Today’s sermon on The Road To Emmaus …
Called To Be The Face Of Christ
We’ve all heard the story before. A few days after the resurrection, two of Jesus’ disciples were on the road to Emmaus talking about what had happened when they encountered Jesus. But they did not recognize him. He asked them what they were talking about and they were shocked at what he asked. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” one of them asked him. In other words: “Do you live under a rock? Have you not been paying attention? They put Jesus on the cross and now there are women who are saying that the tomb is empty!”
Jesus told the disciples that they were foolish. He asked them why they did not believe what the prophets – starting with Moses – had said. When they went to part ways on the road, the disciples urged him to stay with them; they told him that the day was almost done and that he should have supper with them. So he did. And when he sat down to dinner he took the bread that was on the table and he blessed and he broke it – just like he did at the Passover the night that he was betrayed. And then the scripture says, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
I love the way that phrase is written and has been translated in English in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible. “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” – I can visualize it in my head; there is something almost magical about it.
A few weeks ago my mom called me after church to tell me a story about something that had happened during the Communion liturgy that morning. She said that when she took the loaf of bread and broke it into two pieces, she heard a little voice in the back of the church gasp and say, “Wowwwwwww!”
That morning a little girl’s eyes were opened – and she recognized magic happening.
For an adult who has seen and heard the liturgy of Holy Communion hundreds of times throughout their lifetime, it is easy to understand what is happening for what it is – myself or another ordained minister blessing the elements with prayers that have been said and heard for hundreds of years. But for a child, it is not that easy. They are hearing a story and vividly watching it play out in front of them and in that moment they are seeing the face of Christ in the person presiding over Communion and in their actions.
I had a New Testament professor in seminary who taught us how to understand the bible using the Experience Interpretation Model. To put it simply, the Experience Interpretation Model begins with the premise that all human beings live in a Symbolic World. And all human beings interpret their life through that Symbolic World.
Now the Symbolic World is real; it’s tangible. It is the reality of the time and the place and the social structures that you are living in. Our symbolic world – at Rehoboth Congregational Church, in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, in the United States, in the year 2011 – is very different from the symbolic world of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus showed up in human and resurrected form on the road to Emmaus and he could be recognized as he broke bread with his disciples. That was the reality of the Symbolic World of first century Christianity. That is not the reality of the Symbolic World that we are living in today.
The reality of our Symbolic World is sometimes very scary. Last Sunday night I was getting ready to go to sleep when I saw an email from The New York Times appear in my inbox. President Obama had just announced that a team of United States Navy Seals had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Suffice is to say, the moment I received that I email I snapped out of my, ‘I love my new call and my new church and the new area that we are living in’ high that I have been on lately and instantly remembered how scary of a world we live in. And since that moment I think have experienced every single range of emotion that a person can possibly experience, from ‘initial shock’ to ‘relief’ to ‘fear’ to ‘heartbreak’ all the way to the very practical, ‘now how in the world am I going to preach on this on Sunday?’
Do you want the simple answer? I’m not. Not directly, anyway. Now I can’t ignore it; Karl Barth, who was a reformed theologian, always said that in order to be an effective preacher you have to preach with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. But I think that we can find a deeper meaning in what the country has gone through in the last week – and in the last ten years – than military orders and a media frenzy.
Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus and he made himself known to the disciples through the breaking of bread. That is not the reality of our Symbolic World. The reality of our Symbolic World, I think, can be summed up in a phrase that my pastor from Georgia uses to close her benediction with every week: “May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.”
In our Symbolic World, we – each and every one of us – have to be the face of Christ to the people that we meet. We have to be the face of Christ to the people that we meet in our homes, in our schools, in our communities and in our churches. We have to be the face of Christ to the people that we meet when we are feeling our best and when we are feeling cranky and miserable. We have to be the face of Christ to the people that we meet every single day because for all we know they may really need to see the face of Christ that day. We have to be the face of Christ. We are called to be the face of Christ.
I think that we live in a world where military and political leaders are making life and death decisions that impact that lives of millions of people all around the world. I think that we live in a world where far too many innocent lives have been and continue to be lost. I think that we live in a world where too many are mourning losses. I think that we live in a world where hatred and violence outweigh love and peace. And I think that when the dust starts to settle on this particular event in our lives – when the media coverage starts to wind down, when the streets begin to clear, when the intense emotions that may have come to the surface start to soften – we will really need to heed that call to be the face of Christ.
The reality of the Symbolic World that we live in is very, very complicated. One person cannot fix the problems that exist; one person cannot bring peace to hundreds and hundreds of years of violence and political warfare and one person cannot erase the suffering and pain that so many people have had to endure. But one person can be the face of Christ to another person in need. One person can meet someone in need on their own road to Emmaus and be recognized as a face that will bring them healing, hope and peace. That one person is every single one of you.
We are all called to be the face of Christ. We are called to be the face of Christ as husbands, as wives, as sons, as daughters, as mothers, as fathers, as friends and as enemies.
When the two disciples recognized Jesus, their eyes were opened. Maybe they even let out a childlike gasp and a “Wowwwwww!” But after that, do you know what they did? They went out and they told the world. They spread the Good News. They spread the Good News just like the women at the tomb did that first Easter morning – we heard that story read two weeks ago – and they spread the Good News just like Thomas did after he felt Jesus’ wounds – we heard that story read last week. There is so much power in this Easter season; because through it we are able to think about the role that we play in the greater Christian story, because through it we are able to think about what God is calling each and every one of us to do and because through it we are able to embody a man whose ministry lives on through each generation.
We are called to be the face of Christ – today. Amen.