|Window at Leicester Cathedral |
photo by Amanda Slater / flickr
Easter had come and gone. Two of the disciples had heard the rumors that the tomb was empty but they had not seen him. And so those two followers—living through the horror of Jesus on the cross—couldn’t get it out of their heads. They tried to change the subject--but they both kept coming back to what had happened. And then we read I guess the saddest words in the Bible: "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
We’ve all been there—most of us. We had hoped. We turned away from the grave—where we had buried so much. And like those two in the story we shuffle back trying to change the subject. We had hoped. We had hoped to go on that trip we always talked about. We had hoped we would have had more years. We had hoped maybe to see him graduate from college and get married and maybe one day even grandchildren. We had hoped maybe, just maybe we would win the Final Four. I watched those players slowly make their way to the locker rooms.Team after team. They played so hard and lost. Heads down. Defeated. We had hoped the Doctors could have stopped it. We had hoped that life would have been different. Or, as that character said in the old play, Winterset, “How have I come to this sunken end of a street, at a life’s end?” We had hoped. We know this Emmaus road. You and I. Hoping the marriage would work out. Hoping we would be able to help him or her. We had hoped.
|photo by Chris Brooks / flickr|
Except those of us who have walked the Emmaus Road know it isn’t exactly that easy. Oh, we had hoped…we had hoped. But it was not to be—we thought. For on that road where those two tried so hard to forget a stranger came and wanted to know what they were talking about.
And they poured it all out. They told of the last supper in that Upper Room. Jesus washing their feet. The Garden where he prayed and the soldiers that came and Judas that kissed him. They told this man about that rigged trial where the crowd laughed and spit on him as the soldiers stripped him naked. And they told this stranger about the ugly crowd that yelled crucify him. And they told him that just three days before they had nailed Jesus to the cross like a criminal. It seemed so long ago. And then they spoke of black Saturday when nobody said a word. We had hoped they said softly.
That was then. But this is now. What does that long hard road mean and why did Luke be the only writer that gave us the story? It means, folks we are not alone. Like the old song, “We’ll never walk alone…”
But know this, often we don’t even know that he is with us. Like those two that Easter
evening. And we discover that this stranger is no stranger. No wonder we keep singing, And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own…”Hoping…hoping.
|photo by Petros Gagilas / flickr|
But remember the story. The writer Buechner says: “It is precisely at such times as these that Jesus is apt to come into the very midst of life and its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of some sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but…at supper time, or just walking along a road.”
Look at the accounts after Easter. Mary crying her eyes at the tomb and Jesus calling her name. Thomas and all the others behind locked doors—scared they would be next. And the Risen Christ coming to Thomas and to them all. Or John’s story of Peter and the others going fishing. Just going fishing. And they fished all night and guess what—these fishermen caught nothing. Fisherman. And from the shore someone said, “Cast your nets on the other side…” And it worked. There were so many fish the nets almost broke. And they squinted their eyes toward the shore. "Who said that?" And it was Jesus. Jesus on the seashore.
Maybe the Emmaus story means that the times that he comes are maybe everyday moments. Maybe this is how he comes. Sitting down at a meal. A simple meal. No turkey and dressing and a linen tablecloth and the finest silver. Just a simple meal. This is how he comes. Just a little old ninety year old nun in a wheel chair cheering her team and the tiny moment caught fire and everybody knew. Maybe it is always in the simple things when Jesus comes.
Oh I know we would have told the story differently. We'd put flyers out everywhere. We'd rent a plant and have Jesus is alive...emblazoned across the heavens. We'd even begin to sing: He’ll be coming round the mountain when he comes. We will all go out to meet him when he comes. We will cook chicken and dumplings when he comes. We will all go out to meet him when he comes. We'll all be shouting' Alleluias when he comes..." Not quite folks. The Emmaus us story is always different than we thought. Not brass bands. No Alleluias. So quiet you could hardly hear a pin drop.
Let me tell you a story that I think fits when I’m trying to say. We didn’t have a baptistry when I was Pastor here like we do today. We used the old church which was right out there where the Fellowship Hall is when we baptized. And every baptism took place over there across the street. And when it was time for my son, Matthew and the Mattox’s son, Matthew and Paul Caffrey to be baptized we planned it for a Sunday night—for we had services at night back in the dark ages. Very dark. We had been on vacation and came in on Sunday afternoon to get ready for baptism and somebody called up and said, “Uh, somebody forgot to fill the baptistry.” “What!” “We’ve got all these people coming to the baptism in and and we planned this date for Bernie Caffrey because he was very sick with cancer and we scheduled that service between his chemo sessions, He could come this night. And besides our son and Matthew Mattox were to be baptized.” The man that brought the news said, “Well, what are we going to do?” I kinda muttered, “I don’t believe I could get by with sprinkling them. Might lose my job.” I thought and thought and said, “Maybe we could use the Lynch’s swimming pool.” Well, I called them and told them I had a strange request—there was no water in our baptistry and we had three candidates that we had to baptize. Could we bring the church out to your house and let us use your swimming pool in about, say forty-five minutes.” Long pause. Then they said yes. So when people came to church that night we told them that we had a contingency plan. We were going to have baptism any the Lynch’s house. Everybody looked at each other. The preacher had done a lot of weird things—but nothing like this. Baptizing in a swimming pool--like the Jehovah's Witnesses! Well, I was sick at heart. I could just see people standing around giggling and making fun and calling out things like: “Is the water cold?” “Preacher, can you swim?” But that did not happen.
Like the Emmas Road—on that Sunday night when people surrounded that pool…something special happened. I will never forget it. We baptized both the Matthews and then Paul. And I had asked Paul’s Daddy, who was dying from cancer…and who had once been a Priest—to lead us in a Prayer of Dedication. So—Bernie—bald headed and lean from the chemo—reached in his pocket and unfolded a piece of paper and asked us to pray. And this is what he prayed:
"Heavenly Father, at this time we would like to dedicate these young people to You as they choose to become members of Your intimate family through the sacrament of baptism. Remember how You led Your chosen people out of Egypt by Your show of power at the waters of the Red Sea? Please show the same power for these boys tonight and protect them as You protect all your children. Remember how You led your chosen people through the waters of the river Jordan to let them enter the promised land? Please lead these boys through the trials and joys of life to the heaven You promised to those who follow Your way. Remember how You gave salvation to the world by the blood and water that flowed from Your Son’s side on the cross? Please give the same salvation to these boys as they enter the waters of baptism as Your adopted sons. Remember how You sent the Holy Spirit to Your close followers of Pentecost and gave them the courage to be brave Christians in their words and actions. Please send the same Holy Spirit into these boys tonight so that they can carry out Your teachings in their lives. Be with us all, Heavenly Father, so that we can also live out the power of our baptism in our own lives. Amen." It was a holy moment.
And when it was over Dr. Caffrey took the boys out to McDonalds for a celebration. It was the last public appearance that Daddy ever made. We had his funeral here just a few weeks later.