Sunday, April 23, 2023
The Third Sunday of Easter
Keep the reins loose
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77450
I love passages in the gospel where you can jump into them, visualize yourself in the passage. That is one of my favorite meditation techniques I learned while working on the Ignatian spiritual exercises.
Now this passage really spoke to me this week in particular and it is precisely because I find it so east to visualize myself as Cleopas walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus with the other disciple. A part of that ease is because I’ve been there, literally traveling in that part of the world.
To begin with let’s put this passage into context. We are back in the gospel of Luke for a week. The women, Mary, Mary the mother of James, Joanna and the other women have gone to the tomb and found it empty. An angel appears and asks why are you looking for the living among the dead, he is not here he is risen.” They run back and tell the others who treat it as an idle tale and do not believe them. That is where our passage begins.
Two disciples, one who is named Cleopas have left Jerusalem and are on the way to Emmaus, about seven miles away. Now we do not know where Emmaus is, there is no evidence whatsoever about its location. That is true of several biblical locations especially ones mentioned in Acts. Note Cleopas is named but the other is not. That may mean that the other disciple is Cleopas’ wife. Women were often not named if they were with their husbands. That is what this contemporary icon is about. You will notice that it is a man and a woman that are depicted. I did that in part to emphasize that often we get locked into thinking of the disciples as an all-male group and that just isn’t true. I guarantee there were women at the last supper, who do you think did all the cooking? There would also have been children for the youngest at the Passover meal must ask the question, “Why is tonight different from other nights?” So if nothing else let this cause you to ponder this story in a slightly different light.
Now for a brief commercial, I am spending the next several weeks during the Christian Formation time talking about what Paul really said about women and during those classes we will look at the role of women in the church at the time of Paul.
Immediately following our passage Jesus shows up in the room and has them give him a piece of broiled fish that he eats to prove he isn’t a ghost. Luke’s gospel ends with Jesus taking the disciples out to Bethany where he blesses them and withdraws into heaven. All in one day! Be honest how many of you ever noticed that before?
When I imagine myself in this story especially right now, I envision Wendy walking along with me as the other disciple. Cleopas and his wife have heard the message from the women, yet they, like Thomas last week have not really wrapped their brains around the entire situation. So they are walking, talking, wondering what the heck happened? What does this mean? I will say Wendy and I have been doing a lot of walking and talking these past several weeks trying to make sense of all that is happening in our world. The world as we know it has been radically altered over the past several years and we do not know the exact path of how we will come out of this situation and what our churches will look like going forward. Just as with Cleopas and his wife we are in uncharted and unfamiliar territory. I imaging they felt a lot of the “what do we do now” feeling.
Now there is an interesting problem in this account and it is another place where I believe we can all relate to the story. Then Jesus walks up and joins them. Yet, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” So what is that all about and what does this have to teach us?
There is a recognition problem of Jesus in his resurrection appearances and I find that fascinating. Just as in the John account, of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, where she doesn’t recognize him, or as it says, “assuming him to be the gardener” There is a recognition problem that seems to be very important to our gospel writers and to Luke.
Richard Rohr has an interesting speculation about this. What if it was a stranger on the road? What if in John it was the gardener that spoke to Mary? Part of Jesus’ becoming fully human is that he becomes part of all humanity especially post resurrection. This is the idea that some of Jesus is in each and every one of us.
Jesus physically leaves, but there is the promise, which is fulfilled on Pentecost of an ongoing spiritual presence. The promise that “I will be with you always even to the end.”
There is also an emerging Eucharistic theology developing in this. How do the two disciples finally recognize Jesus? It is in the breaking of the bread. We read this so often that it may lose its power. Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. That is exactly what I am going to do in just a few minutes. The ushers will bring forward the bread and wine. I will take it from them, bless it and break it Then all you will come forward and I will give it to you. It’s the four-fold action of the Eucharist. Jesus also does this in the feeding of the 5000. He also does this same action at the last supper in the synoptic gospel. This is an important way that the church has known Christ for centuries.
If we can believe that Jesus is in the bread and wine that we share at the communion rail, why is it so hard to believe that each of us has some Jesus in us. After all we talk about all of this in terms of atonement theory, but atonement breaks down to at-one-ment. Being one with God one with Christ, one with the Holy Spirit and most important one with each other.
Welcoming the stranger. Seeing the divine the Christ in every person we meet. This is how we recognize the Jesus the divine spark in each and every person we encounter. How many of us have been in a situation where all of sudden we realize in some way we have encountered Jesus in another person.
This is what I learned on my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago during my sabbatical in 2018. I set out on the Camino looking for Jesus the divine in the people I encountered and in those precious God moments often at sunrise in the fields of Northern Spain. I did not know what I would learn on this pilgrimage, but I was willing to be open to the movement of the Spirit as I go. Seeking out the divine in my fellow pilgrims and in those places I visited. Setting out each morning not necessarily sure where I would stop or how far I would go.
I spoke with the spiritual director I have used at Wernersville where I used to go for my retreats every year. He said something I think really fits well here in Texas. He told me to “sit on the Spirit horse hold the reins loosely and see where the Spirit leads.” Take time to notice and look for the divine in all that you see and do. Now that was a wonderful suggestion for my Camino. However, this is a wonderful way to walk through life as well especially in confusing and challenging times as we are experiencing now. Admit it, God is in control not us. Oh we can think we are in control but I have learned that is not really so. What we do have control of is our willingness to look for God, look for Jesus in the stranger we encounter on the road.
Looking for the signs of God everywhere in God’s creation. As it says in Genesis, God made the world and pronounced it was good, very good. God is in all things. We just need to recognize God’s hand, God’s presence and then follow where God leads.