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If Only…

5/4/2014 Third Sunday of Easter  The text for today’s sermon is Luke 24:13-35.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  A couple of weeks ago, those words were spoken over and over again as we celebrated the most festive day of the year – Easter Sunday.  Today we have another Easter story – the appearance of the risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus.  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  But on the first Easter, not everyone is aware of it.

There is Jesus…as plain as day…alive and well…joining a couple of followers on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection – But his followers don’t even know it!  For, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him…”  Luke is careful to make this point at the outset of today’s gospel.  The followers of Jesus who meet him on the road do not know him when they see him.  In fact, they are astounded that this stranger seems to know nothing of the things that took place in Jerusalem in the preceding days.

What “kept their eyes from recognizing him?”  I strongly doubt that Jesus was covered up in a costume.  So, why didn’t they know who he was?  Did God prevent them from seeing what was before their very eyes, or did human expectations and emotions get in the way?  Perhaps they didn’t recognize him because they weren’t expecting to see him.  You know what it is like.  We’ve all had those chance encounters – when we run into someone we know in a place we never expect to see them and how that can throw us for a loop.   Maybe the disciples heightened expectations of where Jesus was, or was not, deadened their ability to identify him…or perhaps grief interfered with recognition…or fear…or a great, crippling sense of let-down.  For, the followers of Jesus were not expecting the events that had taken place in Jerusalem.  They were not expecting him to die.  They were not expecting a crucifixion and burial.  And, they were not anticipating a resurrection.  So, even though Christ had risen…he had risen indeed…it was beyond their ability to recognize the reality that was before them.  So, instead of rejoicing with the risen Lord, they relived the events as they understood them and wondered what would have happened if only Jesus would have followed their script for a messiah, instead of being nailed to a cross.

If only Jesus would have run away from Jerusalem and hid from the soldiers coming to arrest him.  If only basic Roman justice could have prevailed in the face of the mob’s shouting for his blood.  If only Judas would not have betrayed his Master.  If only Peter’s defiance with the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane could have sparked an immediate insurrection which would have saved Jesus at the last minute.  If only the women would not have gone to the tomb and come back with the disturbing report that it was empty.  If only Jesus would have displayed the power of God in expected and visible ways, then….then, things would have been different!

When things do not turned out the way we expect, often we get caught up in the “if only” syndrome.  Who of us has not stored up great hope in our hearts, only to come to have this hope comes crashing down?  Disappointments and disillusionments are inevitable in the lives of people who dare to hope.  But, when crumbled hopes and dreams are centered in OUR expectations of how God will act, then a crippling sense of letdown can blind our eyes and close our hearts to the promises of a living Lord.

If only I would have prayed more, believed more, done more – then my child would not have run out from behind the parked car and under the wheels of the oncoming traffic.  If only I would have paid more attention and not been so idealistic when falling in love and marrying the person, then my life would not be such a miserable and unending burden.  If only I could have known that first tell-tale pains in the upper back were not a muscle sprain, then I might have prevented the runaway cancer cells that now invade every vital organ in my body.  If only I could have seen then what I know now.

We have endless ways of framing the “if only” sentences.  And if they are left to dominate our minds and souls, they keep God at a distance.  For, behind them are some common denominators:  the false idea that we can ultimately control our destiny; and God’s helplessness in the face of our folly and his unwillingness to do anything to intervene and support us when we make poor choices.

So, it’s not surprising that Jesus was a stranger to the heart-broken disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  They were not expecting Jesus to be among the living, and, Jesus, himself, hindered an instant recognition.  In all of the gospels, no one knows Jesus until he makes himself known.  Before his death and resurrection people could recognize Jesus easily.  But afterward, no one knows him – for in his rising he proves that he is more than Jesus, the prophet and teacher, he is the Son of the living God.  It is not until the risen Jesus speaks; until he reveals himself through scripture, breaks bread with those present, or otherwise lifts the veil of doubt and despair that it becomes possible for blind eyes to be open and people can see him for who he truly is.

The stranger Lord does not want to remain a stranger.  And blind eyes need to be opened not only to the glory of the moment, but also to the necessity of Christ’s suffering and death.  For, if Jesus fulfilled the disciples’ expectations, the risen Christ could not come to us in our loneliness and heartache, our remorse and our guilt.  But Jesus fulfilled God’s will and in fulfilling his Father’s will, Jesus visits those desolate stretches of our lives.  Jesus comes to us to bring us out of them through the power of his own voluntary suffering and redeeming love.  It is no longer necessary to live on the brink of despair.  It is no longer necessary to remain a captive of the forever-backward look upon our lives.

Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a future as he brings us hope – hope of the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.  Our Lord Jesus Christ enables us to live in the present as he brings us forgiveness of sins here and now, this very day.  He, himself, is God’s gift that takes away the veil from our eyes and lifts the fog of despondency from our hearts.  He gives himself to us and is risen for us.  In this is the power to move us from disbelief and frustration at a stranger who doesn’t seem to know what it means to lose a child, fail at work, suffer in marriage, worry about disease, to the incomparable wonder and joy in his presence as he opens the Word and invites us to the table.

We know that Christ Jesus is the Savior and reigning Lord of life.  Cleopas and the other men on the Road to Emmaus bear witness to him.  Yet, those who saw the risen Lord do not stand in a position of special advantage over us.  For, Jesus is made known to us through scripture and in the breaking of bread at his table.

When the disciples at Emmaus became aware of Jesus’ presence, they became messengers of this Lord.  When Jesus made himself known to them, they did not keep the news to themselves, but they returned to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus died, in order to testify to his rising.  May we do the same as we proclaim, Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

Do not doubt, but open your eyes and ears and believe… and in the believing, may the peace of the God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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