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If Only…

4/30/2017 Third Sunday of Easter The text 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 his 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 had taken place in Jerusalem over the preceding days.

What keeps their eyes from recognizing Jesus?  I strongly doubt that Jesus is covered up in a costume.  So, why don’t they know who he is?  Did God prevent them from seeing what is before their very eyes, or did human expectations and emotions get in the way?  Maybe they don’t recognize him because they aren’t expecting to see him.  You know what this is like.  We’ve all had those chance encounters when we’ve 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’ expectations of where they can find Jesus (laying in a tomb) deadens their ability to identify him…or perhaps grief hinders recognition…or fear…or a great, crippling sense of letdown.  For, the followers of Jesus were not expecting the events that had taken place in Jerusalem.  They had not expected him to die.  They had not expected a crucifixion and burial.  And, they had not anticipated a resurrection.  So, even though Christ is risen….he is risen indeed…it is beyond their ability to recognize the reality that stands before them.  So, instead of rejoicing with the risen Lord, they relive the events as they understand them and wonder what could have happened if only Jesus had followed their scripts 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 would 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 news 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 don’t turn 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 have this hope come 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 parked vehicles and under the wheels of an oncoming car.  If only I would have paid more attention and not been so idealistic when falling in love and marrying that 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.

By focusing on what might have been, we get trapped in the past and keep God at a distance.  The same was true for the heart-broken disciples on the road to Emmaus.  After the events of the last week, they are getting out of Jerusalem as quickly as they can.  They are trapped by the past and cannot see a future.  For, even though they hear about the empty tomb, they are not expecting Jesus to be among the living.  So, when Jesus comes to them, they see him as a stranger. 

In all of the gospels, it seems that no one knows the risen Lord until he makes himself known.  Before his death and resurrection people can recognize Jesus easily.  But afterward, no one seems to know him – for in his rising he proves that he is more than Jesus, the prophet and teacher, whom they know.  He is the Son of the living God, and this is not the one they know.  It isn’t until the risen Jesus speaks; until he reveals himself through scripture, breaks bread with those present, or otherwise lifts the “only-if” veil, that eyes blind to the present and to the future are opened and people are able to recognize the risen Jesus. 

Oh, only if they knew what we know through faith – upon seeing Jesus, they too could proclaim – Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Only if….those two words trapped their hearts and blinded them from the truth of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and those very same words trap our hearts and eyes as they have us focus on what could have been instead of rejoicing in what we have before us.  Those two words blind us to the present as they cause us to look backward, and steal the hope for tomorrow.

But, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And that makes all the difference in the world!  It is no longer necessary for us to remain captive to the forever-backward look upon our lives.   Our crucified and risen Lord gives us a future as he brings us hope in the present and hope of the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.   

We know this by looking at the lives of Cleopas and the other men on the road to Emmaus.  When they became aware of Jesus’ presence, their despair turns to hope and they become messengers of this Lord.  Filling with joy in Christ’s resurrection, they do not keep the news to themselves.  They turn around and leave the past behind them.  And, they put themselves at risk as they return to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus died.  They return as new men, filled with hope and promise, in order to testify to the risen Lord.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  May those words take the place of only if, and fill your lives with hope.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.





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