I wasn’t very good at math during my elementary and high school years. Oh, I could add, subtract, multiply and divide, but when it came to algebra and variables and quadratic equations, I would always get pretty stumped. I just didn’t get it… why did the order of operations matter? And why couldn’t “x” just be a constant? Of course, there were perfectly good reasons why these things were so, but it was over my head at the time… seemingly just beyond my grasp. Although I did a little better with geometry, it was oft reported and never denied by family, friends and teachers that math was not Kemper’s strong suit. Later, during my first year in college, I struggled a bit with calculus, which was really just a reprise of advanced algebra and trigonometry, all wrapped up into a nice, neat, inscrutable bundle. Nice for some, I suppose, but not so much for me. Wrestling with all of the equations seemed like nothing more than an exercise in futility. I just didn’t see the use in it.
So, you can imagine my trepidation when, in my sophomore year, it was time for me to take on elementary statistics. Joy. This course was, for many, a GPA-spoiler… the bane of their academic existence. But it was part of the core curriculum and there was no getting out-of-it. And, for once, I got a break. A friend who was a year ahead of me in school—and about as good at math as I was—took me aside one day, looked me in the eye, and gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. He said, “When you sign up to take statistics, take it from Professor Lewis VanBrackle. Don’t take it from anyone else except VanBrackle. Even if his class fills up and you have to wait ‘til next semester to take it from him… wait for it. You won’t be sorry.” “Is he easy?” I asked. “No,” said my friend. “He can teach.” Well, I took that advice to heart, and I’m glad I did. Taking statistics from VanBrackle was a game-changer for me. Not only did I make my very first “A” in a math course, I learned—and I mean really learned—statistics backwards, forwards and sideways. He helped me take concepts I already knew (OK, sort of knew…) and use them to solve real-world problems. Professor Lewis VanBrackle “opened my mind” to a whole new understanding of the mechanics and meaning of math (yes, even the value of quadratic equations…) which would come in very handy throughout the remainder of my college years and career in state and federal government service. It’s amazing how, sometimes, something just “clicks.”
And that’s apparently what happened with “the eleven and their companions” in today’s Gospel story. Something finally “clicked” for them, and that something was Jesus opening their minds to understand the scriptures. What a moment that must have been. Some of you may be wondering why today’s reading is from Luke’s Gospel. Aren’t we still in Lectionary Year B? Isn’t this the year of Mark? Why don’t we take a reading from that Gospel? And it’s a fair question. But if you think about it, you’ll understand why. This is Eastertide, the season after the Resurrection. And between now and Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Resurrection, the Gospel readings will all be focused on helping us better understand the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and ministry through examination of the stories of his post-resurrection meetings and final teachings with the disciples. And there’s just not a lot of that in Mark. Mark is the shortest of all of the Gospel accounts and, in its original form, on the morning of the resurrection, after the two Marys and Salome find the empty tomb and run back in terror and amazement to tell the other disciples, the narrative ends rather abruptly with: “And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” [Mic drop] That’s it. Good stuff, to be sure, but no meetings… no teachings. So, no bits from Mark during Eastertide. But not to worry, we’ll get back to Mark long around June. Meanwhile, we’ll be reading some Luke… and a bunch of John. Because Eastertide is all about final meetings and teachings.
Just before today’s meeting with the remaining members of his inner circle in that upper room in Jerusalem, Jesus had met and opened the eyes (and hearts) of a couple of other disciples on the road to Emmaus. You remember the story: How Jesus met Cleopas and another follower as they trudged the seven miles or so home from Jerusalem. They were still reeling with disbelief and discouragement about Jesus’ arrest and execution. They had had such high hopes… but now it was all over. Sure, there were rumors of a “resurrection,” but what’s the chance of that ever happening? And so, Jesus had to school them a bit, there as they walked down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho together. He reminded them of things they already knew on one hand (the Law and the Prophets and all of Hebrew Scripture)… and then helped them “connect the dots” so that they could better perceive the hand of God at work in the world. It was all right there in front of their noses, and had been all along: had it not been prophesied that “the Messiah should suffer these things [before entering] into his glory?” So, instead of the end… might this be a new beginning? And then, later, came the real kicker: “When he was at table with them, [Jesus] took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight”. Apparently, Cleopas and the other disciple were so jazzed that they ran straight back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven about their revelation, arriving just ahead of Jesus, himself (Luke 24:13-35). Brilliant.
Thinking in terms of the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and ministry, I’d like to propose a couple of “takeaways” from the Road to Emmaus story and our Gospel lesson today. The first is that we have to make ourselves available to Jesus. He’s always close by… nearer than we think, but he’ll rarely force himself upon us, unless of course there is a particularly difficult or dangerous mission that requires undertaking (just ask the Apostle Paul… or the Prophet Jonah, for that matter). No. We must invite Jesus to be our companion on the road and accept him into our “safe space.” Grace abounds. Salvation is always at hand, but we must step into Jesus’ saving embrace. And we do that by walking beside him, breaking bread with him, listening to him and striving to take up his mission of spreading the Good News of God’s Kingdom.
And the second takeaway is that joy comes with the morning. We have an Enemy. Never doubt that. There is a great darkness in the world. Life can be hard. There is pain—unimaginable and unrelenting pain—and humiliation and injustice that threatens to undermine our faith and steal away our hope. We writhe as we undergo the scourgings of this life. But joy comes with the morning.
The Enemy in his malice might try and steal our hope… and seem to kill it… and bury it behind a great stone sealed with all of the ingenuity humans can muster, and yet, joy comes with the morning.
Despite all of the violence and suffering and death endemic to our world, travesties in which we are all complicit to one degree or another, even during the darkest night, the Good News remains as a beacon of salvation. As the prophets foretold, and as the resurrection proves, death is not the end. Joy comes with the morning.
And so, my brothers and sisters, during this season after the Resurrection, or perhaps we should call it our season of Resurrection,let’s recommit ourselves to a closer walk with Jesus on the road he has set before us, and allow him to open our minds, as we open our lives to the Good News of God in Christ. Despite all of the darkness and tragedy of this life, let us hold fast to the hope embodied in our risen Messiah.
We must never forget: Joy comes with the morning.