April 30, Third Sunday in Easter:
Sermon by Sarah Brock, postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
This summer will be the 30th year of my family’s annual vacation in Ocean City, NJ. I have a lifetime’s worth of great memories from the time we’ve spent together at the beach. But, I think some of my most cherished moments there have been walking along the beach with Grampa collecting stones. Now, there are a couple of things you need to know about collecting stones with Grampa:
1. It’s not about quantity. You don’t just go and pick up every stone you see. Each one has to be just the right size and color and shape.
2. Since each stone you choose has to be just right, you have to walk very slowly. Pausing often to inspect the stones lying on top of the bit of sand just in front of you. Reaching down and picking up all sorts to look over more closely before deciding whether to keep it or toss it back.
3. Taking a walk to collect stones with Grampa isn’t about talking. The conversation is mostly kept to ‘hey, look at this one’ or ‘let’s see what you’ve got.’ And, that’s just fine with us. Walking together and looking for stones.
This is not the only walking I’ve done. But, there is something different about these walks along the beach with Grampa that just seem different than taking a walk around the neighborhood or walking home from work or any of the other walking I’ve done. I think perhaps there is something sacred about these particular walks that make them different.
Cleopas and his companion are walking together on that first day of the week. The very same day that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. After several very long, terrifying days they walk together to Emmaus, sadly discussing the events that have passed. Perhaps, wondering what it all means. Perhaps, wondering what, if anything, has changed. Perhaps, wondering if they have changed. This, too, turns out to be a different kind of walk.
As they walk together, talking over what they have witnessed the past few days, Cleopas and his companion are joined by Jesus. And, although they are kept from recognizing him, they welcome him to join them in their journey. They tell him the story of what has happened to the one they thought would be their mighty savior. In response, Jesus interprets his life to them.
Upon arriving in Emmaus, these two disciples invite Jesus to stay with them for the night. He joins them at the supper table and, as he blesses and breaks the bread, their eyes are opened. Recognition dawns upon them in the familiar ritual of eating together.
Jesus vanishes, but the sanctity of this walk, of this meal, are only beginning to emerge for Cleopas and his companion. Only then do they recognize how their hearts burned as Jesus walked with them.
“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of the truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
These are words of Isaac Newton which I recently came across and I imagine this is much how the disciples felt following the events of Jesus’ death- diverting themselves with the familiar forms of the pebbles of ordinary life: the rhythm of walking, companionship, a shared meal at the end of a long day- while the great ocean of resurrection lay mysteriously before them.
This is how I, and I would suspect many of us, have felt in the wake of the death of a loved one. Clinging to the familiar pebbles of routine while the great ocean of resurrection lay mysteriously before me.
Resurrection is one of those concepts that is quite challenging. After all, the disciples, who actually knew Jesus and who heard him interpret the scriptures himself, had to see it to believe it! But, we don’t get to see the risen Lord in that same concrete way. So, we need to find just the right stones to carry with us as we dip our toes into the mystery of the resurrection. Something familiar and concrete that draws our attention away from the distractions of the world and keeps our eyes open to where there is resurrection in our lives. And the road to Emmaus is a trail of just such stones.
Did you notice the familiarity in the rhythm of this journey to Emmaus?
Sharing the story,
Interpretation of the Scriptures and events that have passed, Blessing and breaking of the bread,
Re-entering the wider community and sharing the good news
How about now? Sound familiar?
These are the stones that we’ve collected over the centuries to help us enter into the mystery of Christ’s resurrection. These are the stones, worn smooth by humanity’s prayers through the ages, that draw our attention away from the distractions of the world; that draw our attention away from the distractions of the beach- kids yelling and splashing water, music blaring, the noisy people on the next blanket over- and open our eyes to the wonder of creation, the joy of a moment, the victory of light over darkness as the sun breaks through the clouds to warm your back as you walk.
The victory of light over darkness as beams of color stream through the stained glass, the joy of voices joined together in song and prayer, the wonder of creation as the water is poured into the font, the bread is broken, and the wine stings your tongue. Smooth stones collected and carried with us as we, too, re-enter the wider community of our daily lives to share our journey.
For in joy and wonder and victory, we experience resurrection.
There is one more thing about this journey that feels very familiar. Cleopas and his companion experience resurrection in the context of community. Neither one of them meets Jesus alone. Together, they come to recognize the resurrected Jesus in their midst.
Friday evening through most of yesterday, I had the privilege of coming to know the resurrected Christ in the midst of the community of people who are homeless in Boston. I’m immensely grateful to the individuals who were willing to share their stories with me as part of the CityReach program. CityReach is an opportunity for young people to learn first hand about homelessness from people who are or have experienced it. We walked through the city at night with individuals who shared their stories and experiences of living without housing, prayed together, ate together, and offered hospitality, food and clothing to unhoused guests. My heart burned as I recognized the Holy in these people who are both very different and, also in some surprising ways very much the same as me. In connecting with resurrection in the people in this community, my eyes were also opened to see resurrection in my self.
It was in the joy of a shared journey through Boston Common at night, the wonder of sharing our stories together over breakfast, the victory in searching for and finding the perfect shoes with someone shopping for items to help meet their basic needs that I experienced resurrection.
It was and is in the context of community that we experience resurrection.
Wherever you find yourself in your own journey, I hope you’ll carefully select a couple of stones that are just the right size and shape and color to bring you joy. I hope you’ll find someone to walk with who is happy to go slow and pause a lot along the way to wonder. I hope you’ll encounter moments of quiet companionship that leave space to really appreciate the warmth of the sun as it breaks victoriously through on a cloudy day.
But mostly I hope that, wherever you are in your journey, your heart burns with the experience of resurrection.