Easter 3a, April 30, 2017

May 2, 2017

Hidden Treasure

Luke 24:13-35


13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


I graduated from high school in 1976 – right in the middle of what is arguably one of the most eclectic decades of the 20th century. There was a lot of change during those days, and there was a lot of insecurity about the future. The war in Vietnam was over, but it had left a scar on our national psyche, the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 exposed an area of significant vulnerability, but it was over as well. We were armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, so the possibility of a world-ending skirmish with the Soviet Union was in the air, but of course nobody wanted that.


This combination of both tension and relief produced some interesting fashions, and some great music. It also gave rise to the back to the land movement. I wasn’t a full participant in all of the oddness of the 70s, but I wore some of the crazy clothes, I loved the music (and still do), and I was fascinated with the kinds of things you could learn about in the Foxfire series of books. The Foxfire series of books came out of rural Appalachian Georgia, and they described how to build log cabins, butcher hogs, smoke meat, make soap, and every other thing people knew how to do before there was a Walmart in every neck of the woods.


Now I enjoyed living in a house with a television, but I was sort of fascinated with this idea of living off the land. There was a time when I imagined the lifestyle of a self-sufficient-hunter-gatherer-shepherd-farmer to be far more compelling than a professional career that came with a healthcare plan and a pension.


So I collected all of the Foxfire books, and I would go to the Cross County Library and read Mother Earth News, but my favorite book at the time was called Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. A book and a man made famous by Johnny Carson – who loved to make jokes about everything Euell Gibbons claimed you could eat if you were inclined to go find your food instead of buying it.


But I loved what Euell Gibbons had to say. His book described all of the wild foods you could find in various habitats and how to prepare them – along with a few anecdotes of how and when he discovered various wild delicacies. I didn’t find much of what he had to say to be easily accessible, but I actually did stalk some wild asparagus. Other than where it grows, there is no difference between wild asparagus and domesticated asparagus, and one interesting thing he said about asparagus is that you can often find it growing wild along railroad track levees.


There was a railroad track that ran behind my grandparent’s house, and I discovered that there was in fact some asparagus growing in places along that levee. I would have to walk about a half a mile to find a dozen sprouts, but they were there, and finding an asparagus plant was like finding a hidden treasure.


Those asparagus spouts weren’t easy to find – even when you were looking for it, but I never would have seen these plants if I hadn’t been alerted to watch for them. That was about the most success I ever had as a back-to-the-lander, but it was a good lesson for me to pay attention to what may be at hand.


I never would have thought to look for asparagus along that levee if I hadn’t been told of it’s possibility, but that little exercise has left me looking a little closer to see what I might find regardless of where I might be walking. Once you’ve found something in a surprising place it leaves you being more sensitive to finding other things in surprising places.


And I don’t guess anyone ever encountered as good a thing in a surprising way as when Cleopas and his fellow traveler suddenly came to realize they had been walking with the risen Christ for several miles. They hadn’t expected to see him, and they weren’t able to recognize him until that moment when he did the thing he had done with his disciples at the last supper. It’s interesting to think about how this all happened. How could they have not recognized him as they went along? And then, what exactly transpired that enabled them to see who he was? We don’t have easy answers for these mysterious things, but what we do have is the testimony that these men encountered the living Christ when they invited him to stay with them and they broke bread together.


And you can bet that these men never saw a stranger again without wondering if he or she might be the risen Lord who had come to spend a little time with them. I dare say they never missed an opportunity to give thanks to God before they broke and shared bread. And you can’t read this story without thinking that this could happen to one of us. You just never know where you will encounter the presence of the living Lord, and it’s always a good idea to get together and to share blessed bread.


I said the 70’s were sort of strange days, but I don’t guess there’s ever been a time that wasn’t unusual in some way. In some ways this world just keeps getting stranger, but there is one way in which this world never changes. The world is almost always torn up in some terrible ways. We don’t all suffer equally and there are certainly some places that are more torn up than others, but none of us get through life on Earth without being touched by some breathtaking pain.


These men who were walking to Emmaus were certainly feeling the stab of unfathomable loss. They weren’t out enjoying a hike in the park. They were slogging through the aftermath of a terrible tragedy when Christ joined them on the road, and that’s often how it happens for us.


I had a couple of friends in seminary who experienced an unfathomable loss a few years after we had all graduated and gone on to our various lives. Kelly and Dale were two really nice people who met and married while they were in seminary, and they both went back to Alabama to work as pastors. They each had their own church, and on Palm Sunday in 1994 a tornado dropped out of the sky and hit the church where Rev. Kelly Clem was the pastor. It happened just as their worship service was about to begin and it killed twenty people in the congregation – including Kelly and Dale’s 4-year-old daughter.


I had lost touch with them, and I still haven’t been in touch with them, but I’ve followed their story to some extent. There was a video produced not long after the event that was pretty incredible to watch, and there have been a few different articles in various publications about them. They were as devastated and lost as you would expect anyone to have been in the aftermath of such an event. There are no guidelines for how to proceed after such a thing, but they proceeded about as gracefully as anyone could. It’s an event that forever changed them, but it didn’t destroy them.


In one article, Kelly made it very clear that nobody can fully understand what someone else is going through, but her loss has clearly sensitized her to the loss of others. She doesn’t pretend to know what it’s like for anyone else to lose a child. She makes no assumptions about what other people experience, but she said that she never felt as if she had been abandoned by God. Even as she felt the rawest pain she sensed that God was with her. She was somehow able to connect the suffering of Christ with her own suffering.


This truth became particularly clear to her several years after the event when she and her family were on a trip to Spain. Here’s something she wrote in an article for Interpreter Magazine:


As my family toured around, I became transfixed by a beautiful sculpture with Jesus on the cross and Mary standing beneath him. Tears gleamed in her eyes, and her arms were posed as though cradling a child who is not there. Tears welled up in my eyes, as I had a moment of understanding. “This is my life, my story,” I thought to myself. “I am part of God’s story.”


Terrible things happen in life, but the good news is that God is with us when those terrible things happen, and it’s often in those terrible moments that we see how our own stories are connected to the most beautiful story that there is. We don’t always see this so clearly in the heat of horrible moments, but those moments can make us extra sensitive to the horror of what Jesus experienced, and hopefully more open to the truth of his resurrection as well.


This story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not just the story of what happened to one man 2000 years ago. It’s as Rev. Kelly Clem came to realize – This is my life, my story. When you look at Jesus on the cross, you are looking at pure vulnerability, horrible pain, and unfathomable wrongness – but you are also looking at an act of perfect love. Jesus on the cross is the perfect portrayal of God’s love. God’s love was executed and buried, but it didn’t stay that way, and we are celebrating that truth today.


We don’t all discover this truth and our connection to it in the same way, but knowing this is the truth makes us keep an eye out for it. I suspect that one reason Kelly Clem didn’t feel abandoned by God when she lost her child was that she was already very familiar with the story of Christ’s crucifixion. She had known in her mind not to equate devastating loss with divine abandonment, and I’m guessing that helped her during her experience of unfathomable loss. She knew to keep looking to Jesus for help, and it came.


There are events that happen in this world that wound us deeply, and deep wounds leave scars, but God wills for our souls to do more than fully recover – God wills for us to find new life regardless of what has happened to us.


You have to keep an eye out for it. The truth of Christ’s resurrection from the dead isn’t easy to see or believe. Like the travelers to Emmaus who didn’t recognize who was with them for the longest time, we can remain oblivious to the presence of the resurrected Christ in our midst. But I’m telling you that as surely as you can find asparagus on a railroad levee or beauty in a 70’s love song, you can find new life in Jesus Christ – even if you are feeling as good as dead.


This is the good news – thanks be to God!



One Response to “Easter 3a, April 30, 2017”

  1. Earl Says:

    Again a wonderful message, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: