Imagine you are Cleopas and his companion, walking during a spring evening towards Emmaus, a few miles down the road from Jerusalem. I always like to imagine that Cleopas’ companion is actually the wife of Cleopas mentioned a few times in the Gospels, that perhaps this is a married couple. And perhaps they are having a little marital argument or discussion as they walk down the road, talking over what the heck justhappened these last few days.
In any case, let’s imagine we are with them. What would we be talking about? The story says “all the things that have happened” -- what are the things that have happened to us? In our own marriages, or in our own relationships and lives? What are our unexplainable tragedies or unexpected epiphanies like the ones Cleopas and his companion have recently had? Losses, griefs, mistakes, guilts, confusions, hopes. No wonder when the stranger they encounter asks, “what are you discussing.” the story says, “they stood still, looking sad.”
Then, they tell their story. Haven’t you heard, they say, or we might say, the economy is terrible, I can’t find work, I just lost a friend to cancer, we thought this special person, or the new president, the new year, the new medicine would solve things, but it didn’t.
Then the stranger says, look, I know. But God is at work in all that. It’s all part of God’s plan, it will all work out. And they are so intrigued by what the stranger has to say, they press him to stay and eat with them. And as he breaks the bread, in that familiar gesture that they last saw him do at the Last Supper, they realize, it’s Jesus. He’s alive.
That’s the Easter story. Disappointment, dashed hopes, loss, turns to surprise, joy, the sudden knowledge that all is well and even better. That Easter moment happens at different times for different people. There are lots of Easter stories in the Gospels. At the tomb for Mary Magdalene as we read on Easter Sunday, in the upper room for Doubting Thomas as the youth told us about last week, breaking bread at Emmaus for these two disciples, eating fish on the beach for Peter. What is your Easter moment? Maybe you’ve even had more than one, or maybe it’s something you know will happen but hasn’t quite yet. Something you have faith in.
I’ve been witness to many Easter stories. (Personal anecdote omitted for internet privacy.) Experiences like that, in our own lives or that we witness in the lives of others, are what make us Easter people, people who believe in Easter moments, people who’ve experienced and who expect that transformation from sorrow to joy. It’s the essential character of our Christian faith. What does it mean to be an Easter person?
I think it means we expect to see God at work in the world.
It means we are able to see Christ present in and transforming situations.
It means we are able to hold on to hope, despite disappointment.
It means we are able to let go of wounds of the past and move on into the future.
It means we expect God to have the last word.
It means believing God can redeem any situation, that nothing is beyond God’s love.
We’re Easter people in this church, we expect something new to be reborn from the ashes of the past, and when we’re not feeling very Easter-y, we come here to experience a community where people can remind us of the Easter experience, help us recover our own sense of being Easter people.
Because Easter is not just the celebration of the anniversary of the resurrection. It’s something that changes our lives and makes a difference. Easter proves that Jesus is Savior, it proves God is at work, and God’s kingdom is coming. Easter is a present experience, not just a historical event. After all, Cleopas and his companion knew, second hand, that something had happened. They had heard what happened to Mary Magdalene and to Thomas. Just as we know from reading the story. But then it happened to them. They they saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes, talking to and eating with them. In that moment, it became personal. Just as it become personal to our neighbors, as it becomes personal to us.
Cleopas and his friend had an experience like that and also much like the one we have every Sunday. They heard scripture read and explained to them (kind of like I'm trying to do right now), then they broke bread together at the table. And in that breaking of the bread, they knew Jesus was with them. Just as when we break bread together, and sing together “be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread” we know Jesus is with us, with us in the presence of each other, in this community gathered and called by God. And we know we are send from here as Easter people, knowing the good news that Jesus is risen, that resurrection happens, that sorrow can turn to joy, that new life is freely given to all, and called to share that Easter message with the world. “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.”