“Did not the Christ have to suffer these things,
and then enter his glory?”
When I graduated from seminary and was ordained, the Presbyterian Church still had what was called then “Ordained Missionary Appointments”. Those of us who were newly ordained were required to offer the first two years of our ministries under appointment from the Board of World Mission to a congregation or other ministry of their choice. We could give some indication of our preferences but, in the end, we were sent where the Synod Mission Superintendents and the Mission Board agreed we were needed. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. I got to go to my first stated preference: a rural congregation just outside of Hamilton and Dundas, Ontario, a lovely little hamlet called West Flamboro.
It was my first Interim Ministry, really, although I did not understand that at the time. What I did know was that the previous minister had made a mess of things, the congregation had lost a lot of members, and many who were left were angry and dispirited. I threw myself into the work, grew close to the people and, after I left, they were able to call a regular minister and carry on. One of the last things I did as their minister was help them celebrate their 150th Anniversary. They invited me back to help in their 175th anniversary celebrations 10 years ago. And I am determined to be there for their 200th – only 15 more years to go!
I actually spent 3 years with them but, under the policies of the church at the time, I couldn’t stay any longer so I put my name out there for a call somewhere else. There was a church in Winnipeg willing to take a risk with me so, once that was all settled and following the benediction one Sunday morning, I announced my news to the congregation. Almost immediately, one little boy jumped out of the pew and ran out of the church. I learned later that he had run all the way home, burst through the door, and breathlessly said to his parents, “Jesus is leaving the church!” I suppose that my wearing a robe every Sunday and having pretty long hair and a full beard in those days might have confused him a bit.
My purpose in telling this story is to assure you – if there is any confusion in the matter – that I am definitely not Jesus. But I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament. That is the official designation I was given by the church at my ordination. I have been called, trained, and set aside from all other roles and pursuits in my life and work, first and foremost, to teach and preach and to celebrate the Sacraments. Actually, I am rather drawn to the United Church’s understanding of Ordination, to which they have added a third dimension: a Minister of Word, Sacrament, and Pastoral Care. In that sense, although I am definitely not Jesus, I do try to point to Jesus and carry on the work he started. For Jesus was very much a Minister of Word, Sacrament, and Pastoral Care. And we see him exercising that 3-fold calling in today’s Scripture reading.
The story tells us that on the day of resurrection, two of Jesus’ followers are on the road from Jerusalem heading home to Emmaus, a few miles away. One of them is named Cleopas, the other unnamed, though maybe his wife. They are excited, distraught, dispirited, and confused by everything that has happened – their high expectations of what Jesus would do, their disappointment at what actually happened, and their bafflement by stories of an empty tomb and a missing body, and rumours of angels and a resurrection. As we often do when we are in crisis and in shock, they rehearse everything over and over again in their conversations hoping that, maybe if they tell it often enough, it will start to make sense. It is at that point that the risen Jesus draws alongside of them and walks with them, although, for whatever reason, they are not able to recognize him. He is just another pilgrim going home after the Passover Festival as far as they can tell.
Notice how Jesus exercises the 3-fold ministry I mentioned earlier. Obviously, he is a Minister of the Word in this passage. He spends most of the walk explaining the scriptures to them in a way that they understand in a profound and transformative way. As they share supper at home in Emmaus Jesus, the Minister of Sacrament, takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them. It is at that point that they suddenly realize who he is and that he is, indeed, risen. And, as a Minister of Pastoral Care, he comes alongside them in their grief and confusion, their disappointment and their disillusionment. He walks with them through it all. He accompanies them on this inner journey as well as their actual physical walk. He listens to them. He senses their need and he offers the appropriate support.
And through it all, it is transformative for Cleopas and his partner – and, indeed, for you and me as well, since these two common folks are meant to represent all of us caught up in the confusion and hurts of our own lives, seeking comfort, direction, and renewal. They come to understand that what happened wasn’t some failed plan; it was how it needed to be. As Jesus puts it as he starts to open the Word to them: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things, and then enter his glory?”
They learn what the whole world needs to learn: that in order to receive what is true and beautiful and wondrous and lasting, we have to first let go of all lesser things we cling to as partial and inferior substitutes. We have to be willing to give up our illusions in order to enter into reality. To state it as the basic message of Easter: we have to die in order to truly live.
I came to Prince Albert as St. Pauls’ Minister of Word, Sacrament, and Pastoral Care. I have tried in my way to be faithful to that calling. I came to walk alongside of you in your hurt and confusion. I came to teach and preach and to try to help us find some understanding in the midst of everything that has and is happening to us, to the church, to the weird world we live in. I have baptized in the hopes that those who were touched by the water and the Spirit would recognize themselves as truly Beloved of God. I have taken the bread in hopes that somehow, as I have broken it, we would recognize Jesus bursting out of it, real and present and transformative for each of us and for our community of faith. I have tried to live and proclaim the mystery of our faith: that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. I want those words to be so much more than a ritual formula. Because I am convinced that they point to the pattern and possibility for all life: that we must die to everything partial and passing in order to find life abundant and eternal.
Now, to repeat something I have said more than once: I am not Jesus. So that, in coming to share your journey, your hurt, and your confusion with you, I have not come as one with all the answers, with the brilliance and insight that Jesus brought to his life and work. Your journey through loss and confusion has been my journey as well. My searching the scriptures has been to help me make sense of it all as well. My celebrating the sacraments with you has been my own yearning as well to know myself as Beloved of God and to experience the reality of the risen Christ in my own life. In that sense, we are Christ to each other. As I have tried to minister to you in his name, I have needed you to minister to me as well, and I thank you that you are doing that in so many ways.
So, today, I ask us all to stop and reflect for a moment or two. Is there some way our lives right now are like an Emmaus Walk? Where are we on that walk? Are we still confused and dispirited? Are our hearts burning as we listen to the Word unfolded for us? Has the Easter mystery at the heart of our faith become transformative for us so that we are no longer looking behind at what has been lost but ahead at what is yet to come? Have we suddenly realized that the risen Christ is truly real and present to us and actually accompanying us on our journey? What are we learning as we walk this road? How are we being transformed through it all? Take a moment or two in silence – before the Amen that follows – to think about those questions for yourself and to see what answers emerge for you….
The Rev. Ted Hicks