recognizing the risen Jesus

a sermon, based on Luke 24.13-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 30, 20017

It is the evening of that first Easter Day. Cleopas and a companion, dispirited disciples of the crucified, dead Jesus, leave Jerusalem, walking slowly toward the town of Emmaus. Their only consolation, a sorrowful recount of the past few days. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people, believing him to be the long expected Messiah, crying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” and strewing palm branches of welcome along his path.[1] His righteous indignation in driving the merchants from the temple.[2] The mounting opposition of the religious leaders. Their escalating conspiracy to kill him.[3] His intensified predictions of his death.[4]

Cleopas and his friend repeatedly, emotionally recite these details; as I imagine them, engaging in a broken-hearted mind game of sympathetic self-delusion, conjuring up a different outcome, yet always coming to the same frightfully, tragically speedy end: Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, trial and condemnation, crucifixion and death. Even the astonishing tale told by some women of an empty tomb does nothing to assuage their grief.

The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road (Les pèlerins d'Emmaüs en chemin) (1884), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus joins them, but they don’t recognize him. “What’s up?” he asks. They retell their sad story, concluding, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

“We had hoped.” With this classic cry, this melancholy chorus in the timeless song of disconsolation Cleopas and his friend speak for anyone, speak for us in times of disappointment and loss.

Yet as the risen Jesus joined them, so I believe he walks with us on our roads to Emmaus, asking, “What’s up?”

And, today, I ask what’s different for us for whom Easter Day has come and gone again? What’s different for us who have proclaimed, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” again? If we answer, “Not much, really” (and I suspect for all of us, at least in some aspects of our lives at least some of the time, that’s true), then I invite us to enter this Easter story to look for the risen Jesus. How do we recognize him; a recognition that can make a difference, make us different today?

Cleopas and his friend didn’t recognize Jesus. They were in good company.

On that first Easter morn, Mary Magdalene saw Jesus standing near the empty tomb. She thought he was a gardener. When he called her by name, then she knew who he was.[5] The disciples, even after Jesus first appeared to them, not knowing what else to do, went fishing. They didn’t recognize him standing on the beach, even in the light of day. When he gave them successful advice on where to catch fish, then they knew who he was.[6] In both cases, a familiar word or action evoked the response of recognition.

Perhaps Cleopas and his friend couldn’t recognize Jesus because they were looking for the redeemer of Israel who would rescue them from Roman oppression and make things right.  They weren’t looking for one who, like them, suffers and dies. Yet when Jesus broke the bread, a familiar action, yet also an unmistakable symbol of his body broken on the cross, then they knew who he was.

The Supper at Emmaus, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

So for us. Weekly, we, in familiar fashion, in holy habit gather in community at this altar to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. I pray that we can, that we will behold and honor, love and respect the risen Jesus.

Where?

Not where, but rather in whom!

In one another and in the reflections we behold in our mirrors!

How?

In the weakness of our human fragility. There is the risen Jesus!

In the sureness of our subjection to death. There is the risen Jesus!

And most assuredly in our hopefulness of eternal life. There is the risen Jesus!

As we see and recognize in one another and in ourselves the risen Jesus, Easter dawns for us in all of its real-life, resurrected-living present possibility. Easter is not back then, over there, up there, out there, for the risen Jesus is with us, the risen Jesus is in us here and now.

 

Illustrations:

The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road (Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs en chemin) (1884), James Tissot (1836-1902)

The Supper at Emmaus, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Note: Caravaggio captures Cleopas and his companion at the moment “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24.31). The artist also included himself in the painting as the servant standing to the right of Jesus.

Footnotes:

[1] See Luke 19.29-40

[2] See Luke 19.45-46

[3] See Luke 19.39, 47; 20.1-2, 19-20, 22.1

[4] See Luke 20.9-16 (especially verses 13-15), 20.17-18, 22.21-22

[5] John 20.15-16

[6] John 21.1-7

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2 thoughts on “recognizing the risen Jesus

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thanks sooo much for this sermon! My honest answer is I am every different and new in this season just past Easter and I’m more attentive to the risen Jesus than I’ve ever been before. First and foremost, I’m a widow and I certainly wasn’t last Easter. I had faith last year, BUT nothing like the faith I have today in part because of the Lenten prayer series you shared with your readers. I was changed by the end of that series. I see the risen Jesus in any and everything I do and in what others do (or don’t do). That was VERY evident to me this past Friday. My second Mom Geneva died after her cancer returned. I had said my goodbyes to her a few weeks ago in person, but wanted desperately to attend her funeral too. Of the upcoming 16 days in my schedule, there were only two days I would be able attend the funeral and Blessedly the funeral will occur on one on those two days. On that same Friday, my Mom was able to recall my name after not having been able to do so in three years. That recollection help lead to her being returned home safely after she was able to walk away from the home where she lives. I could have been so angry with the staff at the group home and the person responsible for leaving the door unlocked, YET Jesus would have forgiven them immediately which I did. The truth is, they love my Mom as much as I do, and they never would have let her get away intentionally. Human fragility is everywhere so we accept and forgive because we ALL have weak moments. Accidents happen. I see the risen Jesus in the staff every time they have to change my Mom or ease her fears or dress her each morning.

    I also believe in eternal life! I believe Tim and Geneva and all the others who have gone before us live on… just not with us. I had saved two voicemails from Geneva that she left for me after Tim’s death to encourage me on my down days. One was from mid July and the other in August. In both, she shared how much she loved us both and she wanted me to know she thought of me each day. That’s nothing but the risen Jesus. Caring for others as much as you care for yourself. Hearing her voice now that she too is gone is comforting, and lets me know she’s ok though she’s no longer with us. I get the same feeling when I see photos of Tim as we were on our travels. I know he’s still with me, just not physically. Tim and Geneva and the simple, pure and Godly lives they lived is the risen Jesus for me. It encourages me not only to keep living, but to live it not just with the same gusto I used to, BUT with even more! I need to be more caring and giving for individual people, especially those I don’t like, just like Tim and Geneva did. That way I ensure the risen Jesus lives within me.

    Much love and thanks!

    Loretta

    Like

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