This piece was originally a sermon delivered by the Rev. Brant Copeland on May 8, 2011, concerning the text, Luke 24:13-35. Rev. Copeland is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida.
You’ll have to forgive me if this sermon is even more incoherent than usual. I’ve just returned from a journey, you see, and I’m still a bit out of breath. It wasn’t a long trip, but it was full of surprises. My heart is still burning with the revelation of what I saw and heard, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it all.
I’ve been to Emmaus, you see. It’s just down the road – south on Adams till you come to a great tall building called the Capitol (with an “O” not an “A”), or as my travel companions call it, “El Capitolio.” I saw Jesus down there. That’s right. Jesus. The same Jesus who was crucified and buried not so long ago. You might have thought he was dead and gone. Many people do. But it’s not true. He was there.
Of course, this not the first time people have been to Emmaus and discovered Jesus, alive and at work. Luke says it happened to a couple of disciples on Easter Sunday afternoon. We don’t know both of their names. We just know the name of one: Cleopas. (That’s short for “Cleopatrus,” which means “son of a renowned father.” That must have been a hard name to live up to.)
Anyway, Cleopas and his friend were on their way to Emmaus and they were feeling mighty low. They had pinned their hopes and dreams on Jesus, you see, and he hat gotten himself arrested and tried and sentenced to death on the cross. Cleopas and his friend, apparently, had witnessed the execution. I doubt that they were talking about that, however.
My guess is, they were talking about how disappointed they were, and how scared. When you pin all your hopes and dreams on a person and that person gets pinned to a cross – well, it makes you feel like never trusting anyone or anything again. Not God, not the Bible. Nothing. It makes you feel like giving up.
That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Perhaps it’s the same for you. I’ve been feeling like the world is an insane asylum and the inmates are in charge. Leaders don’t seem to look at the big picture. They enact laws that ignore the past and jeopardize the future. They turn 30 years of environmental legislation on its head. They talk about the need for jobs but put thousands of teachers and state workers out of work.
That’s why I was going to Emmaus. Emmaus seems to be the place where you go when you’ve given up – on leaders, on civil authorities, maybe even on God. Surely if God were paying attention, Jesus wouldn’t be dead, the world wouldn’t be in such a mess, and the inmates wouldn’t be in charge.
So these two disciples are on their way to Emmaus and this stranger pulls up alongside them and joined the conversation. “What’s up?” he wants to know. “¿Qué pasa?”
“What rock have this guy been living under?” Cleopas thought, but was too polite to say. They told him about Jesus, and how he was a prophet, mighty in deed and word, and how they were sure he was the one whom God has sent to put everything right again.
“But now he’s dead and buried. Not only that, some ditzy women in our group claim that his tomb is empty and some angels told them he’s alive. But you know women. Emotional. Hysterical. We didn’t take them seriously.”
The stranger was pretty rude. He called them foolish and dim witted. “It’s all in the scriptures,” he said, and went on to explain to them what why Jesus had died and how, despite evidence to the contrary, God was in all this from the start.
Before they knew it, there were in Emmaus at the house where they planned to spend the night. They invited the stranger to stay with them, and even asked him to say grace over the meal. So he took the bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave to them . . . and their eyes were opened and they recognized him. It wasn’t a stranger at all. It was Jesus.
What the women told them is true. Jesus is alive. He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Well, as I said, I’ve just gotten back from Emmaus myself, down there by El Capitolio. Let me tell you, it’s true. Jesus is alive.
It was the last day of the legislative session and so far as I could tell, nobody was looking for Jesus except the folks I was with. They had brown skin, most of them, and the most beautiful children you’ve ever seen. They and their companions have been down at El Capitolio for almost every day of the last three weeks – testifying, telling their stories, and most important of all, praying.
You should hear these people pray. The evangelicals scrunch up their eyes and hold up their hands. The Roman Catholics kneel and make the sign of the cross. I’ve never heard such praying.
And neither, apparently, had anyone in El Capitolio. A seasoned lobbyist I know pulled me aside. “You know,” he said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before. We’ve never seen so many people, behaving so well, bringing their children, and telling legislators that they’re praying for them, day after day, after day. This is the most organized, disciplined, respectful group of people we’ve ever seen. Surely they’re not all Presbyterians.”
“No,” I said. “You can be sure of that.”
These came to Emmaus, to El Capitolio, to show the Legislature their faces. That in itself is an extraordinary brave thing to do, considering that many of these brothers and sisters don’t have papers to prove they are in the country legally. They wanted the politicians to see the human face of the immigration laws they were voting on.
They had a simple message: “Somos Florida.” (We are Florida), whose corollary is “No somos Arizona.” (You can figure out what that means.)
One powerful state senator, who changed his mind about voting “Yes” on the harshest version of the legislation, was asked what turned the tide for him.
“Well,” he said. “I changed my mind when I looked at that little girl.”
I know the little girl he meant. Her name is Karla Amaya and she’s from Tampa. I met her at breakfast right here in the Westminster Room, where she had spent the night, sleeping on the floor. We broke bread together, you could say. I ate a homemade tamal. She ate a bagel with grape jelly.
As it turned out, the House of Representatives never got round to voting on that anti-immigrant legislation, and it died, flatter than a tortilla.
Some say the members of the House lost their stomach for the proposed law when, day after day, they kept seeing those faces. Some say they just didn’t have the votes to pull it off this year. Some say the bill’s sponsor began to worry that he might not win his race for sheriff back home if he didn’t back off now.
I’ll tell you what my new friends say. They say it was the Holy Spirit and the prayers.
Well, on Friday afternoon, there was a small fiesta outside El Capitolio – near the dolphin fountain. We sang and celebrated and told stories, but mostly we prayed. The evangelicals prayed even more loudly. The Catholics made a shrine composed the Holy Mother, Pope John Paul, II, and Mickey Mouse.
And that’s when I saw him. Just out of the corner of my eye. He was breaking bread and blessing it and giving it to everyone who was hungry. And he was eating, too. I think it was a homemade tamal and a bagel with grape jelly.
It was Jesus. No doubt about it. He was made known in El Capitolio, in Emmaus, were hope comes to die but meets instead the risen Christ.
Low on hope this morning? Come to this Table. Unsure that God cares? Have some bread and wine. Don’t stay in Emmaus. That’s no place for Easter people.