Easter Leftovers: A Companion
When some of us hear the term leftovers, it does not always conjure up heart felt or happy memories. Left-overs is our lot when we don’t have time to cook a meal that is fresh or when we are forced to eat a second time what we did not enjoy all that much the first time. In our minds, left-overs is a modern phenomenon that is the result of the invention of New Hampshire native Earl S. Tupper who gave us Tupperware in the 1940s or the advent of the Microwave in the 1970s. Yet, historians tell us that preserving food to be enjoyed a second and a third time goes all the way back to the very beginnings of civilization.
There is one time of the year, however, when most of us don’t mind leftovers. In fact, it is an occasion when we may actually look forward to them. For most Southern families, holidays are feast days. Be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or a Fourth of July barbecue, most everyone in this sanctuary knows the experience of gathering around a family table or countertop overflowing with home cooked goodness to hold hands and say the blessing before collectively committing the sin of gluttony. Most of the time, there is more food there than any of us can eat in one setting. In turn, holidays are a prime time for left-overs. But in this regard, it is the chance not to suffer through but rather to enjoy again the bounty of these special days.
The church invites us to do the same thing when it comes to both of our high Holy Days – Christmas and Easter. As you have heard me say before, for centuries, the church has invited the culture to see Christmas and Easter not as days but rather as seasons. Christmas is a season in the church that lasts for twelve days beginning with December 25th while Easter is a season that lasts for forty days beginning with Easter and going until Pentecost.
The Easter season is built on the verse in Acts chapter 1 where in verse three we are told that Jesus appeared to his disciples for a period of 40 days. Several of the stories of these appearances of Jesus are offered in the gospels with a significant number coming in Luke’s gospel in chapter 24. Over the next four Sundays, we are going to look at these verses in Luke, which like Easter left-overs, offer us the chance to remember and revisit the themes of this season as a way for us to reaffirm them one more time before we walk away from the Easter Experience.
The first of these themes comes in living color through our story for today affectionately called the Road to Emmaus. It is the story of two people who appear to have been believers who were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. One of them is identified by name as Cleopas and the other is never named leaving us to wonder if they were simply a good friend to Cleopas or perhaps Cleopas’ wife with this later option being the opinion of many.
The story is set on Sunday afternoon as the two return home after having experienced the crucifixion and having followed strict sabbath rules. As you will remember, Jesus was crucified on a Friday with the next day, Saturday, being the Sabbath – the Jewish day of worship.
In Judaism, there were strict rules for the Sabbath, which began at sundown on Friday and extended until sundown on Saturday. According to Sabbath rules, no work whatsoever could be done during that twenty-four hour period and travel fell into the category of work. So, it was only natural that having witnessed the crucifixion, the two figures in this story would have been delayed in Jerusalem over the Saturday Sabbath before being able to return the seven miles to Emmaus on Sunday.
As they walked, what is clear is that they did so with sadness. Sadness, not only over what they had witnessed, but sadness over the fact that Jesus was no longer a part of their lives in a real way. Just as is the case with grief today, a huge part of their sorrow was over the absence of this one who had been a part of their everyday lives and who, as a result, had become a central part of their lives.
In turn, the beauty of the story emerges as Jesus begins to be present with them first as a stranger who walks the road to Emmaus as their companion and even more so when they stop for the evening meal and recognize that this stranger having dinner with them in none other than Jesus himself. It is a heartwarming story but also a valuable reminder of a lesson told in the Gospels from beginning to end and emphasized here one more time. In Jesus, God is with us. In Jesus, God is our companion.
This story emphasizes that important life truth in several critical ways. For the sake of time, let me simply mention two that I find to be the most important. First, in Jesus, God is our constant companion whether we recognize it or not! Again, Jesus walked with his two friends on the road to Emmaus for a long time before they recognized him. They continued to be unaware of Jesus in their midst even as they walked and talked with him.
Here is the great promise. God’s presence in our lives is not dependent on our recognition that God is present. Let me say that again. God’s presence is not dependent on our recognition or understanding that God is present. So often, we feel like we are alone, but, if we are God’s children, we never are. Just like you, there are times when I struggle to see or to recognize God in the trying times of life. This is a hard thing for all of us to do. But, there is great comfort in simply knowing and naming that God is there with us, for us and at work in us even when we do not recognize this reality.
This past fall, I went to a sporting event that my middle brother Mickey, who lives in Alabama, was attending. We had planned to visit at the game but it didn’t work out. He got there late, I had to leave early and our seats were not near one another. The long and the short is that we were at the same event but we never saw each other. We had no physical evidence that the other was there. But, as brothers who knew each other well enough to take one another at their word, there was no need to doubt the other’s presence.
This is how is works with God. We may not sense, see or be concretely aware of God among us. But, God is there because God promised us he would be there. Case closed. We must trust God and take God at his word even when there is not obvious evidence to support our claim.
Second, Jesus’ presence is often best seen not in the moment but rather as we stop at the end of the day and look back. A particularly important part of this story for me is the fact that Jesus is identified by the two travelers only at the end of the day when they stop, catch their breath and take stock of who it is that was and is in their presence. There is a very important word here. So often, we don’t recognize God’s hand in the moment. But, if we have the discipline at the end of the day to stop, think about what we have experienced and to be clear about how our day has unfolded as we look back, we can often see in hindsight what we missed in real time. Let me say it this way; beginning the day with pray and scripture to get us in the right frame of mind for what is about to happen is incredibly important. At the same time, equally valuable is the ability to stop at the end of the day in order to get ourselves into the right frame of mind about what just happened and who it was that carried us along the way.
Many of you are keenly familiar with the object that I have in my hand this morning. It is an outdoor wildlife camera. The camera is triggered by motion and is used by hunters in particular to track activity in woods or green fields that they are hunting. We keep this one in our backyard just to see what is moving around back there at night – deer, turkeys, dogs, cats and First Baptist Deacons! Every night that it is up, it is capturing the activity-taking place. But, it has no value to me unless I take the time to go get the camera, take it inside and actually look back over its work of recent days. Unless I make time to look back there is no way for me to know what may or may not have been taking place.
The Easter event and the Emmaus Story both remind us – God is with us. God is with us – whether we know it or not. God is with us – and is often seen as we take time to look back. Today, we should be thankful. We are never alone. Amen.