Sunday, April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries Sunday
"Recognizing, Remembering, Rejoicing"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
I sometimes hear that my children’s stories during keiki time are a helpful prelude to the longer “adult” sermon that follows. I also hear that keiki time is usually a lot more fun and interesting – often making the point much better than all the words that comprise a typical “sermon.” Today may just be a case in point. But don’t leave the room and run to the refrigerator just yet. There are some nuances to this story that you might find a bit more interesting than chocolate chip cookies and milk – hmmm, maybe not. I’ll let you be the judge.
The story – often referred to as “The Road to Emmaus,” is sometimes mistaken as culminating in a Eucharistic meal or what we typically refer to as “Holy Communion” in our tradition. As Luke records the story, “Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to them.” That’s similar to what he did just a few days earlier during a Passover Seder when he likened the broken bread to his body which was about to be broken for them – a foreshadowing of his impending death. But this situation was a bit different.
In fact, the writer of the two-part book Luke-Acts, used the exact same words from this story in Emmaus as he did for the feeding of 5,000 which happened quite a bit earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Now, I think, that’s important because it probably elicited a memory in the disciples’ minds that helped them to recognize Jesus. [Pause]
Let’s return to keiki time for a moment. When Randy makes those chocolate chip cookies (my favorite – by the way) it means much more to me than the tasty treat that comes from his effort. It’s the aroma of those cookies baking in the oven that takes me right back to my childhood. When I smell them I’m right back in the kitchen of my childhood home helping my mom spoon out the dough on those old Crisco-greased cookie sheets – putting one spoonful on the sheet and another into my mouth. But it goes even deeper than that. That sweet chocolatey smell reminds me that this was MY time all alone with MY mom. My sister was not at all interested in baking cookies. I was the one who did my best to help her while we talked about everything under the sun. Cookie baking time was MY time with mom and the memories have stayed with me to this day.
Perhaps you have similar memories – and experiences. It doesn’t have to be an aroma that brings back the memory. It might be an action – fishing with your dad or grandad. Singing hymns with your grandmother. Gathered around the table as a family playing a particular board game or game of cards. I realize that not everyone shares these precious moments with loved ones, but if you have – a certain aroma, or seeing that fishing pole or net, or hearing a specific hymn – can elicit memories that are as powerful and as vivid as actually being there. So, while my mother is no longer alive, the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven takes me right back to that kitchen in Pennsylvania – and she is as present with me now as she once was. [Pause]
Now, let’s revisit this scene from Luke’s gospel. It was Easter afternoon. The disciples were still shocked and puzzled about the news they heard from Mary who claimed that she had seen the risen Lord. Unsure of what to do, they decided it would be much safer for them back home so they high-tailed it to Emmaus – a town about 7 miles from Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus appeared and began walking with them.
He asked them why they were so sad to which they responded in disbelief. “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the news?”
After they told him – and I love how Jesus played right along with them – and they demonstrated just how upset they were that all their hopes they had placed in Jesus were dashed – he countered by questioning whether or not they had ever really paid attention to the words of the prophets. So, beginning with the Torah and the other works of the prophets he explained, yet again, how all this HAD to take place in order for the scriptures to be fulfilled.
It doesn’t really say how they responded. But I can imagine in the silence of that moment they were probably thinking something like – “Yeah, yeah, whatever. All we know is that the one who we thought was the Messiah is now missing and we don’t know what to make of that.”
So, in keeping with ancient near eastern hospitality customs, they invited him in for the evening meal. The sun was beginning to set, and he needed some place to stay. It was when he was at the table with them, and the aroma of fresh-baked bread was in the air that he took one of the loaves – and he blessed it – just like he did on the hill in Galilee with over 5,000 folks gathered nearby – he broke it and gave it to them. And, just like that, they recognized him.
It was their chocolate chip cookie moment. They didn’t recognize him merely in his physical appearance. Nor did they recognize him when he preached to them from the scriptures. No, it was in the blessing and the breaking of the bread – in the aroma of the mundane that they recognized the presence of the risen Christ. And just that quickly – he was gone. [Pause]
Was he really there? I believe so – but you don’t have to. It doesn’t really matter. You may recall what I said a few weeks ago – it bears repeating, “I don’t know whether this actually happened, but I know that it’s true.” What matters is that they recognized as they remembered and then they rejoiced that they had, indeed, seen Jesus. And then he was gone.
Initially, they may have bopped themselves in the forehead saying, “How could we have missed that – weren’t our hearts burning inside us when he was talking to us on the road and then opened the scriptures to us?”
But then, they were besides themselves with excitement. As the story goes, they ran all the way back to Jerusalem – which was quite a feat given the distance. But they went, excited to share the news of what was made known to them “in the breaking of the bread.” And while Luke doesn’t say so, I bet from that day on, they never failed to offer each other knowing smiles each time they sat at table and broke bread.
And so, I wonder, today – how and where do you see Jesus? Because we all need to see him as comforting strength – especially during this deeply challenging time. Maybe you see him when you break bread with loved ones and offer your prayer of gratitude. Or maybe you see him when you sit in silent meditation – with your eyes closed and heart wide open. Perhaps you see him in the gift of our beautiful surroundings – the ocean, the mountains, the sky and clouds, the sunset, the rainbow. Or perhaps you see him in same faces I’ve seen on television of nurses and doctors with cuts and bruises – from embedded goggle lines having worn them for hours on end. It might even be in the aroma of a chocolate chip cookie – a gift from one who loves you – and one that reminds you of another love now gone.
It may be harder to recognize Jesus today – or maybe not. Maybe the Holy One has really gotten your attention, and in the place of uncertainty and vulnerability you are able to see and hear much more clearly than ever before.
My deep hope for you in this Easter season – my prayer – is that you pay attention to that which causes you to remember – mostly of how you remember love and then to offer that same gift to those around you.
I’d like to close my thoughts with a brief period of silence for you to ponder the question: How do I recognize Jesus today? I’ll open the silence with the sound of the bell and then close in the same way.