Monday, April 07, 2008

A Small Group with the Gospel at the Center

Easter 3A

The Rev. Linda Campbell

A Small Group with the Gospel at the Center

I met with a small group this week – and we spent time with the gospel. We put the Gospel at the center of our small group and asked what it might have to say to each of us.

Bobbi connected with these two being “on the road.” A lot of the Emmaus story takes place on the road – on the road to Emmaus and on the road back to Jerusalem. On the road between here and there. On the way to Emmaus they were just going – away. Away from the scene of the madness. Away from the place where their hope had died, along with Jesus – who had failed miserably - torn in two on the wooden crucifix, speared in the side by Roman spears. They just wanted away. Why Emmaus? "Well, it was seven miles distant from a situation that had become unbearable."

Frederich Buechner says that it’s a place we all know. “Emmaus could be a trip to the movies just for the sake of seeing a movie, or a cocktail party just for the sake of the cocktails. It could be a new car, or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second rate novel – or even writing one. Emmaus could be church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends. Emmaus is where we go, where these two went, to try to forget about Jesus and the great failure of his life.”

It’s actually a pretty everyday kind of place. Not all that dramatic. You and I probably spend more time going to Emmaus or being in Emmaus than we realize. But if you read the resurrection accounts they almost all of them have Jesus finding the disciples in the midst of some very everyday kinds of places. It’s interesting that unlike the accounts of his birth – where there are angel choirs singing in the heavens, and stars pointing the way, and glories echoing all around – the resurrection accounts are far more simple and down to earth. Like the stranger who walked with these the two along a dusty road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. Like the blessing Jesus offered before he took the bread and broke it in half, and offered it to them for their hunger. It was in the simple, everyday, moments that Jesus appeared to the disciples – and their eyes were opened.

And as they recognized him – they got back on the road again. But this time – they were headed back – with rings on their fingers and bells on their toes – to share the good news with their friends. "Because now they knew that indeed there is a purpose in this life; and that everything is in the hands of God, one of whose names is forgiveness, another is love." Are you on the road – to Emmaus? Or on the road back to Jerusalem? Either way, Jesus will find you and walk beside you – a stranger and a friend.

Karen lifted up the phrase “moreover some women of our group astounded us.” As some of you may know, I am becoming more involved in the complex issues of peace and justice in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine and Israel. Last night, I went to hear Rachel Corrie’s parents speak. Rachel Corrie is the 23 year old writer who died in Rafah, during the Israeli bulldozing of a Palestinian home. Sharing the stage with her parents were 10 beautiful young women, from an 8th grader to a cousin to a 3rd generation Jewish holocaust survivor, to a graduate student, to a bicycle activist – astounding women, not because they were so totally extraordinary. But because they, like Rachel, have fire inside that makes them not only want to "dance around to Pat Benetar and have boyfriends and make comics for their co-workers" – but also causes them to hunger for justice and love and peace. These women I heard read from Rachel’s writings are astounding - like the women who came away from the tomb early that Sunday morning – women who can look death in the eye, and not blink – because they know, deep down, that death has been emptied of it’s power.

This week was the 40th anniversary of the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, an astounding man who knew fear - as those do, who face death day after day. Although Brother Martin knew fear, he also knew, deep down in his bones, the truth of the ancient Easter hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs, bestowing life.” and so, he lived in the power that bestows life beyond death.

How do you and I get there? We get there little by little like the some of the disciples did, who at first didn’t listen to the “silly tales” of the women – but gradually – as they had their own experiences with the Living Jesus, the women’s stories began to make sense. Or we get there like the two going to Emmaus, by inviting Jesus to stay with us, to stay with us until we too – know the truth of the empty tomb.

I wonder who astounds you? Who is challenging for you to listen to – because they don’t make sense? Because what they say or do challenges your world view? If you slow down and listen - maybe you too, like the disciples, will hear a new word of life – a word that changes your world for the better. The women who astounded the guys became early church leaders. They were often the hosts for the gatherings of their fellow believers. These astounding women went on to provide stability as well as amazement.

Still - for those two walking to Emmaus - the women’s tales weren’t worth listening to – they seemed like fairy tales to them. "OK, guys," Jesus tells the two sad disciples heading back to Emmaus, "let’s review."

A teacher to the core – Jeff related to the disciple’s “slowness of heart” and to Jesus’ patience in going back to the beginning – to review the same material he had gone over many times before. Only now – now he was alive after having been put to death – and that meant that the same material was not the same anymore.

The light in their minds slowly dawned, and they invited this stranger to continue speaking to them on through dinner - and then – in the twinkling of an eye, as Jesus grasped the bread in his two strong hands, held it aloft to give thanks to God the Father, and broke it in two to give to them, they saw what they had not seen before. They got it. The teachings. The stories. The scriptures. Their world shifted – and they saw. The students were now the teachers.

Before Jesus’ ascension, he commissioned all the disciples gathered around him – even those who still doubted – to be teachers.

What did they teach? They taught what Jesus taught on the road to Emmaus. They taught what burned in their hearts - .

They taught that God’s love and care for creation has been there from the very beginning of time right through until this very moment.

They taught that in Jesus, God pointed to that love with crystal clarity.

They taught that through Jesus, Love’s Reign is established forever – and when you join the Jesus Movement, you begin to live in a new world. Your eyes are opened and you see things differently. You live different - because you know that you, yourself, are loved and have always been loved. Forgiveness becomes your middle name.

John’s joy over their opened eyes and their recognition of what had been there all along – was contagious. It is contagious. I recommend his Alethia class which begins next Sunday. Delve into the Greek text, and your eyes too might open in new ways and your heart also might burn within you with new recognition. Phrases and words you have heard for many years can take on new life.

Ultimately, however, in depth scripture review is the precursor to the disciples’ deep shift of recognition. That moment happened when they took what Jesus had blessed and broken and offered – and ate it.

The amazing and astounding thing is that Jesus still offers his very self – the real presence of Christ under the cover of bread and wine – and the church invites you into Communion with the author and the lover of your soul.

Let us pray. “Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.”

Resource: quotations from The Magnificent Defeat, by Frederich Buechner, and from Rachel Corrie's letters