Easter 3A 2011/May 8 - Luke 24:13-35
We Have Seen The Lord!
Notice how much detail, time and attention Luke and the other gospels give to the Resurrection in comparison to the Crucifixion which is usually summed up in a sentence or two. And notice as well how often the resurrected Jesus is not immediately recognized – suggesting that his appearance has changed, been transformed or transfigured.
And further consider that we have no first-hand, primary documentation of what his appearance was like when he was a man walking about Galilee and Judea telling stories, healing people and feeding people. And of course no one witnessed the resurrection itself. What we have are recorded episodes of his appearing to people after the resurrection, but no record of his rising from the dead itself. All of which makes it perfectly reasonable to consider that it is not only possible but probable that Jesus can and does appear to us today. For the fact remains, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
Evidently, according to the narrative before us, there are at least two signs associated with seeing or have seen Jesus – hearts on fire, and the breaking of bread. There very well may be other signs, but these are the two highlighted by Luke’s telling of the tale.
In April 1985 I traveled with an interfaith delegation to Munich Germany. Our President was visiting Germany and was about to honor dead Nazi SS soldiers buried in a cemetery near Bitburg. Our group was traveling to honor the lives of young people who had given their lives warning the German people what was really happening to their country both on the Russian Front and in the Concentration Camps. These young people, university students at the time, called themselves the White Rose, and most were executed for distributing pamphlets calling the German people to put a stop to the Nazi excesses. We were there to honor the survivors.
Part of our trip was to conduct a memorial service in Dachau, a concentration camp on the outskirts of Munich. One of my travel companions was Ernie Michel who had been interned in Auschwitz. As we entered Munich on the bus from the airport memories of Munich when he was young came back to him – from the train station, he said, one could see and smell the smoke from the crematories at Dachau. It would have been impossible not to know what was happening. Ernie spoke at the memorial service we held in the camp, recalling how his closest childhood friends had turned against him when they joined the Nazi Youth.
It is what happened after the memorial service, however, that I recall most vividly. We had an hour to walk about the camp where there was still a barracks standing, and a building with the crematory ovens. Then along an outside wall of the camp was a gateway into a convent where an order of nuns pray day and night as a witness to what had happened there at Dachau. I wandered in, prayed quietly in the chapel, and then went back out into the camp, which was largely an empty space. It had begun to snow. I saw a man on a bicycle coming toward me, dressed with a cape and a hat making him look like something out of a black and white movie, perhaps the priest who says mass for the nuns I thought. But looking like the courier in old war movies delivering a message to the front.
He climbed off the bike and came right over to me and began to tell his tale: he had worked with young people in the Lutheran Church, was eventually arrested and placed in Dachau where he spent the rest of the war. His story was half in English and half in German. He was trying to describe the things he saw there. He was animated and intense, arms flailing in the snow and wind. When it seemed he was finished I thanked him and started to head back to my group when he grabbed me by the arm and began speaking with great animation, now all in German, now very intense, with a determination to tell me the whole story. Was the snow swirling about us? Or, were we swirling back in time? I know not a word of German, but he kept speaking of the necessity for Peace – shalom – in the world. When he finished, he placed a pamphlet in my hand, thanked me for listening, got back on his bicycle and rode off.
The Madman of Dachau, I thought to myself. Every story has its madman. Even all these years later, he cannot escape this place. He cannot stop telling the tale, as if were he to stop all might be forgotten. As if were he to stop we might never learn the lessons we need to learn. As if were he to stop the truth might be lost forever. It has only been on further reflection and recollection of this chance meeting in the austere remnants of the first of the camps that I have concluded that this was no madman at all – this was the Risen Lord. Was not my heart burning as he told his tale? Is not his tale the same as that of the Palestinian Jew Jesus who wandered about his country telling the story of God’s people to anyone who would listen?
Jesus is alive – it is we who are often dead to his presence – or at best sleepwalking through this life, numbed by all the countless other concerns competing for our attention. Note, that it is in reading and re-reading the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament that led the companions on the way to Emmaus to finally recognize the stranger. That, and when he took bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread and gave it to them, suddenly he was there, if only for a moment.
Companion. It literally means “with bread” – those who share bread. Each time we break bread we are meant to see the Risen Lord there at table with us – in the face of whoever is across the table from us – in the face of the stranger on the street, on the train, on the plane, at the mall, at the Route One Service Center, at the Second Sunday Farmers Market. Not all appearances of the Risen Lord will be as dramatic as that snowy day inside the walls of Dachau – but perhaps all of life is bounded by those walls. Perhaps all of life takes place on the cross – waiting to move from there to the empty tomb and beyond.
Some women told a tale of an empty tomb. Two companions walking to Emmaus ran back to Jerusalem to tell a tale. Someone somewhere is waiting for us to tell our tale. Know him in the breaking of the bread. He is here when our hearts burn within us. He is here. He is with you wherever you are. One day someone will see the Risen Lord in you as you tell your tale. Amen.