The Third Sunday of Easter

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 24:13-35

When I was a child – six or seven years old – my grandmother gave me a magnifying glass. Much to my delight, I discovered that if I held the glass a certain way, in bright sunlight, I could concentrate the sunlight into a strong beam. And if I kept the glass in the same place and concentrated the beam on to some object – say paper – long enough, I could actually burn a hole in it–even start a flame. That was the first time I caught our pasture on fire. (The other time was with matches, but that’s another story for another time.)

My point is the magnifying glass served to collect many rays of sunshine and focus them into one beam. And there are times in our lives that are like the concentration of sunlight through a magnifying glass—times when things come together for us, when events that have seemed unrelated, or that make no sense, are suddenly shown to have meaning.

Sometimes we see this process happening with our children (or if you don’t have children who are grown perhaps you can remember your own “growing up” experience). Teenagers struggle for months, for years, to become adults. Most have no idea what they want. They have no idea where they’re going. They have no idea of who they are. Then, often without our realizing it as parents, something happens. Their lives begin to come together. Our children, who seemed perpetually mired in the conflicts of adolescence, begin to take on new aspects of maturity. They grow up.

Sometimes we see this “magnifying glass” effect in our marriages. We can spend years of our lives together with a spouse, going on, day to day, often oblivious to all but the present. Then we have a major anniversary, or a child is born or there is some crisis or tragedy—death or divorce. We think about all that has happened to us, together. The seemingly unrelated experiences of years become focused by such passages.

Such times hold the potential for helping us to redirect our lives, to improve a relationship or provide closure to an ending one, because now events and feelings become clearer. There is a new understanding—a concentrated focus on that relationship, on that part of our lives.

To use another image, we are like mountain climbers for much of our lives investing all the energy we have in the scaling of a high peak. While we’re climbing, we fix our eyes upward on where we’re going. We don’t look back on where we’ve been until we reach the summit. And yet, it is only from that vantage point that we can really and truly see (and marvel) at the panorama – the landscape – that lies before us, and we become focused in a new way.

I remember when I began the “official” discernment process for the priesthood. I entered the church’s vocational testing program with both fear and resentment. The priesthood was something I thought God wanted me to do. I was fairly certain it was something I didn’t want to do.

Fortunately, for me, the discernment program was 18 months back then, and by the end of that time, through reflection and prayer, the support of my church and my friends, and the various stages and work that that program requires, I was able to enter seminary, not because I thought it was something I had to do but because it was something I wanted to do.

I was focused and that empowered me (or maybe I should say us, since it was a life change for Robyn and Ian as well) for some difficult times that followed—times of hard work, family separation (for months at a time), learning to live with no money after having lots of money, relatively. (That one wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be.) But it was a “magnifying glass” time in our lives, when things came into focus for us, helping us realize what was important, what was essential, what was truly meaningful in our lives.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus had a similar moment of insight, I think, which began when they talked, on the afternoon of the Resurrection, with the risen Christ. Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple were discussing the terrible events of the past week and trying to figure out what went wrong for Jesus and themselves. Apparently they weren’t making much progress as they walked and talked. Their heads were still spinning from all that had taken place.

Then, suddenly, a stranger joined them. Jesus, whom they didn’t recognize, wanted to know what they were discussing. Their answer sounds like an ancient creed, for they spoke of Jesus’ mighty deeds, his condemnation and crucifixion, the hopes they had had about his ability to redeem the nation of Israel, and the incredible report of the women who had found the tomb empty, but for two angels.

The stranger began to respond to them by “opening the scriptures,” explaining references in the Bible about the messiah and what would happen to him. And the stranger’s words so moved the disciples that when they arrived at their destination they invited him to stay and eat with them.

As they sat down to the meal, there was a moment of supreme, focused clarity. When Jesus took the bread, broke it and blessed it and gave it to them, they suddenly recognized and knew who he was. In a flash, the conversation of that afternoon came back to them and helped them see the reality of all that Christ had had to endure, and all that he had overcome through his resurrection.

If the description of Jesus’ actions with the bread sound familiar, it should, since we re-call and re-create that event each week here together. It is a powerful moment – a focused moment – and it is at the heart of our faith—the presence of Christ in the breaking of the bread.

And in this “magnifying glass” moment of breaking bread, the Emmaus disciples saw the bigger picture. They were able to go back to the other disciples in Jerusalem that very night and tell them that the women weren’t crazy after all—that Jesus was, indeed, risen, and that his suffering and death were all part of God’s plan for nothing less than the salvation of humankind.

In the sharing of the meal on the evening of the resurrection, two persons whose lives had been ripped apart by the crucifixion were offered the grace of wholeness again. Jesus had joined them, talked with them, explored their fears, sounded their disappointment, confronted their confusion, heard their hopelessness, and opened for them the scriptures.

Suddenly, his fire burned in their hearts and their fears were set aside, their confusion was relieved, their hopelessness abandoned, and the diffuse, diverse strands of their lives were pulled together, completely, maybe for the very first time.

They realized that the changes they had dreamed of were up to them now, but they were equipped for that work with the power that Jesus had won on the cross propelling them forward.

In that magnifying glass moment, they recognized that Christ was the victor. They were no longer afraid; they were no longer alone. They set out on their way into the darkness, but with a focused, concentrated light in their lives to lead them.

During this Easter season (and always), may our lives, like the lives of the Emmaus disciples, find renewed focus, discover rekindled hope, and receive empowerment such as we have never known before, as we meet the risen Lord, and recognize and proclaim his presence in and to the world.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit