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Time for an Emmaus Walk
My favorite Gospel story of Easter has always been the Emmaus story in Luke 24:13-35. It is the richest, for me the most meaningful of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Many years ago I used to do a teaching session every Sunday morning for about 20 minutes between Matins and the beginning of Liturgy. I called it the Emmaus Walk, because every Sunday is an encounter with the risen Christ in the Liturgy. At every Liturgy we walk to an encounter with the risen Christ. We have a more streamlined approach to Sunday mornings nowadays, and the Emmaus Walk is no longer part of our Sunday morning gathering.
During the Sundays of Lent, I want to do a series of sermons at Liturgy all under the unifying theme of "Emmaus Walk."
Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection, a mini-Easter, so to speak. Which is why we have the cycle of eight Resurrection Apolytikia that rotate on the Sundays of the year; which is why at the Sunday Matins we rotate throughout the year the eleven Resurrection Gospel passages, one of which is the Emmaus story in Luke. Because every Sunday is Easter, the ancient rules of the church forbid kneeling on Sundays! Just as we don't kneel during the forty days after Easter, so also we don't kneel on Sunday. Of course, this ancient rule of the church against Sunday kneeling is completely ignored in our Greek-American churches.
Another rule that is ignored in our churches is the ancient rule that forbids memorials on Sundays. This rule I'm not convinced about. After all, if we truly believe in the resurrection, what better day to commemorate the dead than on the one day in the week that is the day of resurrection, Sunday? I think that the practice of Greek-American churches to do memorials at the Sunday Liturgy is more appropriate to life in the 21st century, when Sunday is the only day in the week that most of us devote to church going.
But I've gotten off my subject. The series of sermons I'm proposing to do will use the Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke. The story in Luke 24:13-35 goes like this, in summary:
Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus when Jesus joined them as they were walking. They don't recognise him. They talk as
they are walking, and they find the conversation fascinating as he opens scripture to them. Evening comes, and Jesus appears to be going further, but
they convince him to stay the night with them. At dinner he breaks bread with them, and they recognise him. But he disappears. "Did not our hearts burn
within us as he explained scripture to us?" they say to each other as they immediately head back to Jerusalem to share the news of their encounter with
the other disciples.
It's a wonderful story, filled with symbolism and meaning. We are far from Jerusalem and Emmaus but always close to the risen Lord, though we often don't see him or listen to him as he opens divine truth to us.
What are some of the features of this story that I hope will inspire my series of sermons?
* Walking - the best way to experience life and the world….and the best way to grow in faith and resurrection!
* Failure to recognise Jesus - they were too absorbed in their sadness. In our sadness Christ meets us.
* Disciples - but outside the inner circle. God is no "respected" of persons. He treats everyone equally. He appears everywhere and to everyone in whatever manner.
* Talk while walking - beats texting every time! An adventure of the mind and spirit. Eyes opening to reality.
* Jesus appears to be going further - they ask him to stay the night with them. Jesus is always on the move.
* He breaks bread with them - they recognise him. The talk and the walk were beautiful, life enhancing, eye opening; but the breaking of bread was the moment of recognition. When we break bread with each other, Jesus is with us. He is the bond, he is the one breaking bread with us.
* Jesus leaves when they recognise him. He has other sheep in other flocks to walk with, to talk with, and to break bread with!
* The disciples head back to Jerusalem. But it is a Jerusalem that is transformed in their eyes. They now see things in the light of resurrection. Their hearts are burning!
These are the main narrative themes of the Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke. In many ways they also describe the narrative of our own lives and faith in Jesus Christ. I will try to develop these themes as an invitation from the Lord to enjoy his presence and to walk with him. In many ways, my "Emmaus Walk" sermons will aim to deepen our experience of Liturgy and worship. I hope and pray that I'll be up to the task. Perhaps you'll pray too?
Repentance of course is important for the Christian life and it is rightly emphasised during Lent. But that is not all that Lent is about. And fasting is indeed an important discipline during Lent. But do we fast for the right reasons? Do we fast according to the unrealistic rules that monks imposed on the entire Church many centuries ago? Or do we 'fast' in that minimalistic, modern way, where we make our own rules? In our minds, fasting and repentance go together - or at least that's what we are told by the tradition of the church (created by monks, of course). If we paid more attention to the Not-so-Old Testament we might learn what God thinks of fasting:
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for the people to humble themselves?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the
hungry and to provide the poor
wanderer with shelter -
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your neighbour?
If you stop pointing the finger and speaking malice,
and if you attend to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday."
(Isaiah, chapter 58)
Don't misunderstand. The Isaiah passage is not telling us not to fast; it's telling us that our fasting is incomplete if it's not accompanied by works of mercy and social justice. Saint John Chrysostom said much the same in many of his sermons. And he especially liked to focus on fasting from gossip! He knew well how easy it is for us to fall into that temptation:
"Let the mouth also fast from shameful and hateful speech. For what does it profit if we fast from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The one who speaks evil eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbour."
From our perspective, fasting has become a pious, legalistic practice. But from God's perspective, fasting is always about the neighbour; it's always about the 'other'. Jesus himself became someone 'other' than what he was, and we will find him in the 'other' (as in Matthew 25:31-46).
Let your fasting this Lent open your heart and eyes to those who are the 'other', because it's there that Jesus waits to embrace you as well. It is the mystery of our salvation. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus was the 'other', unrecognised by the two disciples. But they recognised him at the breaking of the bread, at the sharing of food. This too is part of our Emmaus Walk. The Lord became as one of us so we can see him in each other, that we all may be one in this painful and yet amazing world of ours. Life is such a gift, such a beautiful blessing and treasure. Fasting helps us appreciate the life we have received, so we can share life with others, especially with those who are deprived of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Finally, fasting shows us that we take most things for granted and helps us appreciate the gift of food and the hard work of those who bring it to our tables.
Speaking of hard-working people in the Lord's labour, let me introduce this year's Parish Council:
Helen Blewett - President
Mark Butler - Vice President
John Cox - Treasurer
Luci Nanos - Secretary
May their example inspire all of us to work together for the Lord's glory, the Lord who joins us on our walk through life, our Emmaus Walk.
Fr. Constantine Sarantidis