SERMON – Images
Friends, I have an uncle who lives in a little village outside Brantford called Mount Pleasant. Somewhere in his house there is a wonderful treasure, It’s a box of old 8mm movies – a record of family events since the time I was a teenager up to 20 to 39 years ago. There I am, on one reel, with my sister singing in silence by a Christmas tree. I’ve got my Elvis Presley haircut and I’m wearing a T-shirt with the arms rolled up. These movies are all silent, made before the days of camcorders with built in mikes.There’s one of my grandfather working his garden on Chestnut Ave in Brantford. He is trying to get to the one doing the filming to make me stop and we are both laughing. I haven’t seen any of these movies for years but I can clearly remember thinking what a wondrous thing it was to see Grandpa moving, and laughing, so fully alive, years after he died. Even without sound those moving pictures bring people to life in a way that a still photograph cannot.
And Yet, I also treasure the snapshots in albums. No sound, no movement but you can sit
and look at a photograph for a long time. The picture stands still long enough for memory to fill in the story, to bring buried feelings to the surface.
Now, If you wanted to tell today’s gospel story, which took place on Easter Sunday would you tell it as a movie or in still photographs? Let me ask that question another way: when you heard the gospel story read were you most aware of moving or standing still? Do you remember walking on the road or sitting at the table? For you was it more like a movie on the road or a photograph of bread in wounded hands?
Friends – I’m not speaking only of artistic sensibilities here. This is a matter of faith and of revelation. How does Jesus Christ come to us? And what does it mean for Jesus to stay with us? Such questions are of pressing importance for Luke, the author, of this gospel.
Today’s story stands between the resurrection of Jesus and the mission of the church described in Luke’s second book called Acts.
How will Jesus be with the disciples when he is no longer with them? This story stands between Easter and Pentecost. Which is precisely where we are now, you and I.
It seems the story has to begin as a movie. Two of them were going ~ walking, talking, discussing what had happened to them in recent days. A stranger comes near and joins them. “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” he asks. His words point to their movement then suddenly, everything stops. They stood still, looking sad. It is no longer a movie, but a still photograph. A close-up of their faces let their sadness sink into your soul. Do you see it – Take your time.
Then, Cleopas speaks and the movie continues. (They must have started walking again ~ for somehow they will get to Emmaus and back to Jerusalem by the time the story ends.)
But we still hold the sad photo in our memories as they speak. Sadly, they tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in word and deed who had been condemned to death.
Oh how we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Their hopes and dreams were shattered. There is all the poignant, wistful, bewildered regret in the world in their sorrowful words. In light of all that has happened these are the words of disciples whose hopes and dreams were dead and buried. How do you capture that hopelessness in a photograph? There is no future. Nothing ahead, everything behind.
No dreams, only memories made bitter by loss. This must be a still picture. But we had hoped. You can see the photo, can’t you? Let me ask you another question. What would it look like in your own life? What have you hoped for? And When did those hopes die? Friends – That photograph is another one that doesn’t ever really go away. Does it
Even as they move on, the hopelessness weighs them down. They had expectations that Jesus did not meet. Jesus of Nazareth failed them. So the next part of the story doesn’t seem to make any difference to them.
Some women from their group had gone to the tomb and found it empty. But that news doesn’t change anything for them ~ they left Jerusalem. (If you had heard that the tomb was empty, wouldn’t you have gone to see for yourself? Wouldn’t you have stayed in the city to see if Jesus would appear?).But for these two – Their hopelessness had no room or good news. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.”
We know the stranger is Jesus (the narrator has let us in on the secret). We know that Jesus has been telling them about his own life and death. Now we must be absolutely still. Some women, then others, found the tomb empty. But they did not see him.
Could a photograph ever hold such irony? Two disciples stand looking at Jesus and say,
“But they did not see him.” They did not see him. They couldn’t. – Why? They had already decided he was not the one.Who can say how long that moment lasted?
“Then, he said to them, ‘Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe
all that the prophets have declared!” The one they could not or would not see, began to teach. To interpret the scripture beginning with Moses and all the prophets.
They are walking again. If we were making a movie, perhaps we would move behind the
three of them now. The two disciples turn and stay close to this stranger to catch every word. Then we see the stranger moving on ahead of them as though he means to keep going.
But something has happened to these disciples. Something has overtaken their hopelessness. They cannot let him go (whoever he is) Now the narrator slows the pace,
repeating words and phrases. “Stay with us,” they urged him strongly.”So he went to stay with them,”
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” “And their eyes were opened and they recognised him, And and he vanished from them. They followed him and he was gone.” This is the key to the story their eyes were opened.
Is there one picture that will give the answer? Was it when they sat at the table, when he broke the bread? Or did it begin when they walked on while he opened the scriptures?
Remember, I told you this is not really about movies or still photographs. It is a story of – faith and revelation, – how God reveals himself. It is a story of – remembrance and recognition.
While you and I may long for a special moment of revelation, a datable time of being saved, – a heightened experience of God’s presence this story from the first Easter day
reminds us that faith is not so neatly captured. Would the disciples have recognised Jesus at the table if he hadn’t opened the scriptures? Was revelation in the slowwalking journey as surely as in the breaking of the bread?
Friend’s – Here’s the thing – These questions cannot be all past tense.They are in reality every Christian’s questions. Is something slowly happening to you in the prayer you stammer each morning on the way to work? Or at the end of a day? Is something happening in the Bible Studies at our church when there seems no great revelations
just opening and honest sharing of the scriptures?
Hopefully, you now know that this is not just a story about two disciples on the road to Emmaus two thousand years ago. All your hopelessness and mine is there on the road,
every broken down dream, every doubt we’ve ever had or still have.
Friend, Are you waiting for a clearer revelation, for deeper assurance of Jesus’ presence in your life? Well, I would like that, too, and some days, that assurance is as close to me as my breath. But not always.
I know what Kathleen Norris means in her book, Dakota; A Spiritual Geography, when she says, ‘”Conversion means starting with who we are are, not who we
wish we were. Conversion doesn’t offer a form of knowledge that can be quantified, or neatly packaged. It is best learned slowly and in community.”
And so, the journey of faith moves slowly frame by frame, most of the segments utterly ordinary. A few still photographs do hold particular moments we might dare call revelation. Along the way we are sustained as those two on the road to Emmaus were by hearing over and over words of scripture we have heard before. Sometimes, it happens that our hearts are opened and we hear as though for the very first time.
Then at a communion table or at an altar, beside a hospital bed or in a nursing home, or in your home at the side of your sick bed someone takes bread, blesses and breaks it and holds it out. The story of the Walk to Emmaus concludes with the two disciples, when they received such great joy hastened to share it.
Jerusalem and Emmaus were approximately 10 kms apart – not far enough to keep them
from hustling back to share the Good News. He is Risen. Halleluiah and Amen