Friday, May 2, 2014

Dagobah, Emmaus and the Recognition Problem (May the Fourth, 2014, Easter 3)

Homily:  Yr A Easter 3, May 4 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  Acts 2.14a, 36-41; Ps 19; 1 Peter 1.17-23; Lk 24.13-35

Dagobah, Emmaus and the Recognition Problem

There is a problem that I’ve noticed as I’ve listened to our Easter readings these past three Sundays.   A recurring problem which runs through the texts.   That problem is the recognition problem. 

We saw it first with Mary at the tomb on Easter morning, when she turns around and Jesus is standing there, but she thinks that he must be the gardener.  We saw it in our reading last week, when Jesus appears in the locked room with the disciples, but they don’t recognize him until he shows them his hands and sides.  We see it in our reading today, when Jesus joins Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him.

And if recognition is a problem for these first witnesses to whom Jesus appears in bodily form, how much greater a problem is it for those of us who come later!  We don’t get to see Jesus’ resurrection appearances.  We don’t get to hear him call our names the way that Mary does, we don’t get to see the wounds on his body the way that Thomas does.  And that is a problem.

Do we recognize the risen Christ in our lives?  Is God with us?  How do we recognize God’s presence?  Can we in our own time see and experience the divine in the events and activities of our lives?  Because let’s be honest.  When we proclaim “Alleluia Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed” during this Easter season, there are a lot of people who don’t see it.  There are many people, within the church and outside the church, who have a hard time recognizing God as alive and active and present in their day to day lives.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Recognition Problem is the biggest challenge facing most Christians.  We don’t want to just tell stories about the past.  We want to experience something that is alive and real and makes a difference in our lives today.

The Recognition Problem is so important that for centuries it has been and continues to be a common thread weaving its way through our stories and our mythologies.  One of the reasons that I am a big fan of Star Wars is that I love how the movies reveal in a new way the classic themes of the human story.  In the clip I’m about to show you, our hero Luke Skywalker has been sent to the planet Dagobah by his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi to become a Jedi Knight.  Luke is on a quest.  He must learn the ways of the Force, and to do so he will have to become a disciple of Yoda.   So with his droid R2D2 he sets off in his space ship, but when he gets to Dagobah, his ship crashes into a swamp, and there is a recognition problem.

So why doesn’t Luke recognize Yoda?  Well, Luke is looking for something, but he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for.  He thinks he’s looking for a great warrior, a Jedi Master, and he has certain expectations of what that should look like.  And it certainly doesn’t look like a short ugly creature hobbling around in a swamp with a cane.  Luke is too proud to accept help when it is offered, and suffers from his own biases and preconceived notions.

It’s easy to laugh at Luke Skywalker, and perhaps there are a few lessons we can learn from his failure to recognize Yoda.  But I also want to acknowledge the very real pain that occurs when people aren’t able see or experience God in their lives.  When your life crash lands and you are alone in the swamp and God is not there, this is a real problem.   That is where the two disciples on the road to Emmaus are as our gospel story begins this morning.  “We had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.  But they crucified him.”  Our gospel begins as a story of crushed dreams, lost hope and broken hearts.  Perhaps the only thing worse than having no hope, is to have once hoped but then to hope no more.   “We had hoped . . .”  said the two on the road to Emmaus.

Some of you might remember that Jonathan preached on this very theme on Palm Sunday, and reminded us that throughout the ages, men and women have experienced the absence of God as a painful moment in their lives.  St. John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul”.  C.S. Lewis and Mother Teresa both write about their ‘dark nights’.  It is an agony which I expect is made even more acute in this Easter Season, as we listen to the shouts of “I have seen the Lord” all around us.

So why does Saint Luke tell us this particular Easter story?  After all, he had a few to choose from.  As Luke mentions at the end of the text, there was another resurrection appearance to Simon Peter that happened just down the road in Jerusalem on this same day, but Luke chose not to write about that one, and instead gives us this one the one that happened on the road to Emmaus.

Why does Luke tell us this particular story?  I think it’s because Luke recognizes the importance of the recognition problem and because he wants to make us a promise.

I’d like you to do something.   Take a look at the service booklets that we have been following this morning, and tell me this.  What are the four main section headings for our worship time together?  Have a look, they’re printed in the booklet.  The four section headings are:

·        We Gather as a Community
·        We Proclaim the Word
·        We Celebrate the Eucharist
·        We Are Sent.

That is the basic four part structure of our liturgy that we celebrate together every Sunday morning.  Now, think back to what you just heard about the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  It begins with Jesus joining the two disciples and going with them.  They gather as a community.  Then, after the disciples have told Jesus what has happened, Jesus interprets the scriptures for them, beginning with Moses and all the prophets.  He proclaims the word to them.  When that is done, and the day is nearly over, the disciples urge Jesus to stay with them and they share a meal together.  And Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them.  Or as we might say, they celebrate the eucharist.  And it is in the breaking of the bread that they recognize Jesus, and they realize how they’re hearts were burning within them even before that moment of conscious recognition when he was opening the scriptures to them.  And then, they get up and race back to Jerusalem to find the others and tell them what had happened.  They are sent.

·        We Gather as a Community
·        We Proclaim the Word
·        We Celebrate the Eucharist
·        We Are Sent.

It is no coincidence that the four movements of Luke’s story and the four movements of our worship here this morning are the same.  Luke’s story was shaped by the worship of the early Christian community, and our worship has been shaped for centuries by Luke’s gospel. 

So this is no coincidence.  What it is, is a promise.  The promise Luke is making to those of us who experience the recognition problem, the promise Luke is making to those of us who are broken-hearted, the promise that Luke is making to those of us who are experiencing the dark night of the soul is this:  in Christian worship you will encounter the risen Christ.  In the gathering of the community, in the proclaiming of the word, in the breaking of the bread, Christ is present.

Christian worship is a solution to the recognition problem.  It’s not the only solution, we can experience and recognize God in all sorts of ways in our lives.  And it’s not a magical solution, it’s not going to give you a guaranteed experience of what you expect to see every time.  But our worship together each Sunday morning is an opportunity to recognize the presence of God in our midst, and that’s something that we learn to do together.  It is in this gathering that broken hearts can become hearts that burn with joy within us, and that we can dare to say together, “We have seen the Lord.”


No comments:

Post a Comment