Living in the presence of the risen Christ

Easter 3A

In the name of Christ, our risen Savior.  Amen.

Emotions are such a funny thing.  They can feel so huge for us.  But no matter how big we feel them, they’re still just our own.  We can share them – we can express them.  But only we can truly feel them.

When I was in my hospital chaplaincy training, one of the things that some of my colleagues got “caught” saying to patients was, “I feel your pain.”  My supervisor quickly tried to knock that phrase out of any of us.  “You can NOT feel their pain,” she’d say.  “And frankly, as a patient lies suffering in a hospital, it can seem really condescending to hear someone say that.  You don’t know their pain.  Even if you’ve been through the same kind of situation they’re in – you could only know your own pain.  And only they can know their own pain.”  What she knew was that these budding young chaplains were trying to offer comfort, but that the comfort they tried to offer couldn’t be true.  She advised that we could tell people that we feel for them in their pain, but that was about it.  And frankly, often that’s enough to bring some measure of comfort.

Emotions are sort of that way, too.  Even if others can recognize them, or even feel similar versions of them from their own perspectives, each of us has our own.

It can feel strange to feel some feeling so strongly, but not to have others in on it.  Christmas is particularly torturous for me, because when I buy a present for Michael I get really excited about it and don’t want to wait until Christmas Day to share my joy.  It’s strange living in that place of anticipated excitement when I’m all alone in it.  Or, I remember when we lost our beloved Chihuahua, Rocky last year.  The sadness I felt was so profound.  It felt like it should have spilled out of me into everyone else.  But it didn’t.  It was my own.  Michael had his own, and sharing that made me feel less alone, but beyond the two of us, the world just didn’t seem to align with our experience of it.

That’s the kind of story I see when I read this story of Christ appearing to Cleopas and the other disciple.  Their world had been shattered.  Their dreams for the future and their understanding of how God acts in the world had been shattered.  The very foundations of their faith had been rent asunder.  Then they encountered this man – this stranger – who seemed entirely unmoved by the chaos that now defined them.  Their feelings were so big (at least to them), but they weren’t enough to move this man who seemed beyond them.

The thing is, he was beyond them.  His experience and his understanding surpassed theirs.  It’s not that he didn’t know about the things of the past few days, it’s that he knew the same truth that the women knew, except intimately – in his own experience.

He was, in fact, the risen Christ, but their worldview prevented them from really understanding that.

How many times do we, in our own lives, miss encounters with the risen Christ?  Maybe we catch it in hindsight from time to time, but how many times do we miss it because we’re distracted by our own myopia – by our own shallow interpretation of the world?

One thing I truly believe: there have been times when Christ was walking along beside you.  I hope there have been times when you’ve recognized Christ in your midst, but I’d be willing to bet there were times when you didn’t.  It may have been a time when some important insight was revealed to you in a new way.  It may have been a time when you became aware of the problems of the world and you suddenly, and in a new way, understood your own calling to answer that need.

These are moments of Christ’s presence.

These disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize the risen Christ, even as the scriptures were being broken open for them.  They recognized that this stranger was important and significant, but it never occurred to them that they were standing in the presence of Christ.

It wasn’t until the breaking of the bread that they finally could see.

I think that’s a big part of how this liturgy we practice works for us.  It’s not that every time the bread is broken you’ll suddenly be transported into new understanding.  But it is that when we share in these acts that have been passed to us from the very beginnings of our faith, it speaks in ways that the words we share can’t.  It speaks to us in our souls.

When Christ broke bread with these two disciples, just as he had only days before – on the night before the trauma enveloped them and became real – that’s when their eyes were opened.  That’s when they could clearly see the power behind all the words that had been said on the road.

And that’s what being a part of these traditions of our faith can be for us.  They can be ways that we come to understand the words through embodiment.  When the words aren’t enough, they live deeper truth.

God knows that the words we share are important.  I spend hours each week crafting the words that I want to share with you, and theologians and liturgists through the centuries have spent countless other hours crafting each step of the liturgy & each word of scripture we share here in this place.  But lived experience matters more than words.

Like those emotions that are ours alone, nothing speaks the truth of Christ, like living into this life through our words, and through our actions, and through the ways that we take those things with us out into the world.

We try to capture this faith – to describe it and explain it – but it’s not until we live it out that it really starts to take hold.

This Easter, as we explore the ways that Christ is living around us in new ways, look for those times when the bread is broken.  Look for those times when Christ is with you, walking along beside you, embodied in perfect strangers or even in the people we know already.  Christ is so often there, even if you’re initially unaware.  And then watch how hard it is to find words that work – when only truly living the faith will do.  Amen.