Instructions For Living An Easter Life – A Sermon On Luke 24:13-35

As I began preparing this sermon one of my first reactions to today’s gospel (Luke 24:13-35) was, “Good for them.” 

Jesus was “made known to [Cleopas and his companion] in the breaking of the bread.” Good for them. Their hearts burned on the road to Emmaus as Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Good for them. 

Good for them, but what about you and me? It’s been two weeks since Easter Sunday. Is Jesus being made known to you in new ways? Is your heart burning, aroused, kindled, and on fire or are you just experiencing the heartburn of life?

What difference is Easter making in your relationships, your view of the world, the way you relate to others, your concerns and priorities? Has the empty tomb changed your life and, if so, how? And if it hasn’t, why not? Are you more alive today than you were before Easter Sunday?

I want Easter to make a difference in our lives, don’t you? I want to be able to say, “Alleluia. Christ is risen. Good for me and good for you.” I want us to live Easter lives and I think today’s gospel offers us three instructions for living an Easter life:

“Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.” 

You may have heard those words before. They come from the poet Mary Oliver. She calls them “Instructions for living a life.”(Excerpted from “Sometimes,” by Mary Oliver, Devotions, 105) I’m adding a redundancy and calling them “Instructions for living an Easter life.” After all, isn’t Easter really about living a life, a life of wholeness, meaning, and abundance? And isn’t that the life you want for yourself, others, our town, the world?

Pay attention.

Paying attention is less about focusing on something in particular and more about openness and receptivity to everything. It’s less about what we do with our eyes and ears, and more about what we do with our hearts. It’s staying awake to and aware of my needs and hopes and those of others, the beauty and disfigurement of our lives and world, the gifts and the callings coming to us. It means taking it all in and closing our eyes to nothing. 

Paying attention is what keeps us in the present moment. The present moment is the only one we have. It’s the place where Jesus shows up, meaning is made, relationships are restored, hearts are healed, and life is lived. 

Life is lived neither in the past nor in the future. And yet, for most of us the present moment is often the most difficult and challenging place to be. Nostalgia, guilt, regret, or disappointment can easily bind us to the past. Fear, fantasy, and wishful thinking can quickly take us to the future. Either way, whether we live in the past or live in the future, we miss what is happening right here right now. I wonder if that’s what happened to Cleopas and his companion. I wonder if that’s why “their eyes were kept from recognizing [Jesus].”

They were “talking with each other about all the things that had happened.” They weren’t paying attention. They were focused on the past. I know what that’s like, don’t you? Haven’t there been times when your focus on the past has kept you from recognizing something new or different? Haven’t there been times when your desire or attempt to relive or redo the past kept you from living the only life you had? Haven’t there been times when your past experiences, good and bad, blinded you to present opportunities? 

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” Cleopas and his companion tell the stranger walking with them. Now they are focused on the future. They’ve invested themselves in a future life they don’t have and they’re not paying attention to the life they do have. 

I suspect we’ve all made that leap into the future. “But we had hoped that…” We finish that sentence in a thousand different ways. How are you filling in the blank today? In what ways are you living in a future you don’t yet have and what are you missing, losing, or giving up in your life today?

“Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe,” Jesus says. I hear Jesus telling them and us, “You’re not paying attention. Listen to the sacred stories. Don’t you know that your life’s story is part of a larger cosmic story? And it’s already happening in this moment, the only moment in which it can happen. Pay attention.”

Be astonished.

If we are paying attention we can’t help but be astonished. There is something astonishing in every moment. To the degree I am not astonished, I’m probably just not paying attention. I think that’s why Cleopas and his friends didn’t notice their hearts burning on the road to Emmaus. They weren’t paying attention. But when their eyes were opened, when Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread, they remembered and maybe even felt the warmth of their burning hearts. And they were astonished. The stranger was Jesus, their burning hearts were alive, and their lives were full.

What is astonishing you today? What has taken your breath away? When has love overwhelmed you? When has the beauty of creation, the mystery of love, or the wonder of life left you speechless? When has another’s generosity and compassion brought you to tears? When have you caught a glimpse of your own goodness and holiness? And when have you seen that in another? When have you tasted joy? What has left you saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you”? When has another’s pain, an injustice, or violence broken your heart and left you astonished that we can do that to each other? 

Tell about it.

Astonishment always asks for a response. Tell about it. That’s what Cleopas and the other disciple did. “That same hour they got up and went to Jerusalem.” They could not keep their astonishment to themselves. They told the others “what had happened on the road and how [Jesus] had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” 

In what ways are you telling about your astonishment? Sometimes it means speaking up and speaking out. Other times it means taking action and doing something. Either way we are engaging life and the world. 

What is your astonishment asking of you today? What words do you need to speak? What action do you need to take? What difference is Easter making in your life? And what difference are you as an Easter person making in the life of the world?

What needs to happen in order for you to say, “Alleluia, Christ is risen, good for me and good for you”?

Image Credit: Christ in Emmaus by Michael Peter Ancher – and, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

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