In our Gospel reading we are, once again, back on that first Easter morning.
That day two Christians heard Mary’s astounding report about the empty tomb, the angels, the proclamation that Christ was risen. But like everyone else, Cleopas and his companion couldn’t wrap their minds around the good news of resurrection. And these two went farther than the others. They gave up entirely. They left.
Luke doesn’t tell us why they left. But it’s not hard to guess. Jerusalem was becoming a scary place for anyone associated with Jesus. Better not to be caught hanging out with a bunch of Jesus’ followers, just in case the authorities decided they needed to make an example out of a few more Jesus people.
Cleopas and his companion are us. We have no reason to fear police hauling us off to be crucified. But like Cleopas and his companion, we worry that gathering with our Christian brothers and sisters could be dangerous. And so, on a day when we might be together celebrating Christ’s resurrection, we, like them, find ourselves separated from each other.
The next bit of this reading is common to all the stories of resurrection in those first days, and it is a familiar bit of good news. But it is certainly worth repeating. Jesus shows up wherever his disciples are. And Jesus does whatever they need him to do.
At the tomb itself, Jesus calls a weeping Mary Magdalene by name. In the midst of a gathering of believers, Jesus shows his wounds to a doubting Thomas and offers to let Thomas touch them. Similarly in our reading for this morning, Jesus takes a walk on the road to Emmaus to teach a fleeing pair of disciples about the truth of resurrection.
Jesus opens the scriptures to Cleopas and his companion, and their hearts burn within them. Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them. And in that Eucharistic moment, their eyes are opened, and they recognize their risen Lord, and they embrace the truth of resurrection.
How about us? Does Jesus show up where we are? Does Jesus do what we need him to do?
So far Jesus has not materialized bodily at my house, and, for the record, I would like that to happen. But the fact is, Jesus has been showing up in all kinds of ways. I have just needed a little help opening my eyes to his presence in the people around me.
Several people from our parish contacted me over the last week to check in and see if I needed anything. What a generous gesture! As I read those messages and received those calls, my heart burned within me just a little bit, and I knew Christ was present in our Church community, separated though we are.
Eight days ago my former boss and wonderful friend Derrick Fetz took his final vows as a Third Order Franciscan. The service was done on Zoom, which at the time I had not seen done before. On Zoom we prayed and we sang. We heard a couple of short homilies on the Franciscan life. Derrick made his vows and received a blessing. And I was reminded that the Church lives, that the Church keeps moving forward even in difficult times, even when we can’t be together. And my heart burned a little within me because Christ was with us as we gathered in his name.
Last Wednesday, a former student of mine contacted me to say that she has been approved for ordination in the Episcopal Church. It is scheduled for June. It may happen on Zoom. Or maybe we can gather. Either way, the Jesus movement rolls on.
As it happened, the Gospel reading for Morning Prayer the day she contacted me was the passage she had chosen for her wedding several years ago, at which I preached. I had been thinking of her all day as I meditated on the scriptures, as they opened up for me. And my heart burned when I received her good news.
And here is what I recognized this week, as my eyes began to open to the presence of Christ with me even locked away in my home. I had a great week. I am a little stir crazy. I am a little paranoid about my health. But Christ has been all around me all week, showing up, providing what I needed, just like he did for Cleopas and his companion.
I am even beginning to see a silver lining to this time of quarantine, a bit of resurrection life happening right now.
I have said Morning Prayer virtually every day for years. But many’s the time I have just rushed through it without much paying attention to the passages I read or the prayers I said.
Now that I am livestreaming Morning Prayer, I spend time each day thinking about the readings. I spend time reflecting on which prayers go with which passages. Morning Prayer, which has always been a great comfort to me, has become even better. New life in the midst of pandemic quarantine.
I hope something similar has been happening for everyone joining us for this service. Christ is with us even when we cannot be with each other. Prayer and the reading of Scripture can light a little fire in us, can open our eyes, can lead us deeper into the truth of resurrection that we celebrate even in this strangest Easter season ever.
Two more things about our passage strike me as particularly relevant right now.
The climatic moment when the eyes of Cleopas and his companion were opened came at a meal. At one level, this was just an ordinary supper for three weary travelers. And yet Christ was present. Christ took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his companions. Those are Eucharistic actions. Through Christ’s presence, an ordinary meal became a Eucharist capable of revealing the truth of Christ’s resurrection to a pair of discouraged disciples.
The same came be true for us. Our ordinary meals can become mini-Eucharists if we, too, take our food, and bless it, and serve it, and if possible share it, all in Christ’s name. After all, Christ is with us always. And it is Christ’s presence that makes the difference, not a Church setting and not a priest. It is a great comfort to know that even when we cannot gather, we are not without benefit of Eucharistic grace.
But that is not quite the end of the story. Right now we are stuck on the road, so to speak, separated from each other. But separation is a necessary evil, not a positive good.
Cleopas and his companion get that. As soon as their eyes were opened, they hurried back to Jerusalem to rejoin their brothers and sisters in celebrating Christ’s resurrection.
I long for the day when we can do the same!! I long for the day when we can come back together as a gathered community of faith to worship our Lord, to share the fullness of the sacrament, and once again to experience ourselves as the body of Christ.
In the meantime, I give thanks to Christ for meeting us where we are, for sustaining us in our separate homes, for filling us even now with sacramental grace. And I invite each of you to reflect this week on how Christ is appearing to you, on moments when your heart burns a little bit, on times when, however dimly, you can see Christ’s grace at work.
And I make that invitation in Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan