Friday, April 24, 2020

Through Paths Unknown

April 26, 2020
Sermon by The Rev. Dr. John A. Dalles:
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; Luke 24:13-35

When I am reading scripture, I find myself thinking – I wish I had been there… there are many passages that have such a startling brilliance about them, that I think how wonderful it would have been to be right there in person – and to see and hear and sense what was happening.
It is wonderful that we have the written word – holy and inspired – to get us more than halfway there.  Close up.  As if we were participants in the event.  And to read and visualize what we are reading.
Of the many vivid passages we can read, this is one of my very favorites.  The fact that one of the two disciples is unnamed is a great invitation for me to think of myself as one of them.  To put myself on the road to Emmaus.  To be filled with all kinds of emotions having to do with what had happened to Jesus.  To find myself wondering and hoping and wishing and believing and doubting and worrying and caught up in the tremendous clash of feelings that go with losing my teacher and friend and one who surely is the Messiah and yet who has been tried and tortured and put to death and whose body was placed in a tomb.
Finality of finalities.
I have been to ever so many cemeteries, so I know the finality of such places, even the most beautiful of them.  I have seen the tender inscriptions on tombstones, and sensed the love and devotion that such inscriptions hold.  I have stood before grand mausoleums of the people who even now are remembered as leaders in business or society or politics.  I have seen the even grander monuments and memorials to presidents and statesmen, and traced the words of they said, as they appear etched in stone.  And I have stood in memorial gardens and columbariums, and read again the names of those I have loved long since and lost a while.
Humble or grand, simple or elaborate, they all have one thing in common.  They speak of those who have lived and who have died.
Walking to Emmaus, those disciples with whom I identify surely held that thought as a fact.
Jesus died.  Jesus was buried.  Now it was the third day.
In the chronology of the events of the life of our Lord, we are still on Easter Day with this passage from Luke.  Not only is the news that Jesus has risen brand new, but it is so new, that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus have reason to wonder about the news they had heard. 
And then someone draws alongside.  And walks with them and talks with them.  Someone who seems to be a stranger.  But who knows more about what they had experienced than they knew, themselves.
-       Who opened the scriptures for them.
-       Who connected the dots, 
-       So that the picture of what happened fell into place, and made sense, and gave them a new awareness.
But still and all, not the whole picture…
Did they dare hope?
Fast on the heels of that question is the more personal question:
Do we dare hope?
We who have stood beside an open grave as a casket is lowered, who have returned home to find that familiar place changed entirely by who is no longer there.  Who have closed the book on a love and friendship that was a joy and delight.  Who have heard the quiet that speaks louder than words.
Do we dare hope?
The Christian religion is all about the answer to that question.  We believe and trust and depend upon the message that – yes – we dare to have hope. We are given the reason why, in what happened to those two disciples, as their Easter Day unfolded.
As they walked through paths unknown.
I must say that if someone came alongside me, and told me things I had been longing to know, about myself, and about what is most important in the world – that I would have done as they did.  I would have encouraged that person to stay. 
“Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
We don’t want to be alone.
We don’t want to miss what we might gain by your being with us.
So, please, stay with us.
“Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
         That is an invitation from the heart.
-       We whisper it in the darkness.
-       We pray it in the morning.
-       We long for it all the day.
-       We depend upon it when things are rocky and uphill.
-       We bask in it when the days are sunny and filled with joy.
-       To be with our dear companion and friend.
-       To enjoy his presence.
-       To feel his unconditional love for us.
-       To learn from him.
-       To lean on him.
-       To linger with him.
“Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
I am so glad they asked him to stay.
You know – our Lord longs for our invitation to stay.
But do you notice that he does not insist upon it. It seemed as if he would go on…
It is apparent that Christ respects the freedom of our thoughts, and our affections, and our purposes.  It fact, his respect is complete.
He never forces his own gifts upon us.
There are there, and he offers them freely.
But unless we actively accept them they remain ineffective, as far as we are concerned.
So I am glad they asked him to stay.
I am glad that you have asked him to stay.  That he does stay and he does form this everlasting bond with you.  
         There is a painting of the meal at the table in the inn that evening...
“The Supper at Emmaus”, it is titled, appropriately enough.

“The Supper at Emmaus is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, executed in 1601, and now in the National Gallery in London.  You can find it very quickly doing an on line search.
         Is shows Jesus and the two disciples seated at the table, and a man standing alongside – presumably the innkeeper, 
The faces of the men are bathed in light.  The room is darkness. I think of that painting as a reminder that when we are in Jesus’ presence we, too,,, are bathed in the light of his presence.  No matter how dark the world around us may be.
It is at that very moment when their eyes were opened.
And they recognized him.
Here is one disciple, with the shock of recognition so great that his arms are extended in an exclamation of surprise.  One of his hands is on Jesus’ shoulder.  He has to be sure that what is happening is happing.  That Jesus is real. That Jesus is really alive.  That Jesus is really there in the room with them.

Over here, the other disciple leans forward toward Jesus, almost out of his chair.  He is griping the arms with such force that the sleeve of his coat has torn open.

And in the center of the frame, is Jesus himself.
-       Looking tremendously healthy and fresh of face.
-       Unquestionably, Jesus is alive, and well.
And there is one detail more, that just fills me with excitement and joy…

         THE HAND OF JESUS IS extended outward, toward us, the viewers of the painting.
-       It is one of those brilliant moments that artists give us, that take the moment one step beyond what the gospel writhers reveal.
-       For there is the invitation from our Lord himself.
-       He reaches out to us.
-       We have but to respond.
You have Jesus reaching out to you today.
-       He may be reaching out to ask you to help with some particular need of the church or of the world.
-       He is reaching out to you.
-       His invitation is to you specifically.
-       He has you in mind for the task at hand.
-       You have what he needs.
-       And he has what you need.
-       He may be asking you to take on a new responsibility.
-       His invitation is for you.
-       He may be calling you to renew your commitment to him.
You have Jesus reaching out to you today.
He is meeting you – more than half way.
You know what he wants you to do.
Reach out to him.  Receive his love and grace.  

This is an original sermon by The Rev. D. John A. Dalles, Interim Senior Minister and Head of Staff of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA .  It was delivered on the date indicated in the text. You are encouraged to read it and reflect upon it.  Please keep in mind that the sermon is Copyright © 2020 John A. Dalles.  Permission from the author is required to reproduce it in any fashion.


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