Adapted from a sermon

Delivered April 14, 2002

Girdwood United Methodist Chapel

 

I Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

The Emmaus Checkpoint Today

            Good Morning this is the Third Sunday of Easter! Christ has Risen. (He Is Risen, Indeed!)  As always, I want to thank you for the invitation to be with you this morning. It has been a hectic week for me, but thanks to your invitation, I had no choice but to block out a whole day yesterday to escape from the turmoil of Jerusalem, if you will, and spend a few quiet hours "Walking the Road to Emmaus" with my Lord. So, I thank you.

            When I turned towards Emmaus to begin thinking about this sermon, sure enough, Jesus was waiting for me along the road. He had some things he wanted to show me. It had been a long week for him, too, and tears were in his eyes. We began to walk.

            The Road to Emmaus is paved now. I've seen photographs. The road has been moved and the security checkpoints have been re-located a couple of times - but there is still a road - all the way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv - and Emmaus is about half way between.

            Emmaus isn't called Emmaus anymore. It's called Canada Park. I kid you not. Canada Park. The Romans called the village Nicopolis. The Palestinians called it Imwas - until 1967. That's when it became Canada Park.

            You see, Emmaus is located in the Latrun area of the West Bank - supposedly within the border of Palestinian lands, but controlled by the Israelis. The area used to be a buffer zone separating the Israeli and Arab forces in the aftermath of the 1948 war. Immediately following the 1967 war, Israeli forces completely destroyed three villages, including Imwas, and evicted the residents. Imwas itself was bulldozed under, and in 1976, a recreational area called Canada Park was established on the site by the Jewish National Fund, a Canadian fund-raising group.

            The place was landscaped -- trees were planted - it's all very lovely - and the villagers who had worked this land to support their families for generations - became Palestinian refugees. Most of them and their descendants now have been absorbed into the population of Ramallah - the city where U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will be chatting with President Yassir Arafat some time today.

            So Jesus had his own problems. We walked along quietly. This was the second place Jesus had appeared to His followers following his Resurrection. The first was at the tomb. The second was later that day along this same road. The third was back in Jerusalem. But along this road to Imwas was where the two disciples, nearly two thousand years ago, began their long spiritual journey to understand the Being and Mission of Jesus and what their role might be in it.

            Two thousand years ago, along this walk, Jesus spoke of the Hebrew scriptures, explaining to his companions all that was said pertained to him.

            Yesterday, Jesus directed me to the Hebrew scriptures, as well, only this time, he turned to the Book of Judges. He reminded me that it was Joshua who led the Israelites in battle back then, somewhere between 1200 and 1300 B.C. The Palestinians were called Canaanites, because this was the Land of Canaan.

            After the death of Joshua,  Judah was called by the Lord to finish the war.  The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem and took it. They took the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills. The men of Judah took Gaza, Askelon and Ekron. And the list goes on. But it was not a total conquest.

            Jesus reminded me that Manassah did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Megiddo nor their surrounding settlements - for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land (Judges 1:27). The same went for those living in Agree, Kitron, Beth Shemesh, and so forth. The Canaanites were pressed into forced labor, it was true, but they would not leave. This was their land, too.

            Thousands of years later, both the men of Judah and the men of Canaan are still there. Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat still glare at one another and cry, "Murderer! Terrorist! God gave ME this land, not you." Both send their young men and their young women on suicidal and genocidal missions to prove their point. Four hundred bodies, a thousand bodies, how many more bodies to prove that the land belongs to only one of them, not both?

            But the truth is that God gave both the Canaanites and the Israelites this land. God made a covenant with both peoples, through two different Sons of Abraham. What could God possibly have been thinking?  Could God have possibly wanted both peoples to live in the same land together?

***

            The Walk to Emmaus has become a primary symbol of the Christian Faith Journey. What does it mean for us?

            Christians and even whole churches are often preoccupied with our own immediate difficulties. The two disciples were walking home after the events of the past week in Jerusalem. They were sad and hopeless, nothing had turned out as they believed it would. They saw no redemptive purpose in what they had just experienced. Following Jesus had been all for naught.

            And yet in this darkest hour, the risen Christ "came near and went with them," opening the disciples' eyes to his presence. When they arrived in Emmaus, Jesus "took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them," and they recognized him and their hope was renewed. Within the hour, the two disciples left Emmaus and returned to their friends in Jerusalem. As they told stories about their encounters with the risen Lord, Jesus visited them again with a fresh awareness of his living presence.

            And my prayer for each of us is that during this extended Easter season, we each experience that fresh awareness of Christ in our personal lives. That we each experience a "personal resurrection" through our developing relationship with our Lord.

            The story of Jesus' resurrection does not conclude with the disciples' personal spiritual experiences. After Jesus ascended to the Father, the disciples became the body of the risen Christ on earth, The Church. They were sent forth by the Holy Spirit to bear witness, to proclaim the gospel to a disbelieving world, and to persevere in this commitment through spiritual companionship with one another.

            The Walk to Emmaus offers today's disciples a parallel opportunity to not only rediscover Christ's presence in our lives, but also to further God's mission to this hurtful and hurting world.

            We cannot all be United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.  He knows what his mission is in the Land of Canaan: a cease fire, followed up by a peace plan that sticks. It's been more than three thousand years in the making. Colin Powell will be quite a man if he pulls it off. Knowing that, he went anyway. That's a miracle in and of itself. He answered the call.

            What's our role in this world peace-making? Will we answer the call even if the odds of success seem slim?

            Some of us have been assigned to further God's peace plan in our families and in our neighborhoods and communities. Can we combat the spread of racism and promote justice through good parenting and/or positive civic involvement?

            Some of us must start first by furthering God's peace plan in our very own souls.  Before we seek to renew the Church's commitment to human rights and social, racial and economic justice, maybe we have to reignite our own commitment to these ideals.

            We need to take time for that Emmaus Walk. Take time for that meal with our Lord. After some refreshment and reflection, then maybe we'll be ready for the trip back to Jerusalem and the challenges we will meet there.

            Or as we are told in I Peter: 22-23 this morning:

            "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers and sisters, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God."

Amen.

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