THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● April 26, 2020
Sermon by Steve Hitchcock
GOSPEL: LUKE 24: 13-35
During the eight weeks of Easter, those who designed the lectionary decided to make the “Old Testament Lesson” a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s not true that their decision was based on the fact that Acts is Becky Osborne-Coolidge’s favorite book of the Bible. But I could be wrong.
I think the reason they chose Acts is because it illustrates how the apostles carried out those final instructions of Jesus that end Matthew’s Gospel. On the mountain top, the Risen Christ says two things: (1) I will be with always whenever you are together in my name and (2) go out, baptize, and make disciples of all nations.
This is the Third Sunday of Easter, and our Gospel reading takes us back to Easter day – rather than a week later as was case with Thomas and the disciples in the locked room. Today, we have the happy conjunction of the penultimate story in Luke’s Gospel and an early chapter of Acts. You’ll recall that Luke and Acts were a two-volume narrative, written by the same author.
Thus, many have noted that the road to Emmaus is similar to a story in Acts. In chapter 8, Phillip is on a road and catches up to a chariot with an Ethiopian eunuch who is perplexed as he reads the prophet Isaiah. Phillip opens the Ethiopian’s eyes to see how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, the embodiment of God’s promises.
In our Gospel for today, though, the two disciples are more than perplexed. They are disappointed and full of sorrow. Their hopes for the future are dashed. As is often the case in these situations, they ended up in a heated argument. “Discussing” is a weak translation of a verb that implies at least “vigorous debate.”
These days, we too are engaged in heated debate – sometimes only with our isolated selves. As individuals, we uncertain about what to do next. As a society, we our engaged in mass anxiety about the future. We, too, might wish that could escape Jerusalem and head for Emmaus.
But another story in Luke – an echo of today’s reading – suggests how we might find joy in our present circumstances and hope for the future.
All the way back at the end of chapter 2 in Luke, we have the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. This young whipper snapper is explaining the true meaning of the Scriptures to the elders, the religious scholars of the day.
Now in chapter 24, we are invited to walk along with the two disciples. The journey to Emmaus provides narrative space to review “all the things of Jesus of Nazareth” – from those early days in the Temple onward through Luke’s Gospel. And, what we hear is a review of all of history as Luke’s genealogy starts with Adam.
As Phillip later does with the Ethiopian dignitary, Jesus provides the interpretative key to the Scriptures. The key is Jesus himself as the pivot point in Luke-Acts: everything before is the old era and everything after is the new era.
And what makes that new era possible is Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was God’s plan (that’s what “necessary” means in the Gospels) that Jesus suffer rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders.
That Jesus was rejected by some – and put to death yet raised to life – made it possible for all people to be saved. In the words of Simeon in the temple, which we know as the Nunc Dimittis: “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”
This is Luke’s Gospel, so salvation and revelation involve a meal. Without much encouragement, Jesus joins the two disciples as they recline to eat.
To be sure, this meal represents the Eucharist, the breaking of bread in which the Risen Christ is present. But this three-person meal also prompts a review all the other meals in Luke and Acts – meals that bring together people from all walks of lives, rich and poor, sinner and saint, the upstanding and the criminal.
In the account immediately following today’s Gospel, the Risen Christ appears to all the disciples and repeats the same interpretation of the Scriptures he gave to the two disciples. And, once again, it’s not until Jesus eats something that the disciples’ eyes are opened. Significantly, this meal involves both fish and bread.
Thus, the meals at Emmaus and at the end of Luke’s Gospel remind us of that really big meal – when Jesus takes two fish, breaks five loaves, and feeds the 5,000.
The good news for us today is that life is a joyous banquet of abundance. We can’t help but trust that there’s enough for everyone – and that there no work or eligibility requirements for these benefits. We all get new wedding dresses and tuxes.
No wonder, then, from its earliest days as we hear in Acts, the church appointed deacons to see that those in need were fed. We, too, at St. Alban’s continue to feed those in need, despite the extra effort it takes now to distribute the food.
And all over the country, Christians and others are pressing their members of Congress to expand SNAP – and suspend those mean-spirited restrictions. Our representatives in Congress are also working to pass legislation to make sure children receive school meals all summer long.
Last week in John’s account about Thomas, we heard the good news that – even while isolated – reading the written words about Jesus connects us with each other as God’s family. Today, we hear the promise that every meal during these anxious days is a meal we share with others. Even in our isolation, we have lots opportunities to break bread – and to experience and give thanks for God’s gracious abundance. Amen.