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Walking Lessons
a homily based on Luke 24:13-35
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Easter is the defining moment of Christian faith. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! That’s the dramatic and bold word that the Church speaks during this season. How boldly can we make this announcement? Well, since Easter is a once-a-year event we want to do it right, so we celebrate the season with ear-tingling decibels, white lilies and the spirited hymns of the Wesley brothers. Some congregations may even throw caution to the wind and bring on the Gaither’s folk tunes or turn a Twila Paris song into a choral anthem. And why shouldn’t we? Easter makes a bold statement: Jesus is risen from the dead. He doesn’t half rise from the dead, nor do the women who witness the empty tomb half announce the resurrection. Easter is not about half anything, so we make the announcement as dramatic and bold as we possible can.

Recently a young man stood in our congregation to give voice to Easter faith. The story was a familiar one. He had been in church most of his life, but “had never heard the gospel preached there.” So he had dropped out of the church scene and became enamored with the drug, ecstasy, plus alcohol. Through an unusual turn of events-including dating a young lady who was very serious about her faith-he ended up in one of those Easter-shouting churches. And before long he had come to the altar and asked Jesus into his heart. He concluded his testimony by inviting all of us to experience what he had.

That’s the potential impact that the Easter story contains. An encounter with the Christ of the Empty Tomb can leave us radically transformed and headed down a new path. That nineteen year old had experienced his own defining moment; his life had turned from ecstasy and alcoholism to God and moved him to a Christian college, presumably to seminary and on into full-time ministry. Easter can hit us with just such upheaval and life-altering impact.

Do you share that story too? Especially the radical, upside-down, inside-out whap, bang, was-blind-but-now-I-see part? Let me be honest and admit that I don’t. Not that I haven’t tried to get just such an experience. Every summer at church youth camp I would walk with resolve to the front of the tabernacle each night to “get saved.” Then I’d go into the prayer room on the right side to really pray through. By actual count, I think I was born again about eighteen times. The counselors got tired of me coming to have my radical whap bang experience and would find a less willing soul to work on.

“It’s in the Bible,” our friends tell us. “Remember Peter?” He had a life-changing experience; and what about the women who met Jesus at the tomb, and Mary and Thomas and of course, Saul of Tarsus.” Even the Bible seems to point to a certain normalcy of the instantaneous, whap bang conversion that my friend experienced.

But not all the stories in the Bible do. I think Luke must have figured that not everyone is quite the same in the way they encounter God. So Luke in his final chapter suggests a very different, almost quiet whap, bang that requires a different temperament and much longer time. Neither Matthew nor Mark includes this story; both instead include the women and record the astonishment from angels and Jesus.

Two travelers meet a stranger and tell him about the remarkable events of the weekend. They admit that they “had hoped” (verse 21). Not that they had completely lost all hope, because they were still thinking and talking about him . What’s on the mind comes out the mouth-so the stranger gets an earful.

Maybe that’s closer to our own reality. None of us want to abandon total hope. But maybe we’ve given up hope telling ourselves that we need to get on with our life.

I get that feeling of hope-lost-ness from a recent National Geographic cover story about a young Afghan refugee that captured the world’s attention on the pages of the magazine seventeen years ago. To view her face is never to forget those steel blue, piercing eyes. She peers from a torn shawl with those defiant eyes. Her eyes reflect a remarkable determination to envision a new Afghanistan. She would grow up to champion literacy programs for girls, or maybe to influence the equal treatment of women. No one knew what had become of the girl. Then several months ago a team from National Geographic returned with photos and a report of the girl.

When they found the girl-now seventeen years later-she was not what they had hoped for. Remarkably she had survived. But the young girl had grown into a fundamentalist that defiantly rejected any education of women, refusing even to look at the men who had searched and found her. She proudly wore the Bhati coverings, praised the Taliban, and espoused a militant brand of fundamentalism. Reality had defeated hope.

That’s what had brought the two travelers to the brink of giving up on hope. Reality. They had the facts-Roman crucifixion, death certificate, burial. But yet - several things confuse these strangers-and us. Something about what they had heard suggested that their realism might be wrong. Yet without empirical evidence they had chosen to ignore any other possibility.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not forsake these confused disciples? He just sort of walks along with them and plays along with their reality/hope struggle. But he doesn’t reject them. He patiently leads them to the moment when their eyes are suddenly opened and they sense that they are in the presence of the Lord of the Empty Tomb.

Another thing. There’s some irony going on here. The travelers are telling the Stranger about two women who had “seen” Jesus and about others who had not “seen” him, while they themselves were seeing him and yet could not “see” him! Only the eyes of faith can see the living Jesus next to us. It’s not hard to have buoyant faith when it comes from dramatic, crisis-conversions of the whap bang variety. But it takes faith of a much different quality to become aware of Jesus right next to us! Wasn’t that the Lord over there? I must be mistaken; that’s just the gardener. I can tell recognize that face anywhere-that’s Ron; comes in for his methadone on Mondays and Thursdays. But yet . . . Gregory the Great said that this passage is really a story not so much about resurrection as it is about hospitality.

How do these travelers come to faith? Luke seems to remind us that apart from unusual and extraordinary whap bang encounters with Christ, most of us come to faith through very common and quiet ways-through the reading and hearing of Scripture, through the sharing of the Bread and Cup, and through the community of faith. That’s how Jesus brings these disciples to Easter faith; he uses the same means that most of us are nourished in our own faith.

Hope is never put to shame. After recognizing Jesus, the two travelers forget how foreboding the dark and dangerous road is because they knew where they belonged: with the brothers and sisters! As one writer has said, “The diabolic danger of every temptation is that it tries to alienate us from others, to sever us from the fellowship of the church, to make us isolated and alone.”

So the travelers high tail it back to Jerusalem-with the sense that their hearts burned within them, and that “he was known in the breaking of the bread.” When they arrived, however, they found people who were also rejoicing: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Whap, bang. Amen.