Easter’s dark epiphanies

Text: Luke 24:13-35 (the Road to Emmaus)

My favourite time for writing sermons is first thing in the morning. When I wake up, ideas for the week’s reflection sometimes pop into my mind. This phenomenon is probably related to thinking about upcoming worship services as I fall asleep.

While there might be an element of anxiety in this practice, mostly I enjoy and appreciate it. My end-of-day ruminations and early morning writing might also help me develop a personal prayer practice.

This past Wednesday, The Big Question group talked about prayer. I admitted that although I appreciate writing prayers for Sunday worship and offering prayers for people who are in distress, I don’t always pray every day.

I hope that my before-sleep and early morning meditations on worship might eventually lead me to a more consistent daily prayer practice.

Prayer at dusk and dawn make sense to me. As light changes to dark at evening and then back again at dawn, we switch modes and confront our dependence on the sun and the turning of the earth. We might be reminded of our humble status and of the faith that we seek in God in Christ.

Dawn and dusk are boundary places where revelations occur such as those of the Risen Christ at Easter.

Easter is a season of springtime and sunshine (although that hardly seems to be the case here in Edmonton this morning!). But today I am struck by how the Gospel accounts of the first Easter begin and end in the dark.

About Easter morning, Mark writes: “Very early, on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb.” Matthew writes: “Toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” Luke writes: “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women went to the tomb.” My favourite of the four accounts of Easter morning is John’s: “On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark.”

Jesus was raised to new life before dawn in dark cave. It was only because Mary got up “while it was still dark” that she learned about the resurrection.

Today, we hear the final reading this spring that is set on the first Easter Sunday. In it, another revelation of the Risen Christ occurs in the dark. Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus have spent that first Easter afternoon walking away from Jerusalem feeling sad and afraid.

They are heartbroken because their leader Jesus, in whom they had put so much hope, has been crucified. They are confused by the accounts of the women that Jesus’ tomb was empty that morning. Jesus joins them on their seven-mile walk back to their home and tries to explain ancient Hebrew Scripture to them as they walk. But they do not recognize him.

Only as day turns to night and they invite him to join them for supper do they realize that their companion is the Risen Christ. Just as Jesus had walked with them to Jerusalem during the season we call Lent, so he has accompanied them home. And then, as soon as their minds are opened to his presence, Jesus vanishes.

The Risen Christ, it seems, is elusive. Mark tells of no appearances. Matthew adds an appearance of Jesus to the women on Easter morning, and then briefly to the disciples in Galilee. Luke alone tells of the walk of Jesus to Emmaus with two disciples and the revelation of the Risen Christ in the breaking of bread. John includes an appearance to Mary Magdalene on the first Sunday, and to the other disciples in a locked room in Jerusalem on the same day and one week later. And that is it.

I especially like today’s reading from Luke. Jesus is a stranger whose identity is revealed when we offer hospitality. In the light of day as we talk about current events or the Scriptures, the good news of Easter might not be apparent. But once darkness falls and bread is broken, the reality of new life and of the Risen Christ might come into our hearts.

In the shadows of a darkening evening, we glean insight from the events of the day. Jesus has been killed, but the God who is Love lives on in the Risen Christ, even if he suddenly disappears as soon as this good news hits us.

Easter does not do away with all difficulty or darkness in our lives or in society. It is dependent on the hard road to Jerusalem during Lent and the pain and horror of Good Friday that precede it.

Easter’s revelations occur before dawn or at dusk. They illuminate the darkness, but darkness remains a reality in our lives.

Despite Easter, loved ones still get sick and die. Despite Easter, human society continues to grow in ways that lead to destruction and pollution. Despite Easter, family members sometimes suffer abuse and different communities sometimes attack one another with violence.

Easter is a time for Hallelujahs, praise and thanksgiving. But we might know the truth of Easter more clearly on the difficult days than on the easy ones for it is on the difficult ones that that we need Easter light the most.

And sometimes night must fall before we can see into the heart of Scripture and the true wonder and mystery of the Risen Christ.

We are an Easter people, living in the light of a new spring. But this joyous reality might only pierce our heart in the dim light of dawn or in the dwindling light of dusk.

As we prepare for sleep, sometimes we turn our hearts to God in prayer and Christ appears. Then when we awake, we remember the revelations of dusk and give thanks for a new day. It is a day in which more revelations of God’s Grace may linger at the back of our minds during the daylight only to burst into awareness in our evening prayers.

Often, we seem to live in darkness. But as the promise of a new morning hovers on the horizon or as the day’s light fades, we can be like Mary on the first Easter morning or Cleopas on the first Easter evening and become aware that God’s Love is here for us in Christ, “while it is still dark.”

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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