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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Easter 3 – Year A

There is a church I know that has a tradition to present a Bible to every child in the congregation when he or she completes the third grade. These presentations are quite elaborate and made on a Sunday morning in front of the entire congregation. When each child is called by name he or she walks to the front of the sanctuary, shakes the pastor’s hand, receives the Bible and then quotes a passage of scripture. One year everything was going very well until one little boy was so nervous that he couldn’t remember his name much less the scripture he had memorized. Frantically, the little boy looked around the room for one of his parents. After several seconds he spotted his Mom sitting in a side pew about 6 rows back. When their eyes met his mother silently mouthed the opening words of his passage – “I am the light of the world.” Immediately the little boy smiled and bellowed out in a loud voice – “My mother is the light of the world.”
Happy Mother’s Day! On this third Sunday of Easter when we celebrate the love of God as revealed in the risen Christ we also give thanks for the love of God that can be so powerfully revealed by the love of a mother. Not everyone can be a mother and not everyone had the ideal mother, but we all give thanks for the people in our lives who have been wonderful examples of maternal love. There is nothing like a mother’s love.
This past Thursday my brother and I moved my Mom from Goodwin House in Alexandria to Westminster Canterbury in Richmond. Her health has deteriorated in recent months and everyone including her doctor thought it best that she be down here where she could be closer to family. Early Thursday morning I dove up to get her packed up and ready to go. As I walked into her room I was fortunate enough to witness a wonderful sight. At first I thought something was wrong because at least four or five staff members were all standing around Mom’s bed. After a few seconds I realized Mom was fine and I was in fact watching something very special and intimate. They had all come into my Mom’s room to tell her goodbye. Nurses and various aids, they were taking turns holding her hand and telling her farewell. What brought me up short was that these were not just polite goodbyes from the staff of a retirement home to another resident moving into health care. There was so much more going on. Each of them had tears in their eyes and I realized in that moment that I was witnessing something holy, something special. Right away I knew that God was in that place, that God was present in the love and care that passed from nurse to patient, from woman to woman, from friend to friend. It was an experience I will never forget.
In our gospel for this morning two of Jesus’ disciples are traveling from Jerusalem to the town or Emmaus. On the road they encounter a stranger who travels the way with them. This stranger engages them in conversation, explains how scripture applies to recent events, and even agrees to have dinner with them when he is offered an invitation. This man fascinates the disciples because he seems to understand and make sense of so many things. But it isn’t until he breaks the bread and blesses the cup of wine that they realize this is no stranger – they are in fact in the presence of the risen Christ. He has been in their midst – in the midst of their travels, their meals, their worry, and their conversation. They thought Jesus was dead and gone when he was in fact right there with them.
I did a little research the other day about the town of Emmaus. I wanted to know exactly where it was and whether or not it still exists as a community today. What I discovered is that scholars are not really sure where Emmaus is. There are multiple theories with numerous sites claiming to be the ancient town. At first I found this disappointing and a little frustrating. The town is so clearly named in scripture why can’t we identify it?
But if you think about it, not knowing where Emmaus is seems right to me. If we could definitively pin down the historic location of the town then this experience of the risen Christ might be seen as limited to a specific place and time. But it isn’t limited because Emmaus isn’t any one place – Emmaus is every place we gather and experience the living Christ. Emmaus is every place we experience the love, the power, the presence of Christ in our lives and relationships. I walked into an Emmaus moment the other day when I entered my Mom’s room and witnessed those farewells. Those nurses and aids had lovingly cared for my mother who needed help with virtually everything. They had nursed her when she was sick, laughed with her when she was well, listened to all her stories about her family and shared with her stories of their own. Christ had been present with them, their lives had touched one another in powerful ways and I was blessed to witness the tearful holiness of their goodbyes.
The risen Christ promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. Therefore whenever we gather in love and concern for one another we can trust that Christ is there in our midst just as he was there with those two disciples so many years ago. Two friends sharing a cup of coffee at the kitchen counter discussing their struggles with children or family – Christ is there. The table at the deli where, over sandwiches, one friend shares with another a recent cancer diagnosis – Christ is there. He is there at the Wednesday night suppers breaking bread and passing the cup. He is there when we share a bowl of rice and beans with a new friend in Southern Sudan or during a dinner with a guest from Caritas. The early morning walk around the neighborhood as two friends honestly discuss their fears and worries – Christ walks with them. He is there in the Bible study but also in the duck blind, the fishing boat, or the long car ride – whenever we gather in friendship to care for one another we can know that the risen Christ will be there hallowing our friendships and blessing our conversations.
The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus at first as they walked the road to Emmaus. In the same way we may not recognize him during those moments when we come together and share our lives. But we can trust that he is with us, that his presence blesses and hallows our everyday moments just as he blessed and hallowed theirs.
The risen Christ walks among us, not just within our worship but everywhere we go. He is on the road even now seeking to encounter us, waiting to be invited to the table. He knows how hard this life can be; he’s lived it. But he has also promised to be with us – whenever two or three are gathered together in his name – he will be with us. That’s an Easter promise and one we can count on. Amen.

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