07 May 2011

The Road to Emmaus Leads to Jerusalem

Brethren, what shall you do? Where are you going? Where will you stay? Where will you lie down to sleep this night, and to what shall you arise on the morrow? To what do this new day and this very hour call you? What is given to you here, and where will you go from here?

Take it to heart, beloved of the Lord, that the gifts and promises of Holy Baptism, which are for Makrina and have here been given to her, by God’s grace, are also for you and for your children.

What are those gifts and promises? Repentance, and the forgiveness of all your sins in the Name of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One. For it is into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection, that you have been baptized by the washing of the water with His Word. That Baptism is your repentance; which is to say that it has put you to death and buried you with Christ Jesus, and it has raised you up again through the forgiveness of His atoning sacrificial death and holy bloodshed. Your sinful old Adam has been crucified with Him, and you have been recreated and reborn in His rising from the dead, reconciled to God and received unto Him as a son or daughter in Christ.

Everything that belongs to Christ Jesus has thus become yours, by His grace, in Holy Baptism. His God and Father is now your God and Father, and you are beloved and well-pleasing to Him. So has He named you with His Name, and He has anointed you with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, that is, the living and Life-giving Holy Spirit who is Himself the Lord your God. As He is poured out upon you generously through Jesus Christ your Savior, you have life with God, now and forever. Thus, you are a child of God, and you are a Christian. That is your identity. That is who you are.

Therefore, your Baptism — for you, dear little Makrina, and for each one of you Christians — is not just a big one-day event, but a divine work and gracious gift with ongoing significance for every day of your life on earth, unto the life everlasting.

This Sacrament has given you a home, a household and a family, with God. It has also set you on the road with Jesus, on a way of life in Christ; which is what it means to be and to live as a disciple of Christ Jesus. You follow and walk in the way that He has gone, and you learn to live from Him.

So Makrina has a road set before her, which is mapped out, paved and governed by the Cross of Christ, and illumined by His Word, which is a Lamp to her feet and a Light upon her path.

You also are on that same road with Makrina, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ, and you are on your own way to wherever He shall lead and guide you by His Word. It is a straight and narrow path, as you have often heard before, but it also has its ups and downs. As the Word of the Lord charts a path of faith and love and navigates a course of righteousness and truth through a fallen, twisted and perverted world, you are confronted with steep hills to climb and dark valleys to cross, with confusing twists and unexpected sharp turns. You go, not over, but through the raging river of Holy Baptism; you journey onward, not through, but under the hard wood of the Cross.

Here is a very different sort of crossroads than Robert Johnson or Eric Clapton ever sang about. For on this road you make no deals with the devil to sell your soul and gain the world for a time or a season, but by the Cross of Christ you are crucified to the world, to yourself and to your sin, and day after day you are raised to new life in Him, in both body and soul, for now and for ever.

Although you are on such a journey, making your way on such a hard road, the fact that you do have a house and home with God, and a family in Christ, means that you have a sure foundation and a base, a safe place of comfort, peace and rest. In the touchstone of Christ — in His Cross and Resurrection, and in your Holy Baptism — you know exactly where you come from, and you know where you are going. You have a solid place from which to proceed, and then a safe place to land.

In such respects, you might observe that Makrina has it relatively easy at this point, doesn’t she? She knows her home and family. She knows right where she belongs. She knows that she is safe and loved and cared for. Really, she knows little else, because her father and mother provide for all her needs, day and night. In this, too, she lives by faith, and right now her life and experience on earth coincide to a large extent with the new life in Christ to which she has been reborn.

Though even Makrina suffers the curse and consequence of sin upon her mortal flesh — and of course, it is also sadly true that many other infants and small children (whether baptized or not) do not enjoy the security and comfort of a loving home and family, such as the Lord God intends — in general, the road gets more difficult and worse with the passage of time in this poor life of labor, in this vale of tears, in the shadow of death and the grave. So much for the “golden years,” right? The older you get and the further you go, the harder it is to remember where you came from, to keep track of who you are and where you’re headed, and to make sense of it all.

Examine your heart, and try your mind, and consider how well you really know your home with God and your family in Christ. In the midst of twists and turns, over the hills and through the dark valleys, are you clear and certain as to where you are, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there safely? Or have you lost your bearings, your sense of direction, and your way? Have you forgotten your Holy Baptism, and what it means, and who you really are in Christ Jesus?

What are the hopes and dreams that you have harbored? And which of them seem already to be dashed and disappointed? What is the redemption you’re seeking, and where shall you find it?

Even when you confidently suppose that you know what’s what, and where you are, and where you’re going, it may yet be that you are completely mixed up and mistaken. There are many things that appear to be so sure and certain in this mortal life, and yet they are perishing and fading away.

Meanwhile, the Cross appears to be a stunning disaster and defeat. I don’t really mean any cross on the wall, on a chain or in a book, but the Cross of Christ in your life and laid upon your back. That Cross, which right now is killing you and robbing you of all your hope in the world, seems like anything but the glory of God and the redemption of Israel.

And the Resurrection of the Christ sounds like complete and utter nonsense. Which is likewise to say that the gifts and promises of your Holy Baptism seem ridiculous and empty, too. Where is the actual evidence of anything? Promises, promises, but life it tough, and then you die.

Him you do not see. What you do see and feel and experience is confusing and perplexing and doesn’t add up. Or just when you think that you finally have it all together, and that you’ve got it all figured out, it crumbles into dust at your feet again, worse than ever.

Apart from the Lord Jesus, nothing is going to make sense. But He has vanished from your sight. In fact, your eyes are prevented from seeing Him or recognizing Him.

And you are left standing still — stopped in your tracks — looking sad.

Some of you know the debilitating weight of depression, perhaps even the suffocating crush of deep despair. You know how it can shut you down and stop you from going anywhere or doing anything; how even the effort seems pointless and impossible. Others of you know the similar stranglehold of fear, of anger or anxiety, of lust or addiction, of jealousy or resentment. “Running to stand still” is how the rock group U2 described it, referring to a heroin epidemic in Dublin. But your drug of choice may be something else altogether. What sins have you in their grip? How are your relationships? Do you keep trying, and failing? Do you keep climbing, and falling down?

You know how it is, don’t you, when you’re in a hurry, but you’re getting nowhere fast because you keep dropping things? You keep getting tangled up in your own two feet, and tripping along. Or you’re running late for an appointment, and you end up hitting every red light on the way.

Perhaps you don’t even know what I’m talking about. Maybe you feel like you’re getting along just fine. But the fact remains that, without Jesus — wherever sin beclouds your mind and fills your heart — you’re not really going anywhere; leastwise nowhere that you’d really want to be. No matter how fast you run. No matter how frantic you become. No matter how hard you work. You’re running your treadmill and riding your exercise bike, and with all of that you stand still.

But, there is this story that you have heard: the story of Jesus; the story of His preaching and His miracles; the story of His Cross and Resurrection. It is the story that many or most of you first began to hear when you were still a babe, even in your Mother’s womb, and then in her arms, as she listened to the story, and as she spoke and sang and prayed the story (for herself, and for you).

It is a children’s story, that is certainly true. Check out the recent facebook video of my two-year-old granddaughter, Sarena, and her two-year-old friend, Martin, telling each other that story and discussing it, if you want to be reminded of how the story of Jesus captures the hearts and minds of the little children. But do not suppose, for that reason, that the story is too simple, too quaint, too childish, or too familiar and old hat to do you any good.

This story of Jesus is neither make-believe nor just once-upon-a-time. It is the living and active Word — the very Word of God — the Word of Christ, who is Himself the Word-made-Flesh.

The fact that such a Word can yet be taken and confessed upon the lips of children does not betray any weakness in this story, but rather reveals its power and great strength. For it was not only Momma with her video camera that drew near to Sarena and Martin as they were discussing the things about Jesus, but He Himself approached and joined them in that story-telling. Just as He once did with those first two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, before they really knew or had even begun to understand what they were talking about (unlike Sarena and Martin, who know).

So does the same Lord Jesus draw near to you in His Word, in the telling of His story, and with that He accompanies you on the way; He joins you on your path and journeys with you, matching your footsteps as you walk, that you might learn to match His. For you begin to walk with Him on the Way of faith and life, as you hear and learn the preaching and the catechesis of His Word. This, again, is the way of discipleship that leads to and from the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

This story is not powerless or pointless, but life-changing and life-giving. Speak it and discuss it, therefore, not only for yourself, but with and for your children, for your parents and your spouse, for your neighbors in the world, and for your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastor Grobien and Regina, Kirsten and Ramone, Alena, Julianna, Kimberley, Brigitta, Amelia and Cillian, speak and discuss this story of Jesus with Makrina. Do not doubt that in your telling of His story to her, though she is so small, He Himself draws near and travels with her on the way.

The same thing goes for each and all of you, as you walk along and make your way through life alongside those who share the journey with you. Talk to them about Jesus, even when you can’t make any sense of what His story means for you or for them at any given juncture. Confessing the story will already begin to help both you and your neighbor, precisely because it is His story.

Likewise, listen carefully to those who talk to you about this Jesus of Nazareth, who tell you His story and teach you what it means. For in His story and the preaching of it, in the catechesis of His Word, you discover and receive, and you begin to live your own story, that is, the real story of your life — the one to which you have been called, which has been given to you in Holy Baptism. In this Way, the narrative of Jesus becomes your narrative, your path, and your journey on His road.

Do not be surprised or dismayed, therefore, that He not only tells you about the Cross, but He hides Himself in, with and under the Cross, in order to reveal Himself to you in this way, in this divine glory of His divine grace. He hides Himself from your eyes, that you might learn to see Him by faith in His Word of the Gospel, which is the Word of His Cross first of all. He’s not teasing you in this way, nor is He toying with you. He’s not even “testing” you so much as He is teaching you.

He asks you to tell Him “what things” He already knows well enough (better than you do), so that you would learn to confess what is true and right concerning Him. And He acts like He is moving on and going further — He pretends! — in order to invite you, to encourage you and prompt you to pray, that is, to call upon His Name and ask Him to stay with you.

By the Word of His Cross along the way, He gently chides you, “O foolish one,” and then He pierces your heart of stone, which has grown cold and hard through sin and death, and which has been groaning under the burden of its own heaviness. He shatters that cold, hard stone, and He recreates in you a heart of flesh, softened with His forgiveness and warmed with His tender love.

He brings you to repentance, and He brings life and immortality to light in you through the Gospel.

So do you pray to Him in faith and love, and He also answers your prayers. He does come in to abide with you, within your life, in the midst of your home and family. And then you find, what has been true from the start, that He is actually the Host, and you are His guest.

He has not come in to be served, but to serve, and to give Himself to you at His Table. He feeds you with His Body and His Blood, as surely as He daily and richly provides you with all that you need for both body and soul, by His grace. He takes the bread, He blesses and breaks and gives it to you: “Take, eat,” He says. “This is My Body. It is for you.” He takes the cup, likewise; He gives thanks and gives it to you: “Drink of it,” He says. “This is My Blood, poured out for you.”

Thus, He not only comes in to abide with you in your home, but He enters in to abide with you in yourself, in your body and your soul. He takes up residence in you, that you might abide in Him.

The Gospel of Emmaus makes clear that it is in “the Breaking of the Bread,” that is, in the Holy Communion, that the Body of Jesus is found, given and received. Not by sight, but no less truly. For the Church is not given to know Him by sight here on earth, but by faith in His Word, in the sound of His Voice, which is the preaching of His Gospel, His forgiving of all your sins.

You therefore recognize and know Him here. You know Him as the Christ, as the Lord your God, crucified and risen. You know Him in His grace, mercy, peace and love, unlike anything else in all the world. You know Him in His forgiveness, and in His good gifts, freely given: for He gives you Himself and His Life.

It is to this very Hour, to this Table in this House, that your Holy Baptism and the catechesis of Christ bring you. This is the destination of discipleship. This is your home base, from which you proceed all your days, and to which you daily return, forever and always.

Not that you should flee from the world, nor that you must escape it; for the Lord has positioned you here, for now, to live by His grace, and to love as you are loved. But even here, and right now, in the Gospel–Word and Sacrament, you discover that God has come to dwell with you, bodily, in Christ Jesus. Indeed, He has brought His heavenly kingdom and His holy city to dwell with you here, on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, this little village houses the great Metropolis of God.

And so it is that, in this very hour, you are raised up and returned to the midst of true Jerusalem, to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of all times and places. In this place of rest, the road is not hard. It does not matter if the sun has set, for even the darkness is light to Him who lights your way. He raises the valleys, lowers the hills, and makes the rough places plain. What has been crooked, He straightens. What has been twisted, He restores to wholeness. In safety and peace, He brings you again to the gathering of His disciples around the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, to the city of God, to the Temple of His Body, the Holy of Holies made without hands.

Ironically, that is where the Road to Emmaus finally leads: to Jerusalem.

That is where Makrina’s Holy Baptism takes her — to the New Jerusalem above, eternal and free. It has. It does. And it will: in the Breaking of the Bread at the Table with Jesus, as even here in His little Emmaus on earth. His preaching and His catechesis will take her on that journey, on that Road with Him, as He travels with her all the way. He has brought her to the font by His Word, and He goes with her from here — in all her going out and coming in, henceforth, forevermore.

He does the same for you, disciple of Emmaus. He brings you to and from your Holy Baptism, to and from the Table of His Altar. And His Word leads you from this Holy Communion into your daily path of life, into your own vocations. Daily there, and back again, He brings you most surely, and at the last, into the resurrection of your body, unto the life everlasting in body and soul.

Even now, as you do live here, in Christ, by grace through faith in His Gospel — don’t you see? — you’re already “home.”

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.