When Did Jesus Become More Than Just A Name To You?
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 4/27/2014
Based on Luke 24: 13-35
John Denver once said, “He spent a week one day in Toledo, OH.” It’s a funny joke that speaks about perceptions, especially perception of time. The interesting thing about perceptions is that over time, perceptions influence our expectations. For example, we all would agree that time seems to be speeding up. Not so long ago time seemed less fleeting. Take for instance as a very young child the perception of how long it took Christmas to come each year. Then once you were in school, how long those lazy summer breaks were. By the time you entered high school, it seemed that those summer breaks were over before they even began.
With the change of our perception of time, our expectations as to the amount of energy we are willing to give to any given period of time also changes As an example, with the advent of recording machines, which can record T.V. programs for viewing at ones leisure, I find that I am more frequently becoming impatient with having to wait each week for the next installment of a favorite T.V. program, especially if it is a program that has captured my imagination. Like a book that one becomes enthralled with and can’t put down, certain programs on T.V. have the same effect on me. I don’t want to spend eight weeks or so watching episode after episode, I want to watch it from beginning to end in one day or so and be done with it.
One such new series has had this effect on me, titled “Resurrection”. The basic premise is this: in a small town in America, people are returning from the dead. The first to return was an 8 yr old boy who had drowned 32 yrs ago, the second person to return was a forty something father who had been dead for about 10 yrs, and the third person to return in this first season was woman just into her twenties who had died about 20 yrs ago. The DNA testing of the boy matched that of the boy who had died 32 yrs ago. With the influence of Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb, we would expect that the graves of these people would also be empty, but in this story there was no empty casket of the young boy. When the authorities had exhumed the casket, the body of the boy was still in his casket, hence providing a part of the mystery to this story line.
One of the struggles that is presented by the parents of the 8 yr old boy who returned from the grave, is that of accepting the person for who he says he is and appears to be. The mother seemed to have little problem accepting this young boy as the son she lost 32 yrs ago. The father on the other hand is the one who was having difficulty in turning loose of the reality that his son had died 32 yrs ago and able to accept what seems to be a second chance of being with his returned son. By the end of the first season, finally the father was able to turn loose of the loss of 32 yrs ago and opens his heart to recognize that this boy is truly his son.
This series truly has Easter Sunday overtones. I think this program is bringing forth some very deep theological questions that we as twenty-first century humans try to avoid. Questions such as, “is it possible to come back from the grave”, “is there more mystery in the world that we do not understand and are uncomfortable with, that requires us to just accept on faith because it cannot be rationally explained”, and ultimately as Christians “how do we experience the story of the Jesus’ resurrection?”
One of the opening questions that Quakers often use in their meetings is, “When did God become more than just a name to you?” When does something become more than what its name describes to you? When does “life” become more than just the phrase, “go out and live life?” The implication is that of perception intersecting experience in some way differently than previously experienced. The same question could be asked of those of us who call ourselves Christian, “When did Jesus become more than just a name to you?” For a Buddhist, it could be “When did Buddha become more than just a name to you?”
This morning’s text about the two men walking home from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus presents a beautiful platform for such a discussion. Here we read that these two men who knew Jesus and must have been followers, walking home with broken hearts over the death of their Rabbi. So grieved, we are told that they did not recognize the traveler on the road joining them to be that of their dead Rabbi, until they sat down together at the dining table and once Jesus gave thanks for their meal, they suddenly recognized that Jesus had been with them during their 7 mile journey home.
The key element of this story comes in the fact that they had already received the news that Jesus had risen from the tomb by way of the women who had discovered the empty tomb, but when they met up with Jesus on the road to Emmaus they did not recognize this stranger to be Jesus, even after receiving in-depth teaching about the prophets by him. In essence the resurrected Jesus was nothing more than a story to them, until they sat down at the dinner table. At the point of the blessing of the meal, suddenly something spoke to their hearts that changed a story of the resurrection into a factual experience. When did Jesus become more than just a name ( a story of resurrection) to them – at the blessing of that meal.
Many of us don’t give the story of the resurrection very much thought, for if we did, we might be compelled to write it off as fictional, yet I would like to share with you how I have come to understand through this story of the road to Emmaus and how it has helped answered some of my questions of the report of the resurrection. I grew up in the era of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, reading about, listen about, and watching T.V. news of the man Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. I saw on T.V. the violence that was acted out by Rev King’s message of equality, I heard adults around me speak about the evils that Rev King was doing in this country, often calling him a communist supporter. I also heard the truth of what Dr King was speaking about and admired him for many decades for his bravery and saw his murder as an act of the evil which he fought against.
Rev King was for many years a great man in my mind, but once I started examining my life and how I differed in my sexual orientation from the majority of humanity and how that difference had been used to oppress my spirit, I began to see Rev King as more than just a name. I have grown to know Rev King as a great prophet that God has blessed America with, in my lifetime. Like the two men on the road to Emmaus, I had experience through television and the community, in which I lived as to Dr King. I had witnessed the news of his death and watched his funeral. I know that he had died, yet Dr King lives today – in my heart and it is through my heart, my passion and my understanding that Dr King’s work still is expressed this morning.
During this season of Easter as a resurrection people this is the question that I think each of us needs to ask ourselves, “When did Jesus become more than just a name to us?” For it is through that transformation that we are able to grasp hold of Jesus’ message about distributive justice, of mercy and of justice for all, of love our neighbor in its truest form. It is what gives us the courage, the energy, and heart to share with a world that doesn’t understand these values. It is what gives us the assurance to say, “It is true! The Lord has risen”! Amen