After a wild and crazy weekend, I had the opportunity to preach at church this Sunday. Our pastor got stuck in VA Beach in what is now being called Snowpocalypse 2010 and somehow I got the chance. I love to preach, but I always feel that there's got to be someone more qualified to be preaching. It's difficult for me to accept that I'm preaching, not because I'm the most qualified, but because I'm the one who was asked (and said "Yes!").
The sermon was from Luke's Gospel, chapter 24, verses 13-35, the story of the two disciples' encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. I'm always trying to teach out of what God's teaching me and this notion of Christ-centeredness has been laid heavily on me as of late.
The idea I wanted to communicate was simple, really: Jesus is alive...and this changes everything.
v. 13-24 Jesus' resurrection changes hopelessness into hopefulness.
The two disciples were on their way to Emmaus, this despite reports that Christ's body is missing and that people are claiming to have heard he was alive. These two seem to have given up. They'd placed such great hope in Jesus, and that hope was dashed by the death-sentence and crucifixion. The resurrection reality, that Jesus is alive, literally turned them right around. They went to Emmaus hopeless and returned to Jerusalem hopeful.
In our lives, we face things that seem immovable and immutable, problems that seem intractable, physical and social diseases that seem, despite our efforts, incurable. We see poverty and homelessness, political deadlock, racial gridlock, broken systems, broken families, broken lives, overwhelming pain and need and heart-wrenching loneliness and death and we are tempted to hit the road to Emmaus, to leave the place where we hope in Jesus to change us, to change the world. But Jesus is alive. Intractable, immovable death has been sent rolling, thundering, crashing away from that empty tomb. And so we hope. One thing has changed. Death does not have the final word. Jesus is alive. Change is possible. And so we hope.
v. 24-27 Jesus' resurrection changes Scripture from abstract to personal
These disciples had heard God's word. They grew up hearing weekly (or maybe more often than that), teaching from Moses and the law and all the prophets. They were immersed in it. And we have no reason to assume that they didn't try to live in accordance with and response to what they heard. But they believed in a What, an idea, an ethic, a covenant, a promise, maybe even a God-person, but an abstract God-person. That's one layer to Scripture, but it's not the only and it's certainly not the primary layer. Jesus "explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." He is the center and he is helping, this person who is very much alive.
Scripture easily becomes dry and stale. We don't need more ideas. Most of us don't even need to hear the ethics. We've heard more than we will ever be capable of obeying. We need to see and hear and experience the living Jesus. He makes this book unique. Without him, it's just another religious text; maybe a good one, maybe even the best, but just another one. But what if we read Scripture in the company of the One who has died and is alive again? What if he is unpacking it for us as we read? What if it's all about him? That would change everything about my experience of Scripture. At least for a while. I don't have any grand ideas that the changes will be permanent changes (else I wouldn't need him anymore), but I need them. Does Jesus being alive impact your reading of Scripture?
v. 28-35 Jesus' resurrection changes the daily minutae from meaningless to meaning-filled
He was recognized when he broke the bread. I still can't wrap my mind around that. They didn't recognize him when he showed up. They didn't recognize him by his teaching. But when he took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Jesus constantly took the little things around him - mud, spit, children, fishes, storms, coins, stones, crosses, and daily bread - and filled them with significance. This person who gave daily bread deep meaning, this person died. And the meaning died with him. Why ask for daily bread if your days are firmly numbered? But Jesus is alive.
His life means so much to us. We proclaim to the world: "Jesus is alive." But we don't live daily as if this is true. Wendy Hunter pointed this out to me after the sermon. We forget (willingly or unwillingly) and drift into the kind of lives that can be fully explained even if the body of our Lord rotted in the tomb. But he's alive and this changes everything. He won't long let us live mundane, meaning-emptied lives. All that we touch and all that we do is swept up into his massive, sovereign communion with us. We eat bread. He opens our eyes.
Jesus is alive...and this changes everything.