Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia.
If you go out into the country, away from the city lights, and look up on a clear night, you will see the stars, like diamond pinpricks on velvet black, here, here, here and here. On the edges of your vision, to the left and right, you see myriads of more stars, hints of light everywhere.
Now, if you turn your eyes to look at all those myriads of stars on the edge, what do you see? Where do they go? Yes, you see some stars still, here, here, here and here. But the myriads are no longer there. Instead you can catch the barest glimpse of them exactly where you were looking before, up above at the edge of your sight, more than you can count, hints of light.
That’s because our peripheral vision, the edges of our sight, can see light at a fainter level than our direct, focused vision. Those thousands of hints of stars, and the billions behind them, we can only barely see.
That’s what a journey with God is like. The angels do not often move at the center of our vision, but rather at the edges, where we can barely see.
In the Gospel lesson for today, two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One is named Cleopas. We don’t know the other one. Some scholars speculate she may have been a woman, they suggest that Jesus sent them out two by two, man and woman. Not sure about that.
But they are talking about what’s been going on. Jesus had captured their imagination. He had brought the kingdom of God, the realm of God into this life. In the Gospel of Luke, that realm particularly concerned itself with people who are poor, with the status of women, people who are sick, with sinners and with foreigners, immigrants, strangers. The other gospels also concern themselves with these folks, but Luke particularly. And it seemed like that realm that included all of them, all of us, was not just waiting beyond the grave at the end of time. No. In Jesus it seemed to be reaching into this world, this day, this place now.
And indeed that’s the nature of heaven. Heaven is not heaven if it just waits for us beyond the grave till we get there some day. God’s power always reaches beyond itself into our lives, into our days. That’s its nature. So Jesus was doing that.
Except, well, it had not seemed to go very well in the end. Never does seem to. The religions authorities of Jesus’ day didn’t like it. They got the Romans to clamp down, to kill, to strangle, to crucify. “We had hoped,” the two disciples say later, “We had hoped he would be the redemption.”
And now, the women had come to them with this rumor, this vision of angels that Jesus had risen from the dead. The disciples think it’s an idle tale, women’s trinkets, horse manure, depending on how you translate the Greek.
So these two disciples are talking, batting words back and forth. I can almost hear the other disciple saying to Cleopas, “Isn’t that just like a man. You guys, it would take somebody hitting you over the head with a two by four to get you to believe anything. Mary Magdalene, she used to be crazy, but she’s not crazy any more. And Joanna and Susanna and Mary the mother of James, they’ve been with us all this time. They supported us with their money in our travels, with their offering. When Jesus was killed they didn’t run off like Peter and the rest did. They stuck by Jesus. But do you believe them? Nooo.
Cleopas going, ‘I don’t know, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”
Jesus is with them. Jesus is with us too when we argue, when we are not sure how this Jesus, this power and presence of God, how they work in a world full of poor people, sick people, sinners, how it influences the status of women, of foreigners.
We don’t see Jesus. But he’s here. Even if we don’t see, don’t know. Jesus still loves you.
Jesus starts asking questions. Questions are good. He says “What are y’all talking about?” Now they stand bewildered, sad. “They killed him. They killed God’s life. They always do.” Sometimes we feel that way too.
Jesus says, “Don’t you understand? That’s the way God works. Everybody wants God to send some superman or iron man or wonder woman to save the day. God sends a Messiah. The nature of a Messiah, the nature of God is that God suffers with us and for us, that God dies. That’s how God saves.”
Then he tells them about the Scriptures. I suspect he may have told them about Abraham and Sarah, who were called and blessed by God to be a blessing not just for themselves, not just for their families, not just for their group or their country but for all nations.
He would have told them about Moses, who leads the people to escape from slavery, but suddenly they are blocked by a huge body of water. Here come king Pharaoh’s men to get them and there is no way out. Where there is no way, God makes a way. God makes a way where there is no way.
He would have told them about Job, who suffered so much he wanted to put God on trial because the world was so unjust, unfair, it made no sense. God says to Job, “you’re right it’s not fair. It does not make sense. But it is beautiful.”
He would have told about Deborah, who gave courage to her people, so that they could stand up to their oppressors, to General Sisera’s thousand iron chariots, ten thousand roaring steel tanks.
He would have told about Isaiah, who said, “Wait a minute, there is a kind of suffering, redemptive suffering, it is a suffering which is chosen, a suffering which is chosen not out of other people’s expectations or our own guilt or our own self-loathing or any kind of force, but rather, out of love, it changes everything.
He would have told them about this God who meets us, all of us in the hard places, the broken places, and loves us there.
And their hearts burn within them. They don’t know it yet, but later they realize it. See how God works on the edges, where they can barely see, we can barely see? Their hearts burn. You remember when John the Baptist yelled “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. When I hear that, I think about the fire of the apocalypse, brimstone falling from the sky. Well this is the fire Jesus really brings, the fire the burns in our hearts when we realize that maybe, just maybe, God is deeper than death, more powerful than cruelty. Maybe, just maybe love wins after all.
The disciples come to where they are going and they invite Jesus to dinner, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to the disciples. Same exact sequence as when he feeds the five thousand. Same exact sequence as when he shares the last supper. Takes, blesses, breaks, gives it to them.
They see Jesus, recognize him.
Same sequence as we use when we share communion. See, the communion we share out there, when we see to it that our tiny resources feed the five thousand, the ten million, the seven and a half billion, when we seek to see to it that there is health of body and strength of mind and peace of soul for everyone and creation, that meal out there is deeply intertwined with the meal we have in here, when we share communion. Deeply connected. Sometimes when we work with people out there, we see Jesus, sometimes when we share communion in here, we see Jesus.
Here’s my point. Sometimes we will talk back and forth, not sure what to make of this rumor that Jesus is alive. Jesus is there, even if we don’t know it. Sometimes we will feel sad and bewildered. Jesus is there, even if we don’t feel it. Sometimes our hearts will burn within us. Jesus is there, even if we don’t understand it. Sometimes in the sharing of the meal, either in here our out there, we will see.
Whatever we can see, remember, there is the light before us. On the edges of our vision are more lights, hints of God’s life, and beyond them in the billions, by the infinite forever billions, is the light eternal.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, alleluia.