Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"A Story Thrice Told"

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 24:13-35

 

      On this November communion Sunday, we reflect on one of the most theologically-packed

narratives recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  It’s a beautiful and moving story of a journey; a journey of

two men who had lost hope – then found hope – in the breaking of the bread, and its revealing

of Jesus Christ as alive and present with them.  This passage has been interpreted and preached

in a variety of ways as it’s a story with a variety of layers of meaning.

      This morning, I’m going to attempt to preach it in a way which I hope you’ll find unique and

fresh.  Following the reading of this familiar gospel story -- as the sermon title suggests – I’m

going to follow up with three related stories which should give us a taste of three different layers

of meaning we find baked into this very rich slice of Holy Scripture.  The first will be a child’s fairy

tale.  The second will be an adult fairy tale.  The third will be a poet’s version of Luke’s Road to

Emmaus story.  Let’s now join two men, and an unexpected traveling companion, on the road.

(Read Luke 24:13-35)

      Once upon a time, grandparents were in a little gift shop looking for that just-right birthday

gift for their eight year-old granddaughter.  Suddenly, grandma’s eyes happened upon a hand-

painted tea cup.  “John, this is the most beautiful tea cup I’ve ever seen.  We must get it for her!”

Without much enthusiasm, grandpa grunted in agreement:  “Yeah, it’s real nice.” 

      At this point, the tea cup startled the grandparents when it answered back:  “Why, thank you

for the compliment.  But you know, I wasn’t always so beautiful.”  Still shocked and barely able

to reply, the grandmother said, “What do you mean, you weren’t always so beautiful?”

      “It’s true,” answered the tea cup.  “Once, I was an ugly, soggy clump of clay.  But one day, a

man with dirty and wet hands threw me on a wheel and started spinning me around till I got so

dizzy that I begged him to stop.  But he said, ‘Not yet.’  Then the man with the wet hands started

to punch me and poke me until I hurt all over.  ‘Stop, have mercy,’ I cried.  But he said, ‘Not yet.’

Then he did something even worse.  He put me in a furnace until I got so hot that I yelled, ‘Please

stop!  Stop!’  But the man just said, ‘Not yet.’  Finally, when I thought I was going to get burned

up, the man took me out of the furnace.

      Then some short lady began to paint me, and the fumes were so bad that they made me sick.

I pleaded, ‘You must stop.’  The lady would only say, ‘Not yet.’  Eventually she did stop, then gave

me back to the man who put me back in that awful furnace again.  I kept asking him to stop, but

he would only say, ‘Not yet.’  When I thought I couldn’t take any more, he took me out and set

me on a wire shelf to cool.  After I was cooled down and wiped off, a very pretty lady put me on a

glass shelf right next to a mirror.  And when I looked into that mirror, I was amazed!  I couldn’t

believe what I saw.  I was no longer an ugly, soggy, dirty clump of clay.  I was beautiful, and firm,

and clean, and shiny.  And I cried for joy.”

      “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and then enter into his

glory?” asked a stranger on the road to Emmaus.  Did not the teacup first have to suffer, and so

enter into its glory?  Therein lies the parallel between a child’s fairy tale of a teacup, and one

layer of meaning in Luke’s gospel account.  Jesus, like us, and we, like Jesus, go through life’s

journey; taking some pokes and punches; enduring the heat; often wondering how we’re going

to go on.  We cry out, “Please!  Stop!  Have mercy!”  “Not yet” so often seems to be the answer,

and we wonder why.  Jesus Himself cried out of His agony, “Father, let this cup pass from me.”

Like Cleopas and the other disciple, we trudge down life’s road, at times feeling hopeless and

dejected by the disappointments and shattered promises, hopes, dreams life brings upon our path. 

This story provides a hopeful perspective.  Could it be that we are in the process of being molded

through hardship into saints who will sit with Christ at His banquet table, enjoying the

beauty and fullness of God’s Kingdom?  Paul certainly believed that very thing when he wrote to

the Romans [5:3-5].   Furthermore, could it be that we are never as alone on the journey as we

sometimes feel; that there is an unexpected traveling companion who, though unrecognized, at

times gives us a glimpse of His presence, even in the simple act of breaking bread?

      Once upon another time, there was a young medical student who had to be away from his

fiancée for a month to take comprehensive exams in his last year of med school.  It was agony

for him to be separated from his love, and he was sad and lonely.  He was on a bus traveling

from Ithaca, New York to New Haven, Connecticut.  The bus stopped at a rather dreary Grey-

hound station.  He sat down on a cracked, vinyl revolving seat at a dirty lunch counter.  The

counter was U-shaped, so he found himself directly across from a kindly-looking  elderly woman. 

She saw him and said, “Honey, you sure look mighty depressed for a handsome young guy.”  He

replied, “I am,” and tears began to well up in his eyes and run down his cheek.  The woman

reached across the counter with a tissue in hand, intending to pat his cheek dry.  But when he

saw her dirt-under-the-fingernails hand coming toward him, he recoiled.  “What’s wrong, dear?” 

He began to pour out his heart about his fiancée, and how much he loved her, and how much he

missed her.  He showed the old woman the photo in his wallet. 

      She began to tell him that she had been married to a salesman who had long since passed

away.  She related how they used to weep, both of them, each time he had to go away on a long

trip, and how happy they were when he returned.  Then with kind words, she encouraged him in

his pursuit of a medical degree, his upcoming marriage, and his ability to get through the next

month.  After a while, she suggested that he might feel better if he had something to eat.  So she

took a donut, removing the scratchy plastic cover atop a pedestal plate on the counter.  And the

woman held the donut and broke it, and gave him half.  As she did, an announcement came over

the loudspeaker.  “Oh my goodness, that’s my bus.”  Then in an instant, without another word,

she was gone.  Only then were his eyes opened to the lanyard lying on the counter.  Attached to

it was a Greyhound name tag.  He picked it up and turned it over, and learned the woman’s

name:  Grace.

      The Emmaus story lives in that layer too.  Whenever goodness is shared; wherever goodness

is shared; however goodness is shared; tears dried; comfort given; charity done……. the unexpec-

ted traveling companion, the stranger, the risen Christ, is present and recognizable.  It is such a

tragedy that some Christians suffer from tunnel vision, believing that God can only be experienced

in church; convinced that the movement of God’s Spirit can only work in the lives of those

who have professed correct doctrine; certain that God’s grace is available only to those who pray

the right prayers, or attend the right church, or follow the right preachers, or live a righteous

enough life.  Are not the resources of God’s Spirit unrestrained and unlimited by human agency? 

Perhaps that’s why Jesus once said to His disciples, who were criticizing a man who was doing

compassionate, even miraculous acts, but not following them:  “Whoever is not against us is for

us.”  Might we open our eyes to Christ’s presence among us in unexpected places; at unexpected

tables and counters; in the lives of unlikely people, even those who at first cause us to recoil. 

      Here now is a poet’s point of view, from Father William Bausch, a priest in the Diocese of

Trenton, New Jersy:

     “They walked the highway, defeated, alone.

      A stranger joined them and lifted the stone.

      He unfolded the scriptures, what prophets had said.

     They shared life together, the cup, and the bread.

     Then they knew him, the Stranger, the man who was dead.

     He gave them the answer, when love broke the bread.”

      This gives us some sense of what we are doing here, and why the Sacrament of Holy Commu-

nion is so vital and central to the Christian experience.  We are all on a journey.  Our paths are

uneven.  Losses, at times, are heavy.  We seem to sometimes feel like we’re trudging along with

no purpose, while searching for some meaning in life, and in death.  We need the Sacrament –

the breaking of the bread of Holy Communion – to be reassured that Jesus has not left us to

negotiate the journey alone.  We need to recall that on the night before He died, Jesus left us

something.  And that evening after He departed from the disciples’ sight following their long,

enlightening journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Jesus left them something. “My body given for

you…. My blood shed for you…. Do this in remembrance of me.”  So Luke, who left us Jesus’

words for all posterity, is teaching that the eyes of faith will recognize Jesus – the Stranger, the

unexpected traveling Companion – in the sharing of the bread and the cup.  And in that recog-

nition, we will know that all will be well.  Our lives have purpose, and are a beautiful creation in

God’s eyes.  Our lives have value to someone who always cares.  Our lives have hope in the One

who reveals to us the answer, as divine and infinite love breaks the bread.  Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102