“Seeing for the First Time”
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 12, 2009
University Baptist Church
There’s a scene in the movie The Matrix where Neo has taken on the fullness of his humanity. He’s adjusting to the reality that his life has been run by machines. As part of his awakening, his resurrection, he asks Morpheus, “Why do my eyes hurt?” Morpheus responds, “Because you’ve never used them before.”
Christ is risen indeed. This is the greeting we use on Easter. It’s a proclamation that we seek to see with new eyes, as if for the first time. What a difference from last week when we trudged through snow to make it to Palm Sunday. What a difference from Friday’s stark service of remembrance and darkness. The Christ candle was blown out and it solemnly left the sanctuary. And today we have flowers and colors to remind us that death is not the final word. The Christ candle sits amongst the toppled cross in a garden resembling Eden. It’s a new beginning that we celebrate today. And we see it as if for the first time.
Easter’s message is that violence is not the way of God. It is not God’s final word. God has a new plan. I like the way Walter Wink puts it:
"When the Domination System catches the merest whiff of God's new order, by an automatic reflex it mobilizes all its might to suppress that order...The Powers are so immense, the opposition so weak, that every attempt at fundamental change seems doomed to failure. The Powers are seldom content merely to win; they must win big, in order to demoralize opposition before it can gain momentum. The tactics always include gratuitous violence, mocking derision, the intimidating brutality of the means of execution. All of this is standard, unexceptional. Jesus died just like all the others who challenged the powers that dominate the world."(Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year ,pp.10-11)
But it was not God’s final word. The next word of God was the one whispered to Mary in the garden. “He is not here, he has gone before you. Why do you seek the living amongst the dead? Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, Hallelujah.”
We have made it through the long winter. The crocuses are up, the sap has stopped running, the trees are budding and we are on our way to spring. Even the stock market seems to be making a tentative rebound.
But everything did not get fixed on Easter Sunday. It took a while for the word to get around. It took even longer for people to believe it and for it to sink in. And it’s still taking a while to understand what its implications are all about. Does the resurrection mean that all of our worrying and organizing and work is over? Or does it mark that it has just begun? I think the latter, but we are newly empowered by the resurrection to remember that God’s plan for us is one of health, hope and healing. We need to keep that vision ahead of us, if only in our mind’s eye.
There are several resurrection stories in the Gospels. You just never know where Jesus might show up: in the upper room, on the beach, masquerading as a gardener. In today’s story from scripture, the risen Jesus appears to two people walking away from Jerusalem toward the town of Emmaus. The two were followers of Jesus, but not among the 12 we assume, since one was named Cleopas and the other did not have a name important enough to be recorded by Luke. I imagine people 2000 years ago walking the road out of Jerusalem, filled up with Passover matzo and a little hung-over from too much Manischewitz, grumbling about how Jesus just wasn’t who they thought he would be. Cleopas and his companion were on their way to Emmaus, which is about as far as from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul.
We can imagine why they were leaving. Maybe they were just in town for the Passover feast. Maybe they had been with Jesus, following him for months or years, but now had given up the movement because of the death of their leader. Maybe they wanted to retreat to the time before they had known about Jesus. "We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel". But he wasn’t, they reasoned. The messiah hadn’t come. They would just get back to their lives.
I think they wanted so much for Jesus to have had all the answers and to take them out of their wretched existence and now they were lost. I bet that their hearts were troubled and they felt that a part of them had been nailed to that cross on Golgotha.
When Jesus appeared to the two people on the road to Emmaus, they were on their way back, I imagine, to business as usual. Oh, how easy it is to walk that road. At least it’s predictable.
Jesus appeared to the people as a fellow traveler. After trudging along for a while, he nonchalantly asked them what they were talking about. He listened to them moan and groan about Jesus’ brutal death. He heard them complain. They spoke of how they hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel. They hoped he would be the kind of Messiah who would stage a military coup, kick out the Romans and re-establish Jewish control of Jerusalem. But this nonviolent Messiah concept was too unconventional, too out of the box, a too-difficult-to-sustain kind of a movement. It would also mean work and organizing and change for the followers—too much work. It was better to leave dejected. Time to go home.
I imagine he heard them wonder aloud what they would do next. Back to normal, I guess. But their story wouldn’t let them get back to normal. Maybe they had been changed by the events of the past week. Maybe normal would not be normal anymore. I imagine them trying to figure it all out. Of course it was the easiest thing to go back to their usual lives. But there was something different about this past week, and this man named Jesus.
The rumors had already spread that Jesus was alive again and had appeared to folks, but the Cleopas and his buddy were not intrigued enough to stick around. Their doubt, their fear, their wisdom in the ways of the world told them to cut bat and run.
Clarence Jordan once said that “faith is not belief in spite of the evidence. That’s not faith, that’s foolishness. Faith is life lived in scorn of the consequences.” The stranger heard their story and questioned the depth of their faithfulness. It’s a good thing he didn’t meet us on the road. Or did he?
The stranger on the road gave them his interpretation of the Scriptures. Whether they bought his theology or not we don’t know, but they did stay on their journey together. They continued to head back home with this stranger by their side. They talked through it all and realized that maybe something miraculous had in fact happened.
You know what happened next. They sat down for dinner. Luke’s Gospel has everything miraculous happening over food: the feeding of the 5000, the lunch at Zaccheus’ house, the last supper. When Jesus took bread and broke it, they saw Jesus as if for the first time. They recognized Jesus, likely by the scars on his hands. Maybe they also recognized that the broken body of Jesus was remarkably similar to the brokenness of the bread. Maybe they remembered their own brokenness. They remembered that Jesus came to repair the breach, to mend the brokenness, to name the evil of the world and to proclaim the love of God. And just when they were beginning to put two and two together and ask the really tough questions of their travel companion whom they finally recognized, Jesus vanished from their sight.
Why did he choose such an inconvenient time to disappear? Just when we’ve got lost of questions saved up, you up and disappear again? But Cleopas and his buddy had been with Jesus. They knew his tendencies. They knew whom he hung out with. He even said that he would be with them always: in the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the outcasts, those demonized by religion or society. Why do we need the person of Jesus when we have Christ with us always? Maybe we need to look at each other with new eyes. Maybe we need to see for the first time.
What if we have been walking and talking with the risen Christ and didn’t even recognize it? Think about it. Haven’t you been with someone who has told you the truth so clearly that you see the world with new eyes? Haven’t you traveled alongside someone who made you feel comfortable in your own skin and always had the best intention for you? Haven’t you seen someone who has done an act of kindness for you, as great as telling you the truth or helping you out when you are down or as simple as opening a door for you? Haven’t you seen someone go the extra mile because they knew you needed it?
I call all of that evidence of resurrection. It’s evidence of resurrection because it shows hope and faith in your fellow human being. It’s evidence of resurrection because it reminds you that someone else has your back, even when it seems the whole world is conspiring against you.
It’s evidence of resurrection because it witnesses to the fact that there is goodness and hope in this world.
The folks on the road to Emmaus said that their hearts burned within them when they met Jesus. Have you had that kind of heartburn? It’s not the kind of heartburn that makes you sick, necessarily. I think it’s the kind of heartburn that warms you and instills within you a sense of hope in a seemingly hopeless world. We need that kind of heartburn in our corner of the world, don’t we?
The decisive moment of Easter happened not when Jesus met the people on the road. It happened not in the interpretation of scriptures. It happened not in the telling of the story. It happened not even in the breaking of the bread. The decisive moment of Easter happened when the people saw for the first time. Not saw Jesus. They saw themselves. They saw themselves as children of God and woven into the fabric of humanity that longs for resurrection. When they saw themselves for the first time, they turned to go back to Jerusalem.
The scripture says that Cleopas and his companion rose in the middle of the night and returned to Jerusalem in search of the other disciples. The safe road of the familiar would never again define their lives. It was a new life they sought amidst their heartburn. They needed the other witnesses. They needed to be with the other disciples in order to begin their new life. They needed a community. They could no longer simply go to the garden alone to encounter God, they needed to seek out God with other people. They needed people who also saw for the first time.
There are times when we don’t recognize the resurrection, even when it is obvious to others. Sometimes we can get so sucked down into our own myopia that we miss the truly miraculous. It would seem that Easter would be a time to open up our eyes, our senses, our hearts to see the hope that is as near to us as a companion on the street. Take some time today, and remember the instances of resurrection you have seen. Think about the people who live on in spite of the odds. Think of the people who stand up for justice and peace when the odds are stacked so high against them.
Think of the evidence of resurrection you see. Think of those who respond to the economic downturn and a loss of a job. Think of how we gather our resources and find creative ways to help each other out. We barter goods and services when cash is strapped. We plant gardens and make syrup. We think creatively and outside the box. We rely on friend and family in a new way—recognizing that we are more connected than in the past. We need to be. That’s part of the resurrection, if we can use our new eyes to see it.
May you see with new eyes your own evidence of resurrection. May you recognize those on the highways and byways with you. May you recognize the need of people around the world.
When you do, and your heart burns and opens up, even just a fraction, I call that a resurrection.
Sisters and brothers, Jesus came so that our hearts and our eyes and our ears might be open. They are to be open to each other, to the strangers on the streets, to those in crisis and in special need, to the hungry the voiceless and even to those experiencing heartburn.
Jesus also is here for us—to listen to and see into our own hearts. When we open our hearts to the hopefulness of God, then something rises within us and dares to be taken seriously. It’s God’s creative and hopeful power and it’s here for each of us. May you see it for the first time, or remember it again like the first time.
May that power rise within your and empower you too be the best God-inspired, God-infused and God-blessed person you can be. Because if you can be that person, then Jesus lives again and the resurrection continues. It’s you recognizing your God—component and blessing the world with it. The fruit of you God component is love, mercy, truth, compassion, justice, freedom, creativity and peace.
May you embrace this aspect of your blessedness and may Jesus live again in you. And may we see not only our neighbors for the first time. May we see ourselves for the first time. For some time, even today maybe, you will find yourself walking alongside someone who is lost and needs to find a way home. Help them with their heartburn. Help them see for the first time. When you do, you proclaim Christ’s rising in you as hope, beauty, and love pervade your consciousness. And who knows, you might see for the first time.