Easter 3A; Luke 24:13-35
Today is the Third Sunday of Easter, but our gospel story takes place on Easter Day. On the Day of Resurrection, the first day of the week, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, other women of the group, the ten disciples locked away in a room, to Cleopas and another disciple traveling to Emmaus, and (apparently) to Simon.
This gospel story is one that churches like ours, the Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox are especially fond of because it is Eucharistic-centered. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” This is the essence of Holy Communion – a sacred meal shared with his disciples wherein he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives. In that moment the eyes of the disciples were opened and they recognized him. This is no different from today where the priest takes, blesses, breaks, and gives; and in that moment we recognize Christ in our midst. As I say at the beginning of the 8:00 service, “Be present, be present, O Jesus our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”
There is a lot of important stuff in this gospel story in addition to the Eucharistic celebration. There's a slow, hopeless, and sad walk from Jerusalem down to Emmaus, followed by a racing, hopeful, and joyous run from Emmaus back up to Jerusalem. There is a scriptural witness to Jesus. There is a revelation of Christ in the sacramental meal. But in all of this, I keep coming back to one sentence: “As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.”
He walked ahead as if he were going on. Or maybe, “He walked ahead as if he were passing by.” This has always perplexed me; and this isn't the only time something like this happens in Scripture.
In Genesis, Abraham encounters three men of the Lord by the oaks of Mamre, and he invites them to not pass by, but remain with him and eat. Lot also encounters angels of the Lord who intend to pass by his home in Sodom, but he invites them into his house.
In Exodus, the Israelites are instructed to mark their doorposts so the angel of the Lord will pass over them. Moses, wanting to see the Lord, is placed in the cleft of a rock while the glory of the Lord passed by.
In Matthew and Luke, while on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes by blind beggars who call out for him to stop and heal them. In Mark, he walks on water during a windstorm intending to pass by the disciples in the boat. And now, here in Luke, the resurrected Christ intends to go on ahead of, or pass on by, Emmaus.
In all of these stories there is a common theme of invitation. Abraham and Lot invite angels of the Lord into their homes. The Israelites invite God to recognize their presence. The blind beggars invite Jesus to stop and heal them. The disciples, through their fear, invited Jesus to be made known and come into the boat. And here the disciples invite Jesus into their home.
This invitation is a reciprocal activity. First, we are invited to follow. God invites his people to follow. Jesus invited the disciples to follow. As the hymn says, “Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless seas.” Jesus invites us to worship, he invites us to welcome others, he invites us to serve God and others, and he invites us to encourage others through our faith.
The second part of that equation is that we also invite Christ into our lives. We invite Christ to help shape us and form us. We invite Christ to be present with us.
As I was thinking about all this, I was reminded that ours is not a transactional faith. That is, we don't do “X” in the hopes of attaining “Y.” A transactional faith is at the core of things like the prosperity gospel where, if you do this, or say the prayer of Jabez, or give the church a certain percentage of your income, or do any number of other things, then God will bless you. Likewise, prayer is not a vending machine, where you insert a prayer (item D4) and God will provide you with a result that you pick up later. And while I think attending worship is vitally important, worship attendance is not the Hilton Rewards Program, where if you attend a certain number of times you get a free heavenly upgrade.
Instead of transactional, our faith is relational. Prayer is a conversation with God, where we learn and grow, in much the same way our friendships develop over time. Worship attendance is time spent together with God, just as we spend time with our beloved.
God is on a journey. Like Advent, that journey is both already and not yet completed. That journey is moving from the first day of creation in the garden to the new creation found in Revelation. God is in time, but also moving through time, and we are invited to join him. And we, as with any relationship, invite God into our lives. It is in that relationship with God that we grow and develop.
In today's gospel, Jesus interprets all of Scripture for Cleopas and the other disciple so that they can see how it all relates to Jesus. He invited them to a new understanding. Then the disciples invited him into their home where bread was broken and shared. The breaking of bread and the sharing of a meal are things that happen through mutual invitation. They are things that happen in relationship. This event wasn't Jesus at the diner serving them a meal they ordered because it wasn't a transactional event.
Yes, Jesus calls us o'er the tumult, but we have a responsibility to not just follow, but to invite him to stay with us so that our relationship may be complete. Otherwise he may just pass us by, leaving us to remember that not everyone who says to him, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Like a marriage or friendship, our faith is built on a continuing relationship. This Easter, may we not only take steps to follow the risen Christ, but may we also invite Christ into our lives in such a way that we bear witness to Christ wherever we are.