The Three Parts of a Story
Every good story, so I’ve been told, has the same three-part structure: a situation, a complication, and a resolution. Like this: Situation – Little Red Riding hood starts out on a walk to grandma’s house; Complication – a wolf comes into the story, bad luck for Grandma; and then, Resolution – a woodsman appears just in time to resolve the story nicely (if a bit violently).
How about this familiar storyline: Situation – God makes a good world; Complication – evil corrupts it; Resolution – God saves it by sending his Son, Jesus.
The Real Story: Complicated, Yet Unresolved
“Not so fast,” I can hear you say. “It makes a nice three part outline, but that’s not how it works in real life.” Why not? Because, if the complication was evil in the world, then the resolution hasn’t happened yet. Evil remains. The wolf is still in the house, and the woodsman has not yet appeared to dispatch him.
Evil remains all around us: Bin Laden may be gone, but Al Qaeda is not. The Taliban is not gone from Afghanistan. Corruption in government and in law-enforcement is not gone. They are still finding more bodies by the dozens in Mexican mass graves.
And on the interpersonal side, all the Ten Commandments are being broken; people still abuse other people, lie, cheat, steal, do unkind things, say hurtful things, damage is done, relationships unravel. If the plot of this story is complicated by evil, then the resolution has not happened yet.
Here is another story: situation – Israel, the people of God, find the promise to Abraham still unfulfilled, they suffer from Roman oppression; complication – Messiah comes but is crucified and buried; resolution – ah, that’s the rub. What resolves this story? Resurrection, right? Not so fast. It’s not that easy.
Jesus and the Resolution?
The text for today is a story about this problem. The problem is not new with us; the early church faced it. For the first believers, Jesus had
come, it was fantastic! He had taught with authority and freshness about God as Heavenly Father and Good Shepherd. He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he broke bread with outcasts and sinners, included women at his table – it was going really well.
And then, he was captured and killed. There were reasons enough, for some, to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. There were strange sightings – the women reported visions of angels, Peter himself said he saw the risen Jesus. The tomb was opened and empty, and no one had produced the body to stop the rumors, even though several groups had it in their interest to do so if they could.
Resurrected but Apparently Absent?: Unresolved
But a resurrected Jesus who was now apparently absent left the church with a complicated, unresolved story. How did it make sense? How did a resurrected, absent Jesus resolve the story of God’s intervention in the world to end evil? How did it fit into the story of Israel and her hopes for a resolution accomplished by Messiah?
The early church had to face the problem that Jesus wasn’t around anymore to be seen or touched. You couldn’t talk to him, ask him a question, come to him with a problem.
In many ways, we are in the same position today. In a world of continuing evil, how are we to make sense of our Easter faith? Jesus is risen; how does this resolve the complications?
The text we read from Luke’s gospel is the part of the story that provides the answers.
We meet these two otherwise unknown disciples on Easter afternoon, walking away from Jerusalem back home to Emmaus, discussing what had just happened three days ago with great sadness and disappointment. We do not know them; they are just generic followers of Jesus – perhaps we are meant to see ourselves in them.
Their struggle is that Jesus is not there. He used to be there – they were counting on him being there, but now he is gone. They do not see him.
The next thing that happens is that Jesus is there, with them.
15 “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,”
This is one of those mysterious, almost creepy scenes in which more is left unsaid than is explained. How did Jesus get there? Why don’t they recognize him? What does it mean that 16“their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”? Kept by whom?
Help Towards Understanding
What we are going to watch is Jesus gently helping these fragile believers to understand how to live with a resurrected, apparently absent Jesus, in a world still suffering from the destructive power of evil; exactly what we need as well.
So first Jesus coaxes them to explain what they know about what has happened. They tell him about “Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” and how they had pinned their hopes on him. But they described his wrongful death at the hands of their leaders, and then about the mysterious sightings that followed.
Now it’s Jesus’ turn to speak, and still unrecognized, he says,
25 “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Start with Moses and the Prophets
If you want to understand, Jesus says, you have to start at the beginning, with the Old Testament, with Moses and the Prophets, and see what God was doing.
The prophets were famous for declaring that there would be a dramatic day, the called it “the day of the Lord” when God would come in final judgement on evil and put the world to right.
But there were also these poems in the prophets that introduced a new wrinkle. They spoke of a mysterious person called the “servant of the Lord”. A man who would come at some point before that final day of judgment. As Isaiah described him in those opaque poems, the Servant of the Lord would come, not as a conquering hero, but as a suffering servant.
Who was this person? Sometimes it sounds like Isaiah means that the whole nation of Israel was God’s servant (he calls them “my servant, Jacob”). But at other times, he seems to be a mysterious individual. The people rejected his ministry, they beat him, pulled out his beard, and buried him in a rich man’s tomb. And yet God used his suffering redemptively.
12because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:12)
Jesus: Messiah as the Suffering Servant
As the early Christians reflected on the meaning and significance of what Jesus had done, they came upon these Suffering Servant poems in Isaiah, and saw Jesus in them.
This put the pieces together. Messiah was resolution of the complication of evil – before the final day of judgment. God’s will was always to redeem his wayward people, not merely to punish the bad guys. And Jesus, as God’s Suffering Servant, did just that. In his death, he took upon himself all the wrongs, all the violence, all of the evil that humans could dish out. As the Servant poem says:
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
He died and was buried. But God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.
The Apparent Absence Complication
“OK,” those two disciples on the road to Emmaus must have thought, “that explains part of the problem of making sense of his suffering, but it still leaves us with a resurrected but apparently absent Jesus, and a world of evil still un-redeemed.”
This next part of the story is exactly what they (and we) need.
They invite the still-incognito Jesus into their home. They all gather at the supper table. Luke tells us:
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Did you hear those actions Jesus performed: “took, blessed, broke and gave to them” – those are Lord’s Supper actions. Those are “eucharist
verbs.” Jesus had done the same actions at the Last Supper before his death. And what happened when Jesus shared the Lord’s Supper with them?
31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
Luke does not want us to miss the importance of what has just happened, so he lets us hear the central point again. This time those two disciples get to say it. They hurry back to Jerusalem, find the disciples together, all a-buzz about Jesus-sightings, and listen to what they report:
35 “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
We See the Present Risen Christ
How will we, post-Easter disciples cope with a world still full of evil an an apparently absent Jesus? We will gather together, open the scriptures together, and we will gather around a table, the Lord’s table. As we do, we too will get to see Jesus-sightings of the risen Lord.
How? We will see him, as we “take bread” and “bless” it, and “break it.” The risen Jesus will become known “in the breaking of the bread.”
Notice: the risen Lord is not known to us simply in the bread itself, but in the breaking of the bread. Only broken bread shows us the Suffering Servant, who was broken for the evil of the world in order to redeem the world.
At that Last Supper, before he died, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and said “This is my body, broken for you. Do this remembering me.”
Being the Broken Bread
Now our prayer is this: “As this bread has been Christ’s body, broken for us, send us out to be the body of Christ in the world.”
This is how God is now at work in a broken world, still full of evil’s complication, to resolve the story: we are to go out to be the broken bread for the world. We are to be broken on behalf of those who do not know that God is their Heavenly Father and Good Shepherd, offering the bread of Life, the message of the Gospel.
We are to be the body of Christ, heart-broken over the damage that evil always does, to people themselves, to relationships, to families, to
communities, even to nations.
We are to be the body of Christ, willing to be broken to feed the hungry, rebuild tornado-wrecked homes, and schools, and churches and communities.
We are to be the body of Christ, broken for those who are marginalized, excluded, powerless and voiceless, the widows, the orphans and the strangers among us.
We are not alone. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Peter. The Lord is risen, and we have seen him, and will see him again, in the breaking of the bread.
And he is sending us out, right now, to be the broken body of Christ in the world!