15 Apr 2018
Fear. Something deep inside of us that can keep us from doing stupid things when it leads to caution and prudence in a dangerous situation. It is also something that can get inside of us and paralyze so we are not able to see or do that which could save us. Fear can blind us to the truth; it can make us wallow in self-pity.
I have felt both kinds of fear. Years ago I went with my then husband to a pond where we planned to fish. However, we soon heard gunfire and realized we were someone’s target. I spent what seemed like an eternity crouched behind logs with two boys and listening to bullets whistle overhead. My husband managed to get out of range and ran and law enforcement were called; we were rescued by a SWAT team. My adrenalin level must have been off the wall; I don’t think I slept for two days after that. It was a visceral fear of dying that gripped me. I would guess that most of us have had some experience where we thought we could die, or surely would die. I think the disciples felt some of that kind of fear after Jesus was killed. If him, why not us? Let’s stay in hiding and protect ourselves.
Today we see a different fear at play: fear of believing, and, for us, really believing because of what that would entail.
Be one of those disciples for a minute. You believed that Jesus had come as the Messiah and had seen the signs and wonders. You have listened to him teach about the Kingdom of God and knew it was not what some people said. Now he was dead, crucified by Rome as a common criminal and you have just heard from Mary and Martha and the other women that the tomb was empty and that angels had told them Jesus was resurrected. You are walking with your friend, headed out to talk about and think about all that is happened, perhaps even to get out of Jerusalem because you were scared. Someone comes up and starts walking with you and asks what you are talking about. You are not happy that a stranger came up and butted in on your conversation and asked what you were talking about. What would you say at this point? I would be guarded and say something very non-committal, like “we were talking about the news report, or the weather” or something as inane. But these two on the road to Emmaus became witnesses. They spoke the truth, but not the whole truth because they did not yet know it. Then the stranger slowly revealed what scripture had said.
Now here is where it gets dicey, where the rubber hits the road. Would you invite a stranger to an inn or your home? Would you offer hospitality? I don’t know if I would, but the two of them extended philoxenia, love of the stranger, and not xenophobia, fear of the stranger. A meal is ordered and the stranger breaks the bread. THE STRANGER BREAKS THE BREAD. Then eyes are opened and they recognize Jesus. Jesus leaves and they are so excited they head back to Jerusalem, back to the place they had fled. Would I have done so? It is there that our Gospel reading for today begins. Jesus is there. He wasn’t there , then he was. He didn’t come by boat or plane or even with an angelic fanfare. He was just THERE. He even had to eat broiled fish to prove to them he was real, he had a body.
So what happens next? You know the story, right? We hear it every year: death and resurrection, alleluia. We are saved, we are happy. Or are we? I wonder what that unnamed friend of Cleopas did after the story ends. Did he or she stay with the movement that was known as The Way? I would like to think so. And if she did, like what would that have looked? Sure we talk about our Savior, but how are we saved? Maybe the clue is in the Emmaus story: if the stranger had not been welcomed, they would not have seen Jesus. Is this not why God came among us in human form, to teach us the way to live? Personal holiness means we follow Torah, which perhaps is best crystalized for us in our baptismal covenant. We repent and our forgiven and we, in turn forgive others who wrong us. Communal holiness is a far greater teaching of Jesus. We must first recognize the kind of fear that keeps us from hearing the message and proclaiming it. God gives us life abundantly, but we live in scarcity. Not enough food, land, jobs to share. Yet in Eucharist there is always enough for everyone at the table and no one is excluded. We are invited to encounter Jesus not as a figure in a stain glass window or a painting, but as living flesh and blood. Jesus is down the street. He is the child who never has quite enough to eat or a warm enough coat. He is the single mother trying to make enough to hold the family together. He is the drunk passed out on the street. He is the refugee fleeing genocide in Burma or South Sudan. He is a young black male shot in the back by police. Sometimes he is you and me; when we need another, we become the face of Jesus.
You have choices about how you see resurrection. It can be a pastel story that is as superficial and tasty as a Peep, or it can be the life-altering thing it was meant to be. If you embrace Easter, if you touch and see, if you taste and see you will indeed claim life and a place in the Realm of God. It can’t just come and go; being Christian from 9 until noon on Sunday and something else the rest of the week. You have to embrace the craziness, like the fictional family in Rosanne, and love it. It is in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus is labeled as mentally unstable and his family is called in. Are we afraid of being labeled crazy or being called names if we fully embrace Jesus? For what are we looking? A John the Baptizer who hands out placards? A Jesus who feeds us meat and potatoes rather than the bread of life? Are we looking for Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace, that of following the church rather than Jesus?
Jesus is making his final appearance in the body of Jesus. There will be no encore. Instead he invites us in: to break the bread, share the wine, and become the servant leaders that are the essence of his message.
Vern Dozier said, “Ministry is participating in God’s dream of a good creation, and Jesus is the model.” She says that Jesus wants followers, not worshippers, and that means people willing to risk and challenge institutions that harm humanity and creation. It is good to volunteer at a feeding program, it is more important to challenge the systemic evil that leaves people hungry.
So while you are huddled together and Jesus is suddenly there, don’t be surprised. He has a job for you and it is not to worship him but rather to follow him. Are you willing?
 Dozier, Verna J The Dream of God p. 109