This is the message that was preached at the 11:00 Easter service at the First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights. I hope that it stimulates your thinking concerning the ways that you and I are called to respond to the great news of the Resurrection.
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
I wonder what the disciples would think if they were to show up in worship anywhere in North America on Easter Sunday. It seems to me that today, more than just about any other day in the church year, is marked by a sense of disconnect between the way that we do it now and the way that it was in their day.
Here’s what I mean: in just about any church you would happen into this morning, you’ll see a tightly choreographed, highly scripted service of worship. Most churches will see more people in their pews today than on any other day of the year. We’ve been here practicing extra music, arranging special flowers, cleaning places that are not usually cleaned… When it comes to Easter, really, it’s the “Super Bowl” for most pastors and churches, isn’t it? We don’t want any surprises, we don’t want to leave anything to chance. In all honesty, this is the one crack we get at a few of you, and we don’t want to blow it.
Compare that desire for control and order with the experience of the disciples on that first Easter morning. As we read through any of the accounts of that day, but particularly as we compare them, it becomes pretty plain that by and large, confusion reigned on that day.
In terms of the details, for instance: who went to the tomb on Easter? Matthew tells us that two women named Mary were there. Mark says, “You know, there were two Marys, but I think that Salome was there, too.” Luke refers to two women named Mary, someone named Joanna, and “the other women”. And John only wants to talk about Mary Magdalene.
How many angels did we encounter? Matthew, John, and Mark all talk about one young man in white, while Luke insists that there were two of them.
But more than the details about who was standing where and talking to whom, we see in the accounts of the first Easter a sense of disbelief and distrust. People are telling stories, but they’re not always being believed. The followers of Jesus are on edge – and who could blame them? Their leader had just been executed by the State. Would they be next? Had the body been stolen? Just what were they supposed to make out of all these events?
There is a sense of disappointment as we understand that for many of these men and women, their hopes had been dashed. They thought that they had things all figured out, and then he got killed. They were just starting to find a way to deal with that grief, and then his body is missing and people are telling wild stories. How in the world are they supposed to know what’s true?
Have you ever seen one of those “Where’s Waldo” games? There’s a young man, dressed in a fairly obvious costume, is hidden in a crowd scene. Your job is to find the “Waldo” character and not be distracted by all of the other details or information.
It seems to me that much of the way that we experience religion in our world today is like Where’s Waldo. That is, we feel as though it’s up to us to discover the secret code or the hidden knowledge that exists. There are answers, we’re told; there are hints – but they don’t jump out at us. We’ve got to carefully piece together the clues, and trust the professionals, and somehow, hope against hope that it all makes sense in the end. Oftentimes, we’re told that there is one right answer, and if we don’t see it or latch onto it in the exact same way as the person next to us, well, one of us is toast.
How different is that from the first Easter? In our text for this morning, for instance, two of Jesus’ followers are leaving town, dejected, because they’ve been disappointed. They’ve clearly gotten it wrong. They thought that they knew what was going to happen; they thought that they knew where Waldo was. But the events of Holy Week didn’t fit their construct, so they leave town in a slump.
Jesus comes to them, and spends the entire day describing to them exactly how he could be found – not merely in one specific place, but throughout the entire witness of God’s people. There is no disappointment, said Jesus, but only the creation living into God’s intent. The image looks a little different than we thought it did but it’s a true image nevertheless. And Jesus says that he’s not just in one little spot, but that he fills the entire frame.
In fact, a larger view of the first Easter points to confusion, all right – but confusion that is caused by Jesus showing up all over the place. In this one day, we have reports of him talking in the Garden with Mary, and encountering the Marys as they are on their way home from the tomb, and meeting somewhere with Peter, and showing up in the Upper Room with the Disciples – in addition to the conversation he has on the road to Emmaus. It’s not that there’s one Jesus, hidden in the midst of the larger world. Jesus permeates the entire creation that Easter Sunday.
This is what I mean. We are modern, rational, thoughtful creatures. And so when we have a question about the universe or the creation, we typically start with ourselves. I look at my life and I say, “This is me. This is my reality. Now, where does God fit into that reality? How can I fit Jesus into the things that are important to me, or that I like doing?
But I think that’s backwards.
God is up to something in the world. The creation has a destiny. History has a purpose. God is alive and active…that’s where I start. The best first question is, “where do I fit into that thing that God is already doing in the world?”
If I begin with “Where in the world will I find God?”, then I’m playing “Where’s Waldo?” But if I begin with, “Where in God do I find myself in the world, then maybe I’m looking at an image like this – one that I made using photographs of people and places I’ve seen in the last ten years. You see – it’s a picture of Jesus, but it’s made up of more than 5000 separate images of us. If you’ve been on an all-church retreat, or a mission trip, or at a picnic, or another church event in the past ten years, you’re somewhere in this image.
What I’m suggesting is that we make a mistake when we make ourselves and our understanding the grounding point for reality. What if we start with the assumption that Jesus of Nazareth is the center of the universe, and our lives and the rest of the universe make sense in light of who he is and what he has done?
Now, as a preacher, I could go in a couple of different ways here. I could read you that wonderfully sentimental old poem called “Footprints in the Sand”, about the person who had a dream that God was carrying him through all the really difficult moments of his life. Do you know that poem? Isn’t it lovely? Wouldn’t it be nice if the preacher used that poem on Easter Sunday to tell you that Jesus is, and always has been present with you? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a warm Easter glow?
Well, yeah, I’m not going to go there. I’d like to read you a poem – but a slightly different one. It’s a message that points to the same truth: the Lord of Life, the author of the universe, the firstborn of all creation has come and lived and died and rose again for you and for me. And this poem asks the question, “if that is true – if Easter is the statement of God’s amazing love and powerful work on our behalf – then doesn’t that invite some sort of response from me? Really – If Jesus Christ is the center of the universe, and he gave himself for me, what am I to do next? Listen:
One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.
But then some strange prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
“But Lord, they are too big for feet.”
“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you along.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”
“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you on your butt.”
“Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”
OK, that poem is meant to be funny – but there is a point. As your pastor, I do want you to know that there is no place that you can go or ever will go that is past the reach of God’s saving love and power. You are carried, held, loved, and treasured. But as your pastor, I also want you to know that you have the opportunity to respond to the workings of God in your life and in the world. More than the opportunity, you have the ability to respond. And more than the ability, you have the responsibility to respond.
Jesus Christ is risen today…what are you going to do? The late Keith Green once sang, “Jesus rose from the dead/You can’t even get out of bed”
Beloved, this is the core message of Easter: that it matters. The universe matters. The creation matters. You matter. You matter enough to God to prompt him to suffer, die, and defeat death once and for all. God is committed to the universe – including you and me – so much that he did not allow death to have the final say. I know that these things matter to God.
I wonder if they matter to you. What will you do in response to that which has been done on our behalf? That’s the key question, I think, that informs all of our choices – how we spend our money, what we do with our time, how we view our relationships – everything.
Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia. Can you choose to do something heroic as a way of saying “Thank you” for the gift of that resurrection? Will you live your life as though his life made a difference?
There are so many ways that you can respond to the gift and presence of life in the world. Maybe the best thing you can do is to have that real, true, and authentic conversation with the person you’ve been stonewalling for a long time. Maybe you can offer forgiveness to the one who has wounded you. Maybe you need to find the strength to stop hiding in an addictive behavior, or get help with the compulsions that could ruin you. Maybe you could get off the couch a little more and use your time and energy to improve someone else’s life.
None of these things will mean somehow get God to like you a little better. But each of them is a way of centering yourself in the story that begins and ends with His amazing love and life-changing presence. Don’t do any of these things for him – do them because as you make these decisions that indicate you value life and love, you grow more fully into the person that he created you to be.
You don’t have to go out looking for Jesus. Trust me, he’s looking for you. I guess my question is, what do you want to be doing when he finds you? Amen.
 I am unsure who wrote this – it is listed most often as “anonymous”, while sometimes it is attributed to someone named Sam Glen.
 “Asleep in the Light”, from No Compromise (1978).