Easter On The Road To Emmaus: The Dawn of a New Day

Meister Franke's Resurrection of JesusIn my denomination, we pretty much just celebrate on Easter Sunday. We read about the empty tomb, loudly proclaim, “He is Risen” to each other, and do a lot of singing. We wait until the following Sundays to reflect on what all this means. Then we take time to ponder Jesus’ appearances among his first followers and his continued presence with us now. Let’s do that today by examining the marvelous events that took place on the Emmaus Road.

It will help to remember the Gospel writers were trying to report mysterious events. That is pretty obvious when you put their four accounts side by side. They all tell the Passion Story pretty much the same way and then proceed to disagree on most details about the resurrection. They differ on who went to the tomb, whether they found one angel, two angels, a young man, or simply discarded burial clothing. They each report different appearances to different people at different times. It’s enough to give an honest fundamentalist a headache. But it also forces the rest of us to search for deeper meanings.

Three Gospels get us started when they present the history-changing resurrection as a very quiet event. They record no one specific moment when Jesus rises from death, but describe Easter coming in the silence of a new day dawning. Early Sunday morning Jesus’ friends find an empty, silent tomb and then slowly, very slowly, experience the presence of Jesus in a new way.

The silence of Easter morning always reminds me of an incident that happened many years ago when I was visiting my daughter, Freda. At 5:30 one morning when I was sleeping on a futon spread on the floor, a heavy object landed on my chest and a beautiful voice whispered, “Wake up, Pop Pop. Wake up.” There she was, my granddaughter, Kayla. But how could that be? She still slept safely in a crib. When I asked how she got there, she took my hand, walked me back to her room, had me place her in her crib, and proceeded to throw her leg over the top bar. As she smiled at me over her right shoulder, she crawled out. And we quietly laughed and laughed and laughed

As all parents know, her life was entirely changed after that breakthrough, and so were all of our lives as well. Kayla was no longer safe in her crib. She was loose in the world. Everyone was called to action. All sorts of new possibilities presented themselves.

A 14th century German artist, Meister Franke, painted the resurrection exactly this way. Unlike others who portrayed Jesus exploding from the tomb with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder, Franke pictured him crawling out of a large vault with high sides. His back is towards us as he raises his leg over the side very carefully, very quietly, so as not to awaken the soldiers guarding the tomb. He looks at us over his right shoulder and appears to be laughing. I imagine him in the next moment placing his finger to his lips as if to say, just as Kayla did, “Shh! Don’t tell anybody.” Easter comes in the silence of a new day dawning.

All four gospels also agree that this silent Easter morning event gradually changed the lives of more and more people. After Luke notes the men thought the first reports were an idle tale told by hysterical women, he offers his account of Jesus’ first resurrection appearance. And it is pregnant with meaning for us

Two guys are walking down a road. Right off the bat we sense this is unusual. These are just ordinary guys, not important people like Peter, James, or John. Luke eventually names one, Cleopas, and our response is “Who? Never heard of him.” He never does name the other, perhaps wanting us to think it could be “me”or”you.” Cleopas and Fritz are walking down a road. Cleopas and Bonnie are walking down a road.

The two guys are walking away from the most important event in human history, moaning and groaning. “Right when we thought there was hope for a better way, the powers-that-be screwed everything up again. Once again, evil crushes good, violence smashes peace, hate destroys love, death ends life. It’s the old story one more time: lovers end up dead. I recognize that conversation. I had it yesterday, and the day before that.

Then everything changes. A stranger joins their conversation. Luke says it is Jesus whom the two friends do not recognize, because they are “slow of heart.” What a wonderful description. They are slow of heart, so they do not recognize the stranger is Jesus himself.

While they are discussing the scriptures, the stranger’s words warm their hearts. More than that, Luke says he sets them on fire. Throughout this story, Luke repeatedly uses the word “open.” He says the conversation opens their hearts, opens their eyes, opens their minds, opens the scriptures. The resurrection opens things.

When the two friends reach their destination, they offer the stranger hospitality, an important feature of the story. Darkness is closing in. Soon it will be dangerous to travel alone on the road. The friends open their doors, open their homes, open their table to this unknown fellow traveler. And when they sit to eat, the stranger stands, takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and shares it with them. Their eyes are opened, their hearts are opened, and they recognize the stranger is Jesus still present among them. He is not in the tomb. He is right there at their table.

Résurrection opens up a new kind of life. It is like the maestro opening up the chamber orchestra. We are overwhelmed. We hear things we never heard before; we hear things we never even imagined before. Resurrection opens up our lives and our futures. All sorts of new possibilities appear. All sorts of new hope emerge.

You cannot hear this story without discerning how much it speaks to where we find ourselves. Most of us had hoped our society was entering a new more tolerant, respectful period. An African American had been elected president; a woman was a credible candidate in the next campaign. Groups spoke of cooperating with each other. Walls of hostility seemed to be crumbling.

Then right when hope was highest, hate groups emerged, ridiculing, threatening, and attacking those who disagreed with them. The Pilates of our time began mocking people and claiming truth is whatever those possessing the power of money or armies say it is. The Violent felt their cause was advanced by killing students in schools and worshippers in houses of prayer. The Privileged insisted our government must spend vast fortunes to support endless wars and reduce taxes but doesn’t have enough money to feed the hungry, care for the sick, or educate our children. The Paranoids warned it is too dangerous to offer hospitality at our borders or even at Jesus’ table. We find ourselves moaning and groaning, as fear spreads, and we are told we must build bigger and stronger walls. We wonder if all hope is dead.

Right when we think hate has won, the Risen Lord comes to us in the silence of a new day dawning. A loved one calls us by name, “Wake up. Wake up!” A very ordinary guy or gal tells the story and our hearts open. The gardener or grocery clerk across the Communion table smiles at us, and we see Christ among us. Slowly, Christ appears all around us. Somewhat as the Gospel of Thomas proclaims, “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”

Right when we feel trapped, utterly trapped, Jesus shows us how to throw our legs up over the top bar of our cage, so we can climb out and follow him to all sorts of new adventures. Love is never defeated; it might suffer, as God suffers, but love triumphs. Slowly, slowly one by one, our hearts are set on fire, and we begin to laugh again as we see Christ enabling blind people to see, lame people to walk, and deaf people to hear. We laugh and laugh as Jesus forgives sinners, feeds the poor, turns water into wine. We laugh and laugh and laugh as the Great Teacher tells us to stop worrying so much about tomorrow and begin living like children, like birds, like flowers, like lovers.

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  1. KERRY says:

    I love this! Thanks!

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