The Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter is one of my favorite resurrection stories. Luke recounts the conversation that Cleopas and a companion had with one another and then with a stranger as they returned to Emmaus from Jerusalem (24:13-35). So how do you suppose Cleopas and his companion walked as they made their way along from Jerusalem to Emmaus? Did they meander mindlessly, lost in conversation? Or, determined to get out of town a.s.a.p., did their steps possess a certain spirit? Luke doesn't tell us.
What we do know is that disappointment and despair affect us all differently. For too many of us, the Easter liturgy is followed too quickly by the return of concerns or death or disappointment or despair. Although we may not be ready to join Cleopas and his companion in saying "But we had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel," we might be ready to admit that we had hoped that this would be the Easter when the whole world was redeemed. Looking for signs of resurrection leaves us wanting. We find ourselves shuffling along aimlessly or swaggering our way elsewhere, determined to get out of town.
It is then that the risen Jesus overtakes us. Wouldn't it be great if the risen Christ would turn the world upside down? But, no, that's never been his style. Instead, Jesus asks us a simple question: "What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?" The question is so simple, so basic, that we don't recognize who is really asking it. Instead we see only a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a student, a parishioner, a loved one, a stranger. "What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?" The question is so basic that it stops us dead in our tracks. "Don't you get it?" we ask. The Middle East is exploding, the church is corrupt, my self-worth is sinking, they're challenging my call. While Cleopas and his companion may not have gotten that "the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory," we sometimes fail to get that Christ's glory may not be in keeping with our expectations either for Jesus or, by baptism, for us. And Christ's glory might not arrive according to when we think that glory should have happened. So, our post-Easter walk home to Emmaus hasn't changed that much in two thousand Easters.
Thankfully, neither has the risen Christ. Beginning not with Moses but with creation and flood, Abraham and Sarah, and all the family stories that we tell at the Great Vigil, Jesus speaks to and through us to declare that God will always, always, always, bring light out of darkness, hope out of despair, speech out of silence, peace out of violence, power out of weakness, dignity out of degradation, and life out of death. Opening the scriptures to us, Jesus risen opens our hearts as well. We feel our hearts burn within us, daring us to trust when trust is stupid; to believe when belief is foolish; to risk when risk is dangerous; to dream when the dream is lunacy. And if words are not enough, the risen Jesus gives us more--bread broken, wine poured, the risen Christ truly present with us, at least for an instant, long enough for us to know that Jesus is really here. Word and Sacrament, the stuff the risen Christ is made of, here and now for us.
That conversation on the road to Emmaus reminds me that reflection on Jesus' passion and death and talk of Jesus' resurrection is always unfinished speech. "What does Jesus' death and resurrection mean?" we ask as we prepare to preach Holy Week and Easter. The question is as old as the church. The minute we answer it, figure it out, sum it up, and conclude that we have plumbed the depth of its meaning to the point that we hit rock bottom, our theology of God dying on a cross and rising from a tomb develops a systemic problem. Every Holy Week and Easter brings new questions, new perspectives, new experiences, and new expectations as death rears its ugly head in new ways and resurrection reveals itself in life that is new and unexpected. Just when we figure out the cross and empty tomb, something happens to remind us that Jesus' death and resurrection are a mystery. Our talk of Jesus' death and resurrection must therefore remain unfinished in order to remain relevant.
Jesus asks the better question--not "What does it mean?" but "What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?" It's not the conclusions we draw that count but the conversations we have. As disciples discuss Jesus' death and resurrection together, in conversation enlightened by their experience, informed by scripture, and nourished by the breaking of the bread, the stranger is revealed to be the Christ, and God's greatest act of love speaks to us and through us to the world.
This set of Preaching Helps is a conversation between two disciples, two companions who journeyed together on the road of death and resurrection, despair and hope that is seminary. Though separated by context and geography, they continue to walk and talk together in ministry. At my suggestion ("Perhaps you could make it more like a dialogue"), Katrina Holland and Tim Knauff, both 2003 graduates of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, shared the exegetical and reflection portion of each set of texts. What we have in published form is a dialogue between two colleagues. Rather than "first readings" and "pastoral reflections," we find Ks and Ts. Our authors decided that Tim would live with and study the first five sets of pericopes for this issue (Sunday of the Passion through the Second Sunday of Easter) and Katrina would live with and study the texts for the remaining five sets of readings (the Third through the Seventh Sunday of Easter). Tim and Katrina describe their conversation this way: "We began to write our thoughts and observations for our respective sections, then shared them periodically with one another. We tried to show how the texts spoke to us and how we spoke right back to the texts and to each other. Some thoughts are incomplete. Some do not flow seamlessly from one to another. Our intent was to show the process of thought preachers may engage in while living and striving to preach the Word of God."
Katrina Holland is one of two pastors called to serve New Hope Lutheran Church in Columbia, Maryland. Katrina actively seeks continuing-education opportunities with a focus on preaching and has participated in the Festival of Homiletics program. She is active in the College of Preachers on the campus of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Along the way, Katrina called to gloat that she had met Fred Craddock, something I have yet to do.
Tim Knauff serves Taylor, Trempealeau Valley, and Upper Beaver Creek Lutheran Churches in rural Taylor, Wisconsin. Tim has a passion for preaching in narrative and has been delighted to discover that in rural ministry stories are a vital way of proclaiming good news--even to Confirmation students. Tim's continuing-education interests include homiletics and biblical studies. He lives in Taylor with his wife, Amy, and his son, Conley.
With Katrina and Tim, we talk of those salvific events as we walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back again, from Taylor and Columbia to Chicago, from these pages to your pulpit, where conversation about Jesus' death and resurrection will continue for this Holy Week and Easter Season, for your people and their journey.
Craig A. Satterlee
Editor of Preaching Helps
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Satterlee, Craig A.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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