Believe In It? I’ve Seen It! – Br. James Koester
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Acts 2: 14a, 36-41; Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 13-35
We continue today, our Easter preaching series “Toward Larger Life: Sermons on Resurrection” where the preacher of the day will take the Sunday texts and look at them through the prism of resurrection and see how they are inviting us into the larger life promised to us by Jesus in his resurrection. Last week Kevin looked at resurrection itself to discover the invitation to larger life. Next week Mark will hold before us Jesus the Good Shepherd and lead us into the larger life promised to us by the Shepherd of our souls. Today I want to ask you to come for a walk with me and see how the journey to Emmaus brings us to that larger life.
Not far from Jerusalem, just off the highway that leads to Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean, on the edge of a small village there is an overgrown right of way used by an Israeli utility company to service the power lines that run above it. It’s a curious spot to take a group of pilgrims but I have been there two of three times in the last number of years, because buried in the brush, and under the tangled and matted grass, lies the scattered remains of an old Roman road running from Jerusalem to Joppa on the Mediterranean coast. When I was first there over ten years ago the curbs and paving stones were quite easy to find. Ten years later, after a decade of rain, the road continues to be washed away, but if you look hard enough (and know what you are looking for) you can find bits and pieces of stone that has obviously been dressed and used for some sort of building project.
There is no way to know if this is the route that Cleopas and his companion took that first Easter afternoon, but if it wasn’t this road it would have been another one, very much like it. As we know, that first Easter for the disciples was not a day of victory, or joy or wonder but of defeat, and sadness and utter bewilderment. They had abandoned and been scattered by the death of one whom they loved; they were overwhelmed by a crushing sense of grief, guilt and loss and now they were bewildered by the rumours of resurrection circulating their company that he who was dead had been seen alive.
Even if you have never walked that washed our Roman road, we have all walked with Cleopas and his companion, for who among us has not felt, or continues to feel, many of these same emotions at the death of someone we love? Who among us does not carry the burden of grief and loss, and even guilt at the death of someone we love? Who does not feel some sense of sadness and even bewilderment when we are confronted by death of any sort: the death of a spouse or lover; the death of a child or parent; the death of a marriage or relationship; the death of a job or sense of self? Death, however it comes to us, in any of its guises or disguises, even if long expected and planned for, is not a time of victory, or joy or wonder, but of defeat, and sadness and bewilderment. Whatever it is that has died, we have lost something, and that in itself is painful. And that was certainly true of this death and all that the disciples could do was talk, and remember, and cry. And that is what we find happening on this old Roman road that runs from Jerusalem to the sea: Cleopas and his companion walking, and talking and remembering. Then, like now, the only things that help when someone or something has died is to walk, and to talk and to remember, even as our memory is dimmed by grief and all around us seems to be getting darker.
But Cleopas and his companion had more to talk about than their memories and their grief; they had rumours of resurrection to ponder for that very morning “some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed 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:….”1 Rumours of resurrection! Even on the very day of excruciating defeat and sadness and bewilderment; rumours of resurrection. Even on that day of all days of grief and guilt and loss, rumours of resurrection.
When death comes to us, it comes in a haze of defeat, and sadness and bewilderment; it comes to us in the mist of grief and guilt and loss; it comes to us in darkness and despair as if night is approaching not just out there, but in here, in the heart as well: the darkness of night and despair it indeed almost here, the light of life and day is indeed nearly gone.2 Yet into the darkening night walks the light; out of the tomb comes life. And that is the larger life promised to us on the road to Emmaus: light, not darkness, life, not death. On the road to Emmaus; breaking open the word; in that house along the way; gathered at that table, and sharing the bread our eyes are opened and we begin to see the larger life promised to us by Jesus.
Cleopas and his companion saw before them not a ghost or a vision but the reality of larger life that is possible in Jesus when we see that the grave and death are not the end but the gate and door to something much larger. Cleopas and his companion saw before them not a ghost or a vision but the reality of larger life that proclaims that victory can come from defeat, hope can come from despair, joy can come from sorrow, wonder can come from bewilderment, sight can come even in approaching darkness.
The larger life of Christ’s resurrection is a life of victory and joy and wonder. It is a life of hope that tells us that death, in any of its forms or guises or disguises, is not the end but the gate and door or something new. It is this larger life of victory and joy and wonder that we are invited into whenever we feel burdened by grief and guilt and loss. It is this larger life of hope and wonder that we are called to whenever we are overcome by sadness and despair. It is this larger life that Cleopas and his companion rushed back to Jerusalem to proclaim that they too had seen the Lord for in the midst of defeat and sadness and bewilderment, they had found victory and joy and wonder.
Over a century ago Mark Twain was asked by a reporter if he believed in infant baptism. Believe in it, he retorted, hell, I’ve seen it!
In a few moments we are going to proclaim that we believe in the resurrection. What if we all retorted, “believe in it, hell, I’ve seen it?” Because we have, we have.
Whenever we have seen life triumphing over death, we have seen the resurrection. Whenever we have seen victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, we have seen the resurrection. Whenever we have seen joy spring out of sadness, we have seen the resurrection. Whenever we have seen wonder bubble up out of bewilderment, we have seen the resurrection. The day is indeed far spent and night is indeed approaching, but so too is dawn, and light and life and that is what Jesus promises us.
So wherever in your life is victory; there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is joy, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is wonder, there is resurrection. Wherever in your life is resurrection there is Christ calling you to follow him out of death into his larger and more glorious life.
So friends, do you believe in the resurrection?
Believe in it? Hell, I’ve seen it!
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My wife and I visited the Louvre some years ago and was mesmerized by Rembrants Chist at Emmaus. Light surrounding the figure of Jesus seems to emanate from within the painting with Rembrandt capturing the moment of recognition. The whole thing is so alive and personal.
Encouraging words, Br. James. I have come to believe we can be an Easter people/a Resurrection people, which my priest Fr. John stressed during Easter. But putting action to words is my challenge.
In 2012 I retired from the company that I had worked for for 17 years. The next day I had knee replacement surgery. I spent the next two months in recovery with physical therapy. Now my left knee which was replaced is stronger than my right knee. The last three years has been a struggle for me in finding my way, what I needed to do. In 2013, I hit bottom, I had been drinking and got into an argument with my wife related to sin of adultery I had commited in the past which led me to try to commit suiside. I was admitted to the hospital on a 51-50. Spent the night in isolation. The next morning, when my wife came for me, I was still angry. I decided to walk home. After some time , I finally got in the car and went home. I am now in couseling with a psychitrist once a month. He has diagonoused me has having a bi-polar condition (manix condition) and ADHD which I have probably had most of my life and didn’t know it. I now take mood leveling drugs for these conditions. I no longer drink alcohol. I spend my early mornings hours reading the liturgy for the day, the SJSE sermons, and other spiritual readings. I am still finding my way through life, some days are good, some days are bad. It is not easy for me. I do know that without God’s help each day I would not make it though life. I have received forgiveness for my sins from my wife abut the larger issue which I continue to struggle with is forgiving myself. t is something that I live with each moment each day.
Christopher, I admire your openness in your post. I pray that you will be given the ability to completely surrender your life to our Lord Christ, knowing that He removes our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” Let go of your past, and trust Him to grant daily grace and courage. It sounds as if you are already doing this. May the Holy Spirit guide you in all your decisions and choices.
Good morning Christopher: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, on this Easter morning 2018. This morning’s Word from Br. James is there for all of us: New life is given to us again today. I pray that you continue to recover.
You wrote that you struggle to forgive yourself. A long time ago, I had something that I could not put behind me. I knew that God had forgiven me, but I could not forgive myself. // I was with a little group and a young woman suggested that my prayers should ask that I be ‘granted the will’ to forgive myself.//I did and discovered the release I prayed for. I have found, since then, that praying to be ‘granted the will’ comes to me in God’s good time.
With tears of joy I write to say that I needed this message in my discouragement and grief in the landscape that comes with age. Friends lost from me in death or separation, mobility diminishing, energy and brain power weakening. Your message has caused a light to shine in my darkness. I will go on with renewed faith, hope and peace.
Br. James, thanks for this good message.
The difference between Christianity and other world religions is the belief in the Resurrection.
“Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.” A dear friend is dying. She has lived the resurrection. I firmly expect to see her again.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!
A simple request: Please define
Dear Brother James,
What a wonderful story! Our deacon formation class was meeting at the Convent of St. Anne Bethany when we heard of Bishop Shaw’ s death. Your sermon gives that special hope of victory over death we learn to hold onto through in our relationship in Christ. Thank you and my deepest sympathy to you and your brothers at this difficult time. May you all know how much God loves you and walks with you as you go forward from this day in love together.
Many thanks for this remarkable sermon.
October 20, 2014 – Brother James: again thank you for this message. It continues to be so meaningful. Allene Taylor
Brother James: Thank you for these thoughts. I continue
to grieve the death of my husband – 4 years ago – two weeks after Easter. Indeed the burdens of grief, guilt, and
loss are so very sharp. Your words have helped.
This morning our Sunday School class had what I think is an exciting revelation . Cleopas’ companion on the road to Emmaus was his wife. She was at the crucifixion where his name is spelled Clopas in John 19:25. They invited Jesus to their home at the end of the day. There were probably not commercial establishments where they would go for a meal. It is not uncommon to not mention women’s names.
What do you think?
Thank you. I’m impressed with the quality of the thought and writing.
(I’ve been subscribing only 4 days.) My pastor, from our Mennonite Congregation of Boston,
recommended it to me. I cannot imagine saying anything personal in this section,
or expressing feeling, or sharing personal information–emai isn’t the right space for that.
But I am benefitting from this. I’m familiar with the Catholic contemplative tradition of
prayer, so I especially liked the essay on Prayer, recently. But each has been good.
And I will tell others about this.
thanks james, i remember walking part of the road to emmaus when john & i were there with the brothers . it makes you stop and think and believe in the resurrection. jane
Dear Brother James–I am Charlene’s friend whose wonderful husband Paul passed away May 17th. I do agree and embrace the resurrection. I know Paul is with Jesus, but I still feel so bereft. Maybe even angry that here he is with Christ and our dog and my Daddy and I’m left here to tidy up all the “stuff” alone and without him.
Via her Blackberry Charlene took me on your most wonderful trip and I loved it.
Thank you. Betsy
Thank you, Brother James, for a beautiful reflection on the story of Emmaus. I was particularly moved by the last paragraph, with the sentences beginning with, “Wherever in your life…”
It was almost like a song of joy, of resurrection. You are in my prayers.
Ditto everything you said, Kathy, even if it was two years ago. The last paragraph is indeed powerful. Thank you, Br. James.