“Word and Table”
30 April 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
The older I get
The easier it becomes
For me to understand why it was so hard for the disciples to recognize the resurrected Christ.
I look at a face and think to myself
“What is your name?”
All the while, I’m doing the best I can not to panic,
“How can I keep from being discovered that I can’t remember your first name?”
Lord, save me!
I’m trying to supplement my exercise routine
By adding walking to lap swimming.
The water is too cold some days
For me to get a good 45-minute swim in.
So, I walk.
When I walk with Cynthia around the neighborhood,
With Christian and our dog, Missy,
I walk to keep up.
Both Cynthia and Christian walk at a pace that is nearly double mine.
They can’t seem to slow down,
So I’m always trying to speed up or catch up.
I look down, pump my arms, and try to pour it on.
Which means I walk with my head down.
I could walk right by my other mother and wouldn’t even know it.
On a seven-mile walk, yeah, I can understand
How they might not have recognized Jesus
Right in their midst.
Walking in a crowd makes me nervous.
I’m afraid of getting squashed, bumped over, or having my pocket picked.
After a hockey game streaming out of the doors,
I’m worried about being set upon by fans of the other team,
Or, because our family are Sabres fans,
I’m even worried about being set upon by disappointed Buffalo fans
Who tend to wail and khash teeth.
Post-Passover crowds were streaming out of Jerusalem by Sunday evening.
Everyone was starting a journey tired after a week of meals, celebrations, family visits, and trips to the Temple.
Everyone wanted to return home as quickly and as safely as possible.
Parents try to keep their children close,
Less one strays or gets left behind.
(As Mary and Joseph had learned with the boy Jesus)
Instead of the common image of
Jesus walking with two others on a deserted back country road,
Like modern artists suggest,
Think of how full the Thruway is after a long Fourth of July weekend.
Think of Cleopas, the other disciple, and Jesus
Walking in a crowd spilling forth from the Lion’s gate
Headed due East towards Emmaus.
Let’s face it;
It’s hard to carry on a conversation in a crowd,
Let alone, recognizing one voice out of many
While looking at the ground.
Some might protest, “But these two disciples had just spent upwards of three years traveling with and supporting Jesus.
They should have known.”
Granted, this was Cleopas and one of the other disciples,
Who didn’t quite make the cut for the top twelve slots.
They were probably numbered amongst the 70 who Jesus had sent out two-by-two ahead of him.
They weren’t in His inner circle.
Yet, both Cleopas and his traveling partner had obviously been very much tied up in the events of the prior week’s Passion of Jesus.
They were talking about Jesus, the events of Jesus, with Jesus, right to his face.
They should have known.
What kept them from recognizing Jesus?
To say Cleopas and the other disciple were disappointed
Would be an understatement.
Jesus had underwhelmed them.
He had undershot their expectations.
“We had hoped …” they confessed,
“that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
You can hear the disappointment in their words.
Their disappointment led them to conclude
That the witness from “some women” was nothing more
Than idle talk from a bunch of pecking chickens.
Imagine that; a woman’s opinion being dismissed …
Seeing angels and visions and a revived corpse three-days dead?
Their reports were dismissed
Because others had checked out their story
And they only discovered a missing corpse,
Not a resurrected Christ.
Yes, tired and disappointed,
Their judgment was clouded
And their recognition was impaired.
I can find no evidence to conclude that Jesus desired to be unrecognized.
They just weren’t looking for him!
“You fools!” (I paraphrase Jesus),
“Are you suffering from a poor Biblical education?”
“Let me teach you a thing, or two!”
So, Jesus teaches these two, second-tier disciples
A poignant Bible lesson,
Starting with Moses and the prophets.
Sounding just like he did,
Teaching them repeatedly before he died,
He teaches them that the Messiah should suffer these things
And then enter into His glory.
The Messiah should suffer,
Has to suffer,
If the Son of God
Is going to suffer along with the suffering of the world.
One cannot survive the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Without the cross of Jesus the Christ.
Likewise, the Messiah should suffer,
Has to suffer,
If the Son of God
Is going to remove the sins of the world.
Sins, like an anchor, are weighing us down,
Forcing our heads underwater,
One cannot survive drowning in sin
Without the cross of Jesus the Christ
Saving us (called Justification),
Lifting our heads above water,
And giving us life.
We can’t save ourselves;
That’s why we need a Savior.
“Stay with us,” becomes their plea.
“Break bread with us,” is my paraphrase.
Like every good Rabbi who teaches in the Synagogue,
The complementary work of worship
Is led by the Jewish mother,
and her family around the dining room table later that evening.
“Let us balance your words with our table,”
Cleopas and the other disciple invite Jesus.
Abide with us
And allow God’s Word to become the Lord’s Table.
It is in the act of taking bread,
That Christ is made known.
The combination of Word and Table
Just repeated from the prior Thursday evening,
Using scripture to teach His disciples,
Followed by the celebration of the first Holy Communion,
That their eyes were opened.
Repetition, familiarity, and ritual will do that to a person.
They recognized the Christ that was in their midst.
They recognized the resurrected Christ that had
Corrected them, and
Walked with them earlier in the day.
Word and Table have been the essential elements for Christian worship ever since.
We recognize the risen Christ that has been walking with us this past week;
Through the peaks, and through the deepest, darkest valleys.
It is only through Word and Table worship
That the eyes of our heart are opened
And we can come to see Jesus.
When we come together to worship
We build confidence
Knowing that Jesus Christ is right by our side.
He has justified us.
He has saved us.
He has kept us from drowning.
The proclamation of the Word, and the celebration of Holy Communion
Brings us recognition of the resurrected Christ
That wants a life-long journey with us,
Just like His walk with Cleopas and the other disciple on their road to Emmaus.
He desires to draw near you,
Travel with you,
Grow deeper in a relationship as your Divine companion.
Lastly, Word and Table takes the pressure off.
Being justified, or being made right with God,
Isn’t some kind of intellectual exercise or test
That one must pass
Before being admitted into the inner circle of Christ’s disciples.
It is impossible to think your way into Jesus’ favor
Or to plan your way into heaven.
Heaven is in our midst,
And Jesus is already in our presence.
This is what Jesus does to us,
And for our benefit.
Surrendering our perceived control over our destiny
May be difficult.
But, it is all about trust;
Placing trust in the Resurrected Christ
And His saving grace.
Worship is where we do Word and Table.
So, why aren’t people flocking to worship?
In a time and era when so many people are searching for answers,
Seeking a spiritual path forward,
Longing for God to make an appearance in their life,
Why wouldn’t the appeal of this Emmaus story
Be compelling enough to unleash the flood gates
And open the doors for a new era of
Overflowing worship attendance,
Christian vitality, and
Maybe it is.
Maybe it isn’t.
Maybe we don’t know because we can’t see the larger plan God has in store for us.
Maybe our walk to Emmaus is only starting.
It is in this Divine mystery
In which I place my trust.
As you leave here today,
May you leave this experience of Word and Table,
With your hearts burning within,
Just as it was with Cleopas and the other disciple.
May your hearts BURN
Every time we gather to study, proclaim, and interpret the Word.
May your hearts be CONSUMED by the SPIRIT’S FLAME
Each and every time we break bread
And recognize Jesus in our midst.
When the Table has been cleared and the benediction pronounced,
Go tell eleven others
Of how Jesus Christ sets your heart on FIRE
And how He can do the same for them, too.