Easter 3 ~ Mystery of the Cross and Breaking of Bread

April 30 2017

Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41 ~ 1 Peter 1:17-23 ~ Luke 24: 13-25

For most people, Easter has come and gone but to meet up with Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, we have to travel back in time to the Day of Resurrection.
Cleopas and his companion – who may be his wife, sister or friend – are sad and disappointed that the Jesus story hasn’t gone the way they’d hoped it would. They had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deeds and words, would be the one to redeem / liberate Israel. Instead, he ends up crucified and Rome continues to occupy their homeland.
Like the women, Cleopas and his companion stayed put after the crucifixion because of the Sabbath. But now they’re headed out of town. Earlier that morning, some of the women came in with tales of an empty tomb and visions of angels with a message that Jesus is alive. Peter and some of the others had gone to the tomb and also found it empty. But as yet, in Luke’s Gospel, no one has actually seen this risen Jesus, much less figured out what’s happening.
Back to the couple making the 7 mile trek to Emmaus. We don’t know why they are headed there. Maybe its where they live and they’re just headed home. As they walk and talk together, a stranger comes along side and joins the conversation. We know it’s Jesus – but they don’t. The incognito Jesus starts to explain what’s going on by breaking open the Hebrew Scriptures, beginning with Moses.
Now to be fair to the two disciples, according to my nifty Jewish annotated New Testament, it’s not obvious that the Messiah should suffer and die. Quite the opposite actually. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are things like a suffering servant and a Passover lamb but there is no mention of a crucified Messiah. So, its easy enough to understand why, in spite of Jesus’ repeated warnings that he would suffer and die and on the third day rise again, the disciples are sad and confused – and wishing for a different ending, like the liberation of Israel. By the time the trio arrive at the village of Emmaus, the disciples are comfortable enough with the stranger to invite him to stay with them. During supper, the stranger takes, blesses, breaks and shares his bread. And that’s when they recognize Jesus – in the breaking of the bread. And Jesus immediately vanishes from their sight.
There is lots to talk about in the story of the road to Emmaus but we are going to focus on two things here this morning: the on-going conversation around the mystery of the cross and the importance of hospitality and table fellowship. Conversations that try to make sense of the suffering and death of Jesus did not end with those early disciples. Over the centuries, people have questioned the necessity of the crucifixion. Why did Jesus have to die – especially like that? The standard answer is, if course, that Jesus died to take away the sin of the world. But what does that mean?
A few years ago, a young woman in my youth group said, I have a problem with salvation theology. First, I don’t think I’ve done anything so bad that it requires a death sentence to set it right and second, I don’t want someone else paying for my mistakes. That’s just not healthy and what kind of God would encourage / allow such a thing?
As you can imagine, it made for a rather interesting conversation about our understanding and expectations of God, about the nature of our relationship with God and how Jesus fits into the picture.
In light of all the conversations like that one, I invite us to consider the words of Richard Rohr who suggests that “The cross is not a required transaction, but the mystery of how evil is transformed into good”.
Throughout his life, Jesus identifies with the poor and outcast; the victims of society. By allowing himself to be unjustly convicted and crucified, Jesus, identifies with humanity at its most critical and vulnerable level – with all who have been victimized, treated as scapegoats, left helpless and destroyed. In doing so, Jesus takes away the sin of the world. First, by dramatically exposing what real sin is; ignorant hatred and violence; and, second, by refusing to participate in the usual pattern of vengeance.
Then, by raising Jesus from the dead, God is saying something like – I do care. Nothing has to die permanently! This is not just good news for the hereafter but also for the here and now because it is not just a one-time miracle but an ongoing pattern of life.
If all our little crucifixions are not just dead-end tragedies, but hold the potential for resurrection, this is life- giving good news. It changes our tombs into wombs with the promise of new life For Richard Rohr, the Mystery of the Cross is death transformed. The Tree of Death becomes the Tree of Life.
This is the strength and hope of the Pascal Mystery. We don’t have to fear death because out of death comes life. And we speak the truth of this mystery every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
Each week, we gather as a community of disciples to tell the story; to break open the story; to enter into the story; to share our story; and, to take our place at the table.
We remind ourselves that on the cross Jesus defeated the power of sin and death by overcoming hatred with love. And that by raising Jesus from the dead, God reveals the power of God’s love to bring about new life to all. As soon as Cleopas and his companion recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they immediately head back to tell the others.
Jesus always comes to his community as we gather at his table, to break bread. He is here with this morning, ready to feed us for the road ahead. The story isn’t over. The road leads on.
Pat Martin +