Resurrection and Worship (Luke 24)

 

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him,“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 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 happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem.

And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

If I asked you what events you believe are most likely to rock our world (ie. make the biggest impact) over the next 12 months, it would be interesting to see what you’d come up with

I doubt that the wedding of Charles and Camilla is going to change much. I could be wrong.

The choice made in the election of a new Pope – that could certainly change our world for good (or for not so good, depending on the choice).

The American invasion of Iran, if that happens within the next 12 months, or, more likely, Israel’s invasion of Iran and then Syria, funded and resourced by America, will certainly change our world forever.

And one other event that is almost certain to have a monumental effect on the people of this planet – an event that is scheduled to take place on the 19th of next month – is the release of the final Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith.

I’m serious about this. Millions upon millions of people will see this movie and will be affected by it. Billions and billions of dollars will be generated by this movie. For an enormous number of people it will be a story that will capture their hearts and imagination more strongly than will any story in their religious traditions, and it will be a phenomenon that will turn the wheels of industry worldwide more vigorously than will the economy of most third world countries!

Most of us will get caught up in that phenomenon next month. Like most of you, I will pay my $10 to see it when it comes out. Like most of you, I sent in my resume to George Lucas when the movie was being shot in Australia, asking if I could be a storm trooper.

OK. Most of you didn’t do that, did you, but I’m sure you would have, had you known where to send your resume. I was given the official email address to apply to by members of my online TIE fighter squadron, The Emporer’s Hammer.

I assume it was the right address anyway. I didn’t get any response, so maybe some of the other boys in Avenger Squadron weren’t quite on the ball. I’ve left the squadron now. We were never quite the same after the destruction of the 2nd Death Star anyway. We did though have a great motto,Before Glory, Loyalty. Before Pride, Honour. Before Self, the Empire.’

Where was I?

Over the years I’ve read a goodly number of interviews with cast and crew from the Star Warsmovies. One I remember in particular was with members of the cast of the first movie, who were saying that they wished they’d taken more souvenirs from the original set. Apparently George Lucas had encouraged the original cast to take as many souvenirs as they wanted to, such as weren’t going to be needed again – bits of their costumes, left-over light sabres, that sort of thing. I think it was the guy who played C3PO who was saying, “I took a couple of things, but soon I wished I’d taken a whole lot more.”

It’s easy to be wise in retrospect of course. Who would have thought that the movie was going to be such a hit? You can imagine yourself, after finishing up with all the long hard work on this movie, your mind is now beginning to move on. Perhaps you’re thinking about seeing your family again. Perhaps you’re planning on what you’re going to be working on next. Perhaps you’re just planning a holiday. You’re probably not thinking ‘I’d better take in as much of this now as I can, because one day I’m going to look back on this as the most significant time in my life.’

Now I figure that it must be for much the same reason that the disciples didn’t keep any souvenirs. We have no record, at any rate, of any of the original followers of Jesus keeping any historical keepsakes.

We don’t hear of any of the disciples going back to Golgotha and making sure they kept at least a few splinters from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Plenty of others have claimed to have done this of course. Indeed, I’m told that if you could pile up all the splinters from the cross that have been sold to pilgrims in Jerusalem that you’ve had more wood than you could find in any of Australia’s national parks.

Likewise, despite the search for the Holy Grail carried on by the crusaders and by the knights of Camelot and by Indiana Jones, there’s no real evidence at all to suggest that anybody ever bothered to hang on to the original cup used at the last supper.

In a similar vein, you would have thought that somebody would have made a note of where Jesus had been buried, but no one did. Yes, there is a Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over one of the spots that is claimed to have been the original site, but the truth is that no one is really sure.

There are a number of places that claim to have been the site of the original tomb, just as there are any number of hills that claim to be the hill where the cross originally stood, just as there are three different towns (apparently) claiming to be the original Emmaus that we read of in Luke 24!

This is extraordinary I think – that no one bothered to even make a map of there these highly significant locations. Yet I assume that their initial reasoning was much the same as that of the original crew of Star Wars. At the time they didn’t realise how enormously significant these events were one day going to seem to them in retrospect.

You certainly see that with the two characters on their way to Emmaus (wherever it was).

“Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s been going on” they say to the stranger who pulls up alongside them. “We were followers of Jesus the prophet, mighty in word and deed, who our rulers put to death. And we had thought that He was the one to redeem Israel! But we were wrong. He’s dead now. Of course some of our women found the tomb empty when they went there this morning, and they think He’s alive again, but we don’t believe a word of that, so we’re keeping our dinner appointment in Emmaus and getting on with life.”

These two characters are doing their best to move on. No doubt the previous three days had been extremely painful, and quite possibly they were now looking back on the last three years of ministry with Jesus, thinking what a complete waste of time it had been.

Maybe they didn’t quite feel like that. Maybe they still felt that the experience had been valuable. Possibly they were already beginning to accept the whole ordeal as a learning experience. The truth is, we don’t have a clue, but what we do know is that they think it’s over. They’ve finished with that particular path that they took in their lives. They are heading back to Emmaus and getting on with life. And then … everything changes again!
Now it’s here, if you’ll forgive me for dredging this up again, that the analogy with the cast of Star Wars breaks down. The problem for the original cast was that by the time they realised how valuable and important all those souvenirs were going to be, it was too late. They were all gone. There was no use going back to look for Darth Vader’s original cape. It had already been taken.

Contrast the disciples. Yes, by Sunday morning many of them were ready to move on with their lives, and they were now seeing their past association with Jesus as being just a tragic phase that they had gone through in their lives. But by Sunday evening, everything had changed, and certainly by Pentecost, a few weeks later, it would have been clear to all concerned that the events that had taken place in the life of Jesus, and especially the death and the resurrection of Jesus, were going to continue to be the most significant historically defining moments in all their lives. So why didn’t they start gathering souvenirs then? Why didn’t they at least mark out some of these historic sites at that point?

OK, it’s possible that they’d already misplaced the cup from the Last Supper by that stage. It had probably been washed up long ago and may have been indistinguishable from any number of other cups in the kitchen cupboard, but there was surely nothing to stop them finding remnants of the cross, getting hold of those grave cloths, and getting Joseph or Arimithaea to smash up that great stone that had lain across the tomb – breaking it down into tiny pebbles and letting each disciple have a bag of pebbles each for their posterity.

C’mon! I’m not just being silly here. That would have been a pretty powerful piece of symbolism for the early church. Why didn’t they do it?

And I know that not many of the disciples made it to old age, but most of them lived on for at least a few years after the resurrection, and during none of those years, it seems, did any of them bother to go out and sign-post any of the historically significant sites!

Think of the apostle John in particular – the only disciple who wasn’t martyred. He apparently made it through to a great old age, and he had apparently been there at the cross with the women. Indeed, it seems that he was the only male disciple to have made it as far as the cross. At any rate, he surely never would have forgotten where that location was. And yet there is nothing to suggest that he ever went back there, or at least that he ever went to any effort to show anybody else where it was.

Indeed, even more surprising is that John’s own disciples, who apparently used to carry him around from place to place when he was all old and arthritic, either never bothered to ask him where these places were, or if they did, got some response like “Oh, don’t worry about that. It’s not important”.

Now I am trying to make a serious point here, and it’s a point about the spirituality of the early church. That is, I’m wanting us to think about where the early church focused their worship life.

From what I can see, the spirituality of the first Christians did not have a lot to do with the preservation or adoration of relics. It did not involve them meeting regularly at the empty tomb to relive that story. Nor, it seems did they keep the folded grave cloths in a cabinet at the front of the church. From what I can see, the worship life of the first Christians was fundamentally a celebration of the presence of Jesus in their midst.

It seems to me that while it would be quite understandable if the disciples had focused upon whathad happened, their focus seems rather to have been upon what was happening and upon what was going to happen. And when they came together to worship, their celebration, I believe, was focused upon the presence of the risen Jesus in their midst.

Now I’m not solely basing this belief on negatives – ie. that these early Christians must have been focused on Jesus as they obviously weren’t interested in sacred sites or articles. It’s more than that. It’s also the impression that I get from reading the Gospels and the other New Testament books, where we see the early church at worship.

Did you ever notice how our historic pattern of worship, as has been passed down to us from the early church, seems to mirror the accounts of the resurrection appearances?

Look at the story we had today – the guys on the road to Emmaus. What happens?

  • The disciples are together.
  • Jesus joins them
  • The Scriptures are read and explained.
  • They share a meal with Jesus and, notably, recognise Him in the breaking of bread.

If you look at what follows on in exactly the same passage, the two guys run all the way back to Jerusalem so that they can tell their mates what happened and … the pattern repeats itself:

  • The disciples gather together
  • Jesus, to everyone’s amazement, joins them
  • There’s some more discussion about the Scriptures
  • He shares another meal with them!

And look through the other gospel accounts by all means. You’ll find that with the different accounts of the different resurrection appearances, many of the details differ from story to story, but the basic elements are repeated over and over again:

  • The followers of Jesus gather together
  • Jesus joins them
  • They hear from the Scriptures
  • They break bread.

And yes, this is exactly the historic pattern of worship that we have inherited from the women and men who have gone before us in the faith. This is what we do when we meet together. We gather, we listen to the Scriptures, we break bread and we celebrate the presence of Jesus in our midst.
Now some people may want to suggest that the gospel writers, when writing up the accounts of the resurrection, allowed their own experience of worship in the Christian community to shape the way they told their stories. I’d like to suggest though that it may have developed the other way around – ie. that the early church developed its pattern of worship modelled on their experience of Jesus after the resurrection!

If this is so, then it is very clear what worship in the early church was all about. It was about meeting up with the resurrected Jesus.

And this also explains why the early church made the extraordinary move of relocating their day of worship from the historic Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, which is a Saturday, to the first day of the week – the Sunday. It was not simply because Sunday was the day of the resurrection. It was because Sunday was also the day on which they first met up with Jesus after the resurrection, and so each Sunday became an occasion for another meeting with Jesus.

This has always been the focus of Christian worship. We come together, fundamentally, to meet Jesus.

“Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am among them” (Matthew 18:20). This is the promise of Jesus, and we find this to be true again and again, week after week. We gather together, often as confused and depressed as were those early disciples, not sure where we’re going in life, and not feeling like we have the resources to get there, and then, to our amazement, we find that Jesus is here with us, and life begins again!

And this is why it doesn’t matter that we don’t have the Holy Grail. This is why it doesn’t matter exactly where Jesus was crucified or exactly where He was buried any more than it matters where Emmaus really was. Because you don’t have to go to Israel to find Jesus, because wherever two or three of His people are gathered together in His name, He is with them!

Of course this doesn’t mean that we will always recognise Him. Hey, those two disciples walked almost the whole way to Emmaus right alongside Jesus without recognising Him, and it’s quite possible that any number of you guys might have plodded your way through the service this far without actually recognising that Jesus is in our midst.

But most certainly He is here! And you can be entirely confident that, if He hasn’t revealed Himself to you yet, at some point, possibly when you least expect it, Jesus will lift the veil from your eyesand then, all of a sudden you will realise that He’s actually been right alongside you all the time.

And do not be surprised if He chooses to reveal Himself to you in the breaking of the bread!

First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, April 10th, 2005.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,

martial arts master, pro boxer,

author, father of four.

www.FatherDave.org

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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