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Easter 3A Sermon
Luke 24: 13-35

April 30, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The thing that I have come to appreciate about the encounter that the two disciples had with Jesus on The Road to Emmaus is that they didn’t recognize that this was a holy time until it was just about over. Have you ever experienced this? I know that I have, and I think it is not rare that we encounter the risen Christ in our midst and do not realize it until later.
This past week at the Liturgical Institute at Valparaiso University, I encountered the risen Christ on many occasions. I am quite open about why I like to attend this event – more than continuing education, for me it is a spiritual retreat. I attend all of the worship services, most of the plenary talks, and maybe one or two of the workshops. It is kind of a “high-liturgical church” affair, and there isn’t much that I would dare to bring back here to implement. For example, it is difficult enough to get you folks to use the newer version of the Lord’s Prayer during the season of Lent, but how would you all like to chant it as well? Very few, I would imagine. Many of the songs we used were not among the best known, and if I broke out the incense like was used during the eucharist services there, I fear that there would be so much coughing going on in here that we couldn’t hear any of the words of the songs that were being sung! While the preaching, prayers, scripture and communion were deeply meaningful, I can look back upon two experiences where I encountered the risen Christ, one of which was connected to the Institute and one of which was totally separate. They made the three days away worthwhile as a spiritual retreat.
The first experience happened at the one and only workshop that I attended on Thursday just before noon. It was entitled, “Peace, Peace, where there is no peace,” and it was led by Walter Wangerin. You may have heard of Walt Wangerin; he has written about two dozen books and one dozen children’s books. Among them are, “Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace,” “Ragman and Other Cries of Faith,” and “The Book of God.” He used to have a regular article in the Lutheran magazine, and he has taught at Valparaiso since 1991. In 2005, Walt was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went through some very intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments which helped buy him more time in life. I remember hearing him speak shortly after his diagnosis, and at that time I would not have thought he would live 12 more years. But he has, and I got to sit at his proverbial feet for an hour this last week.

As far as cogent talks are considered, it wasn’t in the top ten. I didn’t take any notes, and those around me who were, only did it for about 15 minutes or so before they put their pens down. They could tell this wasn’t one of those “note-taking” types of talks. Walt kept losing his place, picking up notes and books to find quotes he wanted, standing up, sitting down, and messing with his oxygen tube. He keeps it with him and when his blood oxygen goes below 96, he has to strap it around his ears and across his nostrils.
At the end of our time together he asked himself the question for the rest of us, “what hymn speaks to me?” He quickly picked up a copy of the hymnal next to him and turned to number 342, to a song called, “There in God’s Garden.” He marveled at how it began to talk about a tree, bringing to mind the tree in John’s Apocalypse planted on the side of the river; the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. But then we sing about the tree that is the cross, and then we see in the cross a tree reaching up into the heavens, opening its arms to us. As we sat listening to him I could tell that my friend, Pastor Bill Diehm, was also moved by this. After the talk, Bill turned to me and said that when his father died, which was three years ago, about when my mom died, he and his family were gathered around his bed, singing hymns for a couple of hours. They sang this one to his dad, closing with verse six, “All heav’n is singing, Thanks to Christ whose passion offers in mercy healing, strength and pardon. Peoples and nations, take it, take it freely!” Amen, My Master!” After the song ended there was a quiet as Bill’s father had breathed his last. It was a song that spoke the Gospel of the risen Lord to Bill and his family just as much to Walt. Walt said that he plans to have the congregation sing this hymn at his funeral … and I think as I look one day to making those plans, I would like that for mine as well. The risen Christ was made known to us on that day in a small, frail professor and author dying of cancer but still trusting in the resurrection promise.

After the workshop, the second experience happened. Bill and I went down the street to Wendy’s for a quick bite of lunch. As I unwrapped my grilled chicken sandwich I happened to glance up at the wall right above the table where we sat and saw a plaque. It said, “Bette’s booth. In memory of our friend Bette O’Leary. She visited often, sharing her wit, wisdom and positive spirit. 1920-2015.” I was still taking in the inscription when I noticed another plaque over a table nearby that said, “Joe’s table. In memory of Joseph Kviklis who visited us daily sharing his kind words and a gentle smile. 1919-2002.” As Bill and I quickly ate our lunch, I thought about Bette and Joe, coming to this Wendy’s every day, meeting their usual friends and making new ones; brightening the days of the employees who served them coffee or hamburgers, laughing and enjoying life. I then thought about our scripture for this Sunday, especially the last verse that reads, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” I wondered how many times Bette and Joe experienced the risen Christ as they broke bread in this small, simple fast food place in northern Indiana. I wondered how many times the employees did as well, and did not realize it until later … maybe even after these two had died. And I suddenly experienced the risen Christ myself, right then and there as I thought about the lives of these ordinary people, probably not realizing how they impacted the employees and fellow customers of this place so much that they would spend the money and take the time to erect plaques in their honor.

Recently a friend posted something to the effect of, “Never pass by an opportunity to have a sandwich with a friend.” The power of a sandwich … the power of breaking bread to reveal the presence of the risen Christ among us … the power of a hymn to assure us of the presence of Jesus … the power of a scripture passage … of a cup of coffee at Wendy’s … of an hour with a frail spiritual man. The power of a beverage with friends … the power of a four-and-a-half hour drive to a Lutheran college a state away … the power of a walk with a loved one … the power of a healing prayer … the power of Holy Communion … the power of times that we don’t put much effort into that reveal to us the presence of the risen Christ in our lives. On this third Sunday of the Easter season we once again heard the story of how a seven-mile walk was an encounter that these disciples will never forget. God uses these unexpected times as spiritual retreats for us. You probably had just as many holy times this week as I did, if you think about it! And you will have many more this coming week as the risen Christ seeks any opportunity to reveal himself to you in your daily life! Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.