Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Flights delays and cancellations have a way of turning the joys of travel into a nightmare. The once, wide-eyed and sparkling smiles of new experiences are transformed into the red, and blurry eyed frowns of regret. The meals, the camaraderie, the music and laughter are quickly forgotten. That is when a little travel humor is needed to pick up your spirits. If you have ever lost a day of a trip, or a meal or two, wouldn’t these little lines cheer you up? For instance: What do you call traveling on a flying carpet? A rugged experience. Or what is it called when a giraffe swallows a toy jet? A plane in the neck. Or what did the eager football player say to the flight attendant when he heard that First -Class was overbooked with the rest of the team? Aw, put me in coach. It makes you feel better already, doesn’t it?
Yes, with the healing grace of time, you can let go out of travel’s disappointments and instead put your new experiences and sights back into perspective. Soon the overwhelming excitement of standing in St. Peter’s Square with 25,000 pilgrims chanting “Vive la Papa, Long live the Pope” is rekindled, or the memory of glimpsing the Michelangelo’s magnificent painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel comes back, or the sweet, melancholic reflection of an enchanting gondola ride in Venice returns with a favorite Italian song. But truthfully, it’s not just travel that that can turn your life upside down. The same is true is whenever the truly unexpected happens.
No one understood this better than Jesus’ two companions on the road to Emmaus. Certainly, they should have recognized him. According to ancient tradition, Cleopas was a member of Jesus’ own family. The historian St. Jerome states that Cleopas was the younger brother of Joseph, the betrothed husband of the Virgin Mary. His own son, James the Lesser was one of Jesus’ chosen twelve. Regardless, the two knew Jesus as a mighty prophet, the one to redeem Israel. His death had not made them hopeless, though they had clearly lost their sense of direction, and now on that the third day, when the first incredible reports of the resurrection came to them, they simply could not believe. So, the two devout, doubtful and dismayed disciples left Jerusalem for Cleopas’s home in Emmaus. That is often what happens when delays and cancellations occur. We choose go on our own way alone. Yet, surprisingly, and often quite unexpectedly Jesus comes walking along beside us.
Today, this intimate story of the disciples’ travels on the road to Emmaus offers us both an important insight into the mystery of faith and a commentary on the newly restored window presented to the church by Susanne and Rick Pepin. Together, they remind of us of the essence of our life as God’s people and how he accompanies us and keeps ours hope alive and our hearts burning through his means of grace portrayed in the three images of the Font of Holy Baptism, the Scroll of Holy Scripture, the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion
For believers, the journey of faith always begins with the God’s gift of baptism. The baptismal font on the newly restored window on the left lancet is a grand, architectural masterpiece. It is far more monumental than our small marble font at Lake of the Isles, but it is there to proclaim the importance of baptism to our faith. In the Italian cities of Pisa and Florence, we saw large marble chapels built outside the cathedrals expressly for the purpose of baptism. The doors to the chapels themselves portrayed the wonders of paradise. In the village of Vinci, we saw the baptismal font where the artist and inventor Leonard di Vinci was baptized. On the walls of the small side chapel were bronze sculptures depicting the story of salvation. That is what baptism proclaims. It is the summary of all God has done to restore his chosen people and open the doors for them to eternal life.
In the central lancet, we see the scroll proclaiming the word of God. It’s placement and position reminds us that the word itself is central and contains Jesus command “to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit,” and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in “remembrance of me.” But there is so much more. Our common worship life is grounded in the reading, the study and preaching of the word. The Word is the normative teaching for our life and the story of God’s chosen, fallen and restored people. In Rome, we walked in the footsteps of the martyrs, and heard the story of Paul’s journey to the imperial city in chains to the speak to the emperor drawn from the Books of Acts. We reflected on Paul’s epistle to the early Church established there. Understandably, the Word takes on new meaning when you see and experience it in its historical context. That is exactly what Jesus did for his companions on the road to Emmaus when he interpreted to them all the Messiah had to do and suffer.
On the right lancet, there is the gift of Holy Communion. It is where we most intimately receive the body and blood of Christ, but it is also when we remember him and all that his life has meant to us. On our last evening in Venice we gathered for a service of Holy Communion in the nearly 200 year old German Lutheran church of Venice. We were small in number, after several our travelers had already been forced to rebook their return flights and fly home. There, beneath a wooden crucifix, a small painting of Martin Luther by the German artist Lucas Cranach, an even larger paining by the Venetian master Titian, Tiziano Vecellio of Jesus’ blessing the world, and a larger painting still by an unknown master of the two traveling companions joined with Jesus at the table in Emmaus breaking bread, I felt pretty small. But as we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, we were called to remember Jesus and all those who are a part of our lives here, the group that had grown to know, and of course, all of you here. That is what Holy Communion does- even in those moments when delays and cancellations change our plans, it places things in perspective. In Communion, we are reminded that Jesus invites us to his table, not to be alone, but to be nurtured with other and to keep our hope alive.
St. Luke never tells us directly why the two disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, oddly, just as the airline never told us why they cancelled two important flights full of passengers out of Venice on a single day. Like Jesus’ companions we were left confused. But then St. Luke writes that, “Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. And they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us Lord, for it is evening.’” That my friends, is the great moment of change- the moment of transformation. The moment Jesus enters into their home, the moment that he is no longer a traveling companion, but a guest at their table. At that moment their eyes are prepared to see. And so we read, that as they were breaking bread together, their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and then he vanished from their sight.
Why was that personal invitation so important? Simply said, Jesus was and is a hospitable guest. He stands at the door waiting for you. It is the mystery of faith. Jesus does not pry his way into your life, nor does he force his way into your home. He stands poised beside the gate. He stands waiting at the street corner. He walks ahead as if he is going on. He knocks at the door of your heart and waits for you to answer. He merely needs to hear the words, “Stay with us Lord.” And he will enter. That is what the ministry of the church and the mystery of faith is all about that is captured in this window. You and I, we are all called to be Jesus’ disciples and to accompany friends and neighbors and strangers on their journey, offering them an invitation to experience the gifts of his words and baptism and holy communion, so that their hearts too might burn within them.
A week ago we visited the birth place and burial site of St Francis of Assisi. Many of us have seen images and statues of him blessing animals, and we know his prayer, “Lord, Make me an instrument of his peace.” But there is one more lesson attributed to St. Francis that is appropriate for this window and accompanying our families in keeping their hope alive, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” My friends, God has chosen to use his means of grace to nurture us, through baptism, word and communion, so that when cancellations and flight delays come along in the lives of those you love, you too may use every gift given to you to keep hope alive and if necessary to use words. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.