find ourselves in them; so we should let this one do just that, because it is one of the best.   So, let’s take ourselves back to the day of resurrection, but not how we do it, 2000 years later,  knowing the outcome, and trumpeting it with our  hallelujahs and easter eggs, but as this rag-tag bunch of misfits, these so very ordinary working folk, fishers, farmers from the hinterland would have experienced that first Easter day.

They had come with Jesus up from Galilee to celebrate Passover at the high holy Temple, sang the songs of ascent “I rejoiced when they said let us go to the house of God!”   Only it had all gone so horribly wrong. A crowd that once loved Jesus’ healing touch, his feasts for thousands, his spell-binding parables of the Dream of God,  like mustard seeds, and pearls,  like fishing nets groaning,  like harvests of wheat pressed down and overflowing,…. now dayed for his blood. He is arrested in the garden, ridiculed, beaten, crucified, dead, and hurriedly buried in a borrowed tomb.

That first Easter day was awful. It was a day of heartbreak,  gut-wrenching grief. And disbelief. Some of you know all too well how hard it is to come to terms with the death of a loved one. How surreal it is, to wake up knowing they’ll not be there  with the coffee and the paper today, or any day. Death’s first companion is often numb disbelief.

To make it yet worse, that first Easter morning stillness was broken by the incomprehensible babbling of the women, rushing back from an empty grave, stuttering about angels, and his body not there, but risen! As if!

To listen to Cleopas tell it, we can hear his disbelief, salted with tears of frustration, even anger, his grief shattered by nonsense. There’s no inkling in his words of a desire to believe this ‘idle tale’, he is simply numb, confounded. And if you’re in any doubt about that, listen to the note of utter despair in his deeply poignant “we had hoped….”

We might desperately want to yell back through the millennia to him that “It’s all alright, it’s true!” But if we’re honest, would we have been any different than Cleopas? Would we have thought for a second that a dead man is alive?

What these Gospel stories get us to do in this seven-week long season of Easter, is to stare long and hard, and honestly with growing empathy, at the difficult journey Jesus’ followers have to travel, from despair to hope; from disbelief to “what if?” to maybe? to OMG!

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus, as told in these Gospels, is no forgone, easy straightforward conclusion. Getting heads, hearts and lives around this life from death resurrection is slow, painful, daring work.

So we should not be surprised, and certainly not disparaging, when Cleopas and his companion do not recognize the traveller who joins them on their journey. Neither should we begrudge him what seems for all the world like the outpouring of a grieving, broken, despairing heart, etching every cruel detail with bitter words…  “We had hoped….. but… they killed him. It’s over.”

For those of us who know the story, we want to flip the page to the happy ending, that moment of a broken heart mended at the breaking of bread.

But no, we are supposed to walk alongside him, we are his unnamed companion. We too are supposed to, we get to pour out own own griefs, our own dashed hopes, our own incredulity. We too get to walk alongside this stranger, as he spins and weaves the yarn of faith, from Moses to Malachi, like gossamer thread around Cleopas’ broken heart,  and ours. We too are invited to take each step of that seven mile journey towards Emmaus in company with the stranger, in company with the unrecognizable mystery of resurrection, hidden in strangely ordinary things:

Easter happens in the fellowship of faith; the gathering of people in worship and holy encounter; in the work and witness of all who want to let the life of Jesus live on in what they do to make the world a gentler, more peaceful, more just, more  righteous, more caring, more loving, place.

There is no explanation for resurrection, only recognition of its presence, usually in the stunned darkness of those places of our lives that are most broken.

Resurrection happens for Cleopas, and this companion, (me) in the simplest, most generous act of breaking bread, sharing it in blessing and remembrance and hope.

This I know, though like Cleopas, I don’t know how, Christ is risen, here, among us. Christ is risen indeed.

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