Princeton University Religious Life

The Promise Is For You

The Rev. Dr. Alison L. Boden
Princeton University Chapel
April 30, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Luke 24:13-35

Easter happened – it was two weeks ago.  We know Easter happened because we were there, or here – we woke up that Sunday morning and came to Chapel and the whole world was here and there were kites flying and special music and even, in 2017, a few Easter hats.  We might need to remind ourselves that Easter happened, though.  Fourteen days later and life is pretty much the same – the people we know who are sick remain a continuing source of worry for us.  The stresses of the semester are only piling up.  Difficult relationships and hard choices are still just there.  Internationally, we’re hearing increasing amounts of concern about North Korea’s nuclear capability.  We have heard the amazing news about Christ’s rising from the dead, but life is very much the same.  The Good News is very distant from what we are dealing with.

We are the two disciples walking down the Jerusalem road to Emmaus, after the promise and destruction of the Passover.  Jesus of Nazareth rode into town.  Hearts soared with the belief that he would be the one to redeem Israel.  Spirits are crushed when he is executed next to thieves.  Like those traveling disciples, we too have heard from others, from witnesses, about Christ’s resurrection, but life is surely the same so, sigh.  We’re going to keep our lives going.

But all is not as it seems – both 2,000 years ago on the road to Emmaus or this morning in the Princeton Chapel.  As Saint Augustine wrote of this biblical scene, “The teacher was walking with them along the way and he himself was the way.”  I’ve shared with this community before that this passage from Luke is one of my favorites in all of scripture, so much so that my husband and I chose it as the Gospel passage for our wedding ceremony.  We wanted to be reminded that, at all times, Christ is our companion, whether we recognize him with us or not; whether the road we walk is one of joy or, as with the good men going home to Emmaus, a road of dejection, even despair, defeat.  While the Bible doesn’t capture every experience of the living Jesus, it is poignant to me that Luke chooses (alone among the evangelists) to record a time when Christ makes his gentle presence apparent, not to people who are rejoicing in the resurrection but to those who are not sure they can dare to believe in it, people who want to live an unleashed life but who are really still in the tomb, people who’ve seen enough of the world and its experiences to want to be people of hope yet also to be nobody’s fool, who balance hope with reality, who love and persevere with maybe one foot in the tomb and the other in the resurrection garden – who are thus doing the splits and calling that balance.  Good people.  Responsible people.  People getting all the tasks before them done and done as well as possible.  Kind people, trying to get everything right.   Cautious people, but a challenging (and sometimes dangerous) life requires caution.  These are thoughtful people of unending integrity.  They have loved Jesus and still want to be his disciples.  They find the data on how to do that to be very conflicting.  And they are afraid to risk their faith again.  They are afraid to risk.  Some things in life turn out badly.

Our passage this morning from the Book of Acts captures an exhortation by Peter – Peter!  Who denied Christ three times! – to all who can hear him to accept the fact that the crucified Nazarene is actually the Messiah.  He says to them, “The promise is for you.”  Indeed, he says that to all of us.  The promise is for us, as it was to two humbled and broken disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Hear Peter say it to you: “The promise is for you” – the promise of the cleansing of baptism and forgiveness of sins, the promise of inclusion in the global community of the faithful, the promise of new life, the promise of the presence of Christ no matter what path or journey your life takes – from the walk of seeming failure to Emmaus, to the walk across the stage at your graduation, to the infinite walks of joy, and also sorrow, that fill the human experience, right up to that walk that our souls will take one day, from whatever place our loved ones lay us to rest, into the waiting arms of God.  The promise is for you!  The promise is for you.

I’ve said that I find it so poignant to remember that Christ is our constant accompaniment on life’s journey, especially when we don’t have the eyes to see him there.  I am equally fond of this scripture passage because of its teaching on the meaning of Christian sharing.  When the disciples get to their home in Emmaus they wouldn’t dream of thinking that their traveling companion should continue on his way alone.  It is night.  It is dangerous to travel unlit dirt roads alone at night.  They are all hungry.  Of course this fellow traveler must come into their home and share in food, safety, and rest.  Even though it has been Jesus Christ who has journeyed with them for most of the seven-mile walk from Jerusalem, teaching them along the way, these disciples have not recognized him.  (How many of us think that if Jesus Christ showed up in any form in our midst and expounded upon the scriptures that we’d put together who he is!)  Our friends from Emmaus recognize him at last when they share food with him and he breaks and shares the bread back with them.  Christ is seen when we share.

Let me read another quote by St. Augustine on this passage about the Emmaus disciples: “And because they observed hospitality, him who they knew not yet in the expounding of scriptures, they suddenly know in the breaking of bread.”  Yes!  “Because they observed hospitality”because those disciples welcomed a traveling guy into their home, because they shared what they had with him, their eyes were opened to see their redeemer in their very midst.  On the road they had experienced his teachings with their minds; when they share of their hospitality their hearts are opened to realize in whose presence they sit.

Where charity and love are found, God and Christ are there!  Our own acts of mercy and of sharing reveal the Christ who is already and always in our midst.  I’m going to say that again!  Our own acts of mercy and of sharing reveal the Christ who is already and always in our midst.  That’s our charge, my friends, as Easter people – we are to share and share and share what we have not so that we may be called “good people” but that we may really be Easter people – people whose work and works reveal the holy presence of Christ our brother in our very midst.  He is right here!  Let’s make sure people see him.  It happens best not through our expounding upon the scriptures but through our sharing of what we have.  Do you have a moment?  Give it to someone whom the world doesn’t see, and you will shine a light on our ever present bother, Christ.  Do you have a heart and an ear that care even a little?  Incline them toward someone whom the world doesn’t think needs to be listened to – maybe a kid who is poor, an incarcerated person, someone out of work, a failure walking their own Emmaus road away from a risk that supposedly didn’t pan out.  Share your heart and ear, and the risen Christ will be in your midst.  Do you have a bed to share?  Money?  How about intellect and education?  Whom could you be teaching?  Can you share a kind word with anyone whom you know to be sad?  Acts of mercy and sharing reveal Christ in our midst, and they don’t have to be extravagant.

A friend of this faith community, one who has shared in our midst, is Sr. Simone Campbell, who is a leader in the organization The Nuns on the Bus.  I’ve heard Sister Simone say this:  “Joy is released when we touch the pain of the world.”  Sr. Simone is so right!  Joy is released when we dare to touch the pain of the world, which is to say when we engage with those who suffer, to be present to them, when we share our compassion with them.  Joy is truly released, not because we want to be tourists of others’ suffering but because we know that we reveal the presence of Christ among us when we share what we have with others, even if that is only an acknowledgement – some recognition, some touching of their pain.

I began this sermon with the words “Easter happened.”  It did – and not just because we gathered here for kites and crowds and the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  It happened because Christ rose from the grave, and the grip of death upon us all was vanquished.  As we continue to walk the Emmaus road of our lives, let us remember who has chosen to show up to keep us company – it is Christ himself, who makes himself known most gloriously when we choose to share what we have with others.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

 

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