So there were some deer in the memorial garden. I was amazed to see them. You will see I wrote up an article about it in the parish announcements, but here I wanted to mention it because I had heard there were deer and I did not believe it. I thought, we are in the middle of a block of roads and there is no way that some deer will come in here. So I was like Thomas not believing the resurrection unless he saw it. I did not believe there were deer until I saw it, now I have seen it and I believe.
Then I was told by Tim fox about the phenomenon of the mind making up explanations for earthquakes! Virginia Fox told me that when the earthquake happened a couple of weeks ago she had been in a store. I was on Highway 101 so did not feel more than what I thought were a few bumps in the road. But Virginia thought that there were a pack of dogs running across the roof of the store she was in. She knew it could not be true, but believed it so much that as she left she looked back to see what was up there. Tim said that this is a common phenomenon, because the brain does not want to accept that the ground underneath our feet is shaking, so our minds make up any other excuse possible, however unlikely or impossible it would be.
Our minds can play tricks on us! Like when Jane Lintott was walking past me outside the store by the apartment block we both live in – I said hi and she walked past me not noticing me. It was because I was out of clericals, and out of context so her brain did not expect to see me there and she did not recognize me.
This goes a long way to explaining how the disciples Cleopas and the unnamed man or woman could possibly not recognize their friend. He was dead, he should not have been there so they did not expect to see him and did not recognize him.
It is a great story – really great – but what is it telling us?
As I read it I have two parts of my brain that are in conflict. There is the part that wants to make sense and explain and it cannot believe that this took place. To explain I want to say it was not Jesus, but a wise man who understood the scriptures. When the disciples told him ‘we thought he was going to restore Israel’ he saw that they had misunderstood some important parts of scripture.
They were perhaps looking for a military resolution – or for Jesus to take over the religious institutions and find some political way to get the Romans out – but perhaps this man knew bits of Isaiah where the suffering servant, or the king who serves was discussed and explained to them that political power and military might was not the only thing that could change the world. Then when he went to supper with them he broke bread, and that act, reminiscent of Jesus was a moment in which they recognized Jesus in him.
Perhaps that is what happened. But actually, the text does not really allow it. The text is clear – Jesus was there – and he was recognized in the breaking of bread. They were not ignorant as they recounted the story – it was extraordinary but it had a ring of truth to it. What was it he did for them to recognize him? Was it the particular way in which he broke the bread? Or was it the words he used?
Lets leave that aside for a moment and concentrate again on what they were taught. If it was Jesus and he was teaching them I still think he would have gone to the themes of the suffering servant from Isaiah. What would he want to teach them? That military power and political might are not the only solution – but sometimes that suffering can be a powerful tool and that embracing darkness is a way to experience transformation? I think that is what he might have said.
If Jesus had been the kind of messiah they wanted, one who led a political or military uprising let me tell you we would not remember him today. The reason I know this is because there have been many such leaders and only the real history buffs remember them. 2000 years after his life and ministry we remember Jesus because he was not that kind of religious or political leader.
They wanted a solution that was local, and political and specific. What they got in Jesus was not what they asked for, but what they needed. A solution that was not local or political, but spiritual and universal. It was for all people and all time, not just for the people of Israel and the first century AD.
I want to step outside the sermon for just a moment and reflect on the events of the last week. Last Sunday, after we had celebrated the Eucharist together we were told that Osama Bin Laden had been assassinated. It was a sobering and chilling moment and I just want to share two reflections on it. Osama Bin Laden wanted to create a political and military solution to the religious problems he saw. He went about it the wrong way – and he will not be remember in 2000 years time. His message of terror is the antithesis of the message we see in Christ – that a spiritual embrace of suffering and the transformation it brings is the way to really affect the world: violence never will at a deep level that lasts.
It is not our message and it is not the message a good muslim would want to share either.
Whatever we think about what happens to Bin Laden now, and I believe that the God I believe in will do the right thing in the perspective of eternity, we can know that he will not be remembered in 2000 years time!
Back to the sermon.
So I wanted to end by reflecting on the fact that sometimes we expect Jesus to give us what we want. Like the disciples who wanted him to ‘redeem Israel!’ Only Jesus rarely gives us what we want. He gives us what we truly need, and it is likely to be more comprehensive and deeper than anything we could ever ask or think.
Finally, lets go back to that idea of whether it was actually Jesus or someone they thought was Jesus. Well I want to answer in this way. In quantum physics it is possible for a particle also to be described as a wave at one and the same time. It is as though two physical states are present in a paradox. So I want to hold open the fact that both descriptions are possible and I don’t know exactly what happened. Did Jesus appear and teach them? Or did a man who was wise seem like Jesus?
All I know is that the recognized him in the breaking of bread – and in just a few minutes I am going to break bread for you. It is a wonderful poetic image in the text and I believe that it was there because it reminded people that Jesus had broken bread and now their leaders did the same things, emulating Jesus and reminding the people of him. When I break bread today – don’t look at me. I hope you will look through me, and recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
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