Sunday, May 04, 2014

Divine Interruptions

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 4, 2014

Year A: The Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Divine Interruptions
            If you were here last Sunday you may remember that the theme of my sermon was that it’s still Easter.
            It’s still Easter.
            Last Sunday we heard a story from the Gospel of John. In the evening of the first Easter Day the Risen Christ appeared to the frightened disciples who were hiding in a locked room in Jerusalem. When the disciples see the Risen Christ they rejoice and they share the Good News – the best news ever – with Thomas the disciple who missed the whole thing and won’t believe a word of it until he sees Jesus for himself, which he does a week later.
            It’s still Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            And now today on the Third Sunday of Easter, sure enough, it’s still Easter.
            Today we move from the Gospel of John to the Gospel of Luke – in fact we hear a story that’s found only in the Gospel of Luke.
            It’s still Easter – it’s still the first day of the week - when Luke introduces us to the two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
            But just like the scene with the disciples hiding out in a room in Jerusalem, at the start this scene doesn’t feel much like Easter.
            Luke tells us that these two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple (maybe “Mrs. Cleopas”?) are talking with each other about all the things that had happened. They are discussing and talking, analyzing and puzzling. Luke doesn’t have to tell us what things they’re talking about. We know it’s the betrayal, arrest, suffering, death and tales of an empty tomb and angels and finally the seemingly impossible claim made by some women that Jesus lives.
            It’s still Easter but for Cleopas and the other disciple it doesn’t really feel much like Easter, at least not yet.
            So, they’re walking along confused and forlorn when Jesus himself comes near them, interrupts them and strikes up a conversation. Except of course we know it’s Jesus but the two disciples don’t – can’t – recognize him yet.
            But, although they don’t recognize Jesus, notice that Cleopas and the other disciple are open – they are open to this apparently clueless stranger who seems to be the only person around who doesn’t know what happened to Jesus.
            They are open to this stranger so they fill him in on everything that’s happened – in the process basically summarizing the Gospel of Luke.
            And they are even open when Jesus – still hidden from their recognition – criticizes them for not getting what Jesus was all about. And they are open when Jesus interprets the Scriptures to them.
            It must have been quite a walk.
            Cleopas and the other disciple are open when they arrive in Emmaus and the stranger seems to be going further on. They are open, insisting that he stay with them because the day is over and evening is at hand.
            Thanks to their openness, they unknowingly offer hospitality to Jesus himself.
            And then their openness is rewarded in a way they could never have expected or even imagined when Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them.
            It’s Jesus!
            For the two disciples it’s finally Easter!
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            I love this story of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
            I love it most because Emmaus is not a one-time event. The truth is that Emmaus happens all the time.
            We encounter Christ in the stranger.
            We encounter Christ in the Bible.
            We encounter Christ in the breaking of the bread.
            All of these encounters are available to us all the time – maybe not quite as dramatically as what Cleopas and the other disciple experienced – but still pretty close.
            The only question is our openness.
            How open are we really to encountering Christ?
            I’m guessing we’re pretty open when it comes to the Bible and the Eucharist. After all we expect to encounter Christ in the Scriptures and certainly in the bread and wine.
            But, let’s go back to the beginning of the story.
            Cleopas and the other disciple were interrupted – interrupted by a stranger – a stranger who turns out to be the Risen Christ.
            I’m sure the two disciples really wanted to be alone. After all, they had left the other disciples behind in Jerusalem.
            The two disciples wanted to be alone to think, to talk with each other, to grieve, to puzzle over all that had happened to Jesus and to them.
            They just wanted to go home.
            And then they were interrupted.
            Now, they could have told this seemingly clueless stranger to buzz off, to just leave them alone in their grief and confusion.
            But, instead the two disciples are open – they’re open to what turns out to be a divine interruption.
            How many of us hate to be interrupted?
            I’m used to it now but when I first became a priest interruptions used to drive me a little crazy.
            I was used to being a teacher with a set schedule. At this time I have homeroom. During these periods I teach. This is my free period. School ends at this time.
            There were some interruptions, of course: kids wanting to use the bathroom, PA announcements, fire drills, assemblies, the occasional emergency, and so on. But, basically, at the start of the day I knew what I would be doing - and when I would be doing it.
            As a priest, not so much.
            When I was first ordained, I tried to structure my days much like a teacher. During this time I will make pastoral visits. At this hour I will begin sermon preparation. At these times I will attend regularly scheduled meetings.
            But, then there were all these interruptions.
            Knocks at the door. Phone calls. Emails. And now there are even texts.
            “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
            “I was just walking by and saw your office door open and thought I’d say hi.”
            At first, it was a little annoying. When am I supposed to write my sermon? But, then when I reflected on these encounters I was having with people – sometimes people I knew, sometimes strangers - people sometimes in obviously real need and sometimes people who seemed to just want to shoot the breeze – I realized that this is how God works – this is how God works all the time not just with priests, but with all of us.
            God works through interruptions.
            God interrupts each of us individually.
            And God interrupts us as a community. God interrupts St. Paul’s all the time. Why don’t we work more closely with the other Episcopal churches in Jersey City? What about hosting a play? How about offering yoga? What about a monthly community meal? Could we host homeless families here at St. Paul’s?
            Divine interruptions.
            Despite all their sadness and fear and confusion, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were open to interruptions.
            And finally after they’ve recognized the Risen Christ, what do they do? That very hour they get up and interrupt their own plans. They interrupt their own plans, turn around and walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem.
            May we be like Cleopas and the other disciple.
            As best as we can, may we – individually and as a church - be open to divine interruptions. May we be open when there’s a tap on the shoulder, a knock at the door, a ringing or buzzing phone, an email or instant message, a new idea, an exciting but challenging opportunity to serve others.
            May we, as best as we can, be like Cleopas and the other disciple, may we be open to divine interruptions.
            And may we proclaim with them:
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!