Luke 24: 13-35
3rd Sunday of Easter
I have never experienced the magic of Sky Lake, our church camp up near Windsor, New York. I have never really ever been to church camp, or camp of any kind. I've been camping, but to spend a week in the company of crowds of other people about my same age, sleeping in cabins and swimming in the lake every day, saying crazy graces in dining halls, being curious about the girls at the next table; all that is an experience that I've not had.
When the youth I served at Shavertown came back from their Music camp, they were full of that magic. They told stories of friends, and incidents in the week-long soap opera that is camp, sure, but they were also very clear in describing moments of divinity, clear memories when they could describe the presence of God. They were also very lucky in being able to recognize them as they were happening, because of the God-soaked atmosphere, the open and common expectation that God was present all the time, so it was just simply true that something transcendent would happen.
That's a rare thing. Most of the time, and in most of our lives, we only recognize God in the rear view mirror. Many of us of a certain age can mark moments in our lives that, when we look back, were clearly shaped by the hand of God. All of us remember certain decisions that, in retrospect, we influenced by our faith in ways we could not have named or recognized at the time.
This story of Jesus and the two who are walking to the town of Emmaus today is one of those stories that we can easily recognize. Jesus has been with these two believers all day on the road. It is only in sitting down with him at the meal that they realize who he is, and their realization coincides directly with his disappearing. Not getting up and leaving, but poof! and he's gone. They don't see who he is until he has left.
That's just often the way it is. It's impossible to be able to be aware of every moment in our lives, waiting in expectation of God, not wishing to miss it. That's not our call. We are called to live our lives, knowing in who's presence we are in at all times, but it is more like a long time friendship, with easy rhythms and comfortable silences, rather than a constant outpouring of dramatic divinity, with angels singing and bright light shining down.
You know how there are some friends you can have that you can be gone from for years, and when you meet up again, it's like the conversation never stopped? That's the way it is with God. That easy comfort with friends is as much evidence of God's love as the dramatic entrance of angels.
The divinity and the genius of God is such that mature faith very much resembles old love; the love of old friends of many years, or the love of a couple who have been together through joys and trials, love and pain. It's still vital, and gives off a lot of light and heat, but the sharp edges have been worn off. And it is only looking back in those sorts of relationships that you realize the story has become a testimony for friendship, or love.
Our relationship with God is the same way. There are one or two realization-in-the-moments, but mostly you see God by how your decisions worked out.
Moses only got to see God after God had passed by; Job notes that "He passes by me, and I do not see him". Alan Culpepper, author of one of the commentaries I use for Luke, says it this way: "One of the secrets of a vigorous spirituality and a confident faith is learning to appreciate the importance of meeting God in the past as well as the present."
We are called to always look to the future, as Christians, to always be aware of what we are called to, next. But sometimes it is necessary to look behind us, in our own rear view mirrors, to see what the next thing is. One could say that having the jobs I have had has led me here. One could also say that being here with you now is preparing me for something yet to come. What we have learned in the past leads us toward something we don't yet know. What we have done has trained us for what we will do. Our call is to be faithful to God, to the best of our ability, in the midst of this constant movement.
God is constant, we don't have to be. The men on the road to Emmaus reflected Jesus' story back to him, being faithful to tell the story, to share the Gospel, even though he knew their understanding was incomplete. He shared with them more of the story, and in the social setting of a meal, in public and in a tavern or inn, they realize who he only in the blessing of the meal.
It is in the mundane act of eating after a hard day traveling where they realize God has been in their lives. In such mundane acts like eating or traveling, we find God. God is with us at all times, not just in the sought-for mountaintop experiences, like camp or retreats.
So we can expect that God will be with us in the everyday decisions we make, if we will listen. As St. Patrick says, God is with us; above us, below us, on our left and our right, within us, without us, in our hands and in our sight. God is in school with us, at work with us, in our kitchens, next to us on the couch watching TV, rooting for our teams and our favorite singers on American Idol. And a mature faith is that that thought makes us feel blessed and de-stressed, not paranoid.
It is plenty enough to say that "he was just here!", along with the two men walking to Emmaus. But they were in that period before the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, where Jesus could only be one place at a time.
It is possible for us, all of us, to say "He is here now." And that's true.