The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 4/6/97
Text: Luke 24:13-35
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Many years ago, in my early days in radio, when I was of an age to have the stamina of youth, I did an all-night show - playing phonograph records in the wee hours for a few long- distance truck drivers, weary parents of infants who refused to sleep, and the occasional drunk. (It is amazing what a man will do for money, isn't it?) The show was called "East of Midnight."

That has nothing really to do with the message this morning. I mention it simply to let you in on the title of the sermon, "East of Easter." Easter is past, and if you can think of that momentous event as midnight on a clock, the beginning of a new day in human history, then superimpose a compass over that clock, we are EAST of Easter.

That should mean something to us. The question is, DOES it? Think about it for a moment as we reflect on those two friends we met in our scripture lesson.

They were just like us. They had the same concerns that have been common in every age - keeping body and soul together, keeping out of trouble, keeping up with the Joneses, keeping in tune with the times, and now keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of dashed hopes and shattered dreams. Just like us.

They were religious folk, having walked the several hours to Jerusalem a few days before from their home in Emmaus. With a real sense of excitement, they had gone to the holy city - obviously for the Passover, an event no good Jew could miss; but also to be near Jesus, one whom they had come to look on as Israel's deliverer, the Messiah. But now they were going home... dejected, depressed, defeated.

As they walked, they talked. Probably about mundane things: taxes too high, wages too low, kids too wild...probably a little about the trial and crucifixion, but nothing TOO much...too hurtful. Small talk to survive large pain. We all do it, until forced to do otherwise.

Perhaps that is why Jesus engaged them in conversation. The Great Physician was a Great Therapist. These two NEEDED to verbalize what was get things out in the open, to let some air get to the psychic wound. He knew what he was doing. They were still living WEST of Easter, where "the world, the flesh, and the devil" come out on top. They needed to see for themselves that the new day had dawned.

With a sadness tinged by anger, they described the events that had made them so heavy of heart - their disappointment with respected religious leaders, their distress at the political system which could be so easily manipulated by evil men, their despair at the loss of someone who had personified their hope for the future. Sounds very much like something we might read in tomorrow's newspaper. Those things happen in any age.

But there was something different here. Along with all the rage they were venting, they had that strange story they had heard from some women friends about an empty tomb, a vision of angels, and a risen Lord. What to make of it all?

Fortunately, their companion had the answers...not only for them, but for all of us. He reminded them of things they had known all along. He recalled for them that God's plan was never to overwhelm humanity with divine power, but to draw us in through love and service and sacrifice. The lives and words of Moses and the prophets were recounted to drive home the point. And now God's grand seed of strategy had burst into final glorious blossom with the events of these past few days.

Did the travelers understand? Not quite. But now they had arrived in Emmaus. The afternoon had gone too quickly; they did not want their conversation to end. "Friend, can you stay for a bite of dinner? We don't have much - just some bread and wine - but we would love to have you. Won't you stay, please?"

You see, they had begun to get a glimpse of life East of Easter, a life where evil does not win the world, a life where pain does not overwhelm existence, a life that even death cannot end. No wonder they wanted him to stay.

In the King James Version of the Bible, the invitation of the two travelers reads, "Abide with us; for it is toward evening and the day is far spent," words which were the inspiration for that beloved hymn, "Abide with me/Fast falls the eventide." The hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte, for 25 years the vicar of the parish at Devonshire, England. He was 54 years old, broken in health and saddened by dissensions in his congregation. On Sunday, September 4, 1847 he preached his farewell sermon and went home to rest. After tea in the afternoon, he retired to his study. In an hour or two, he rejoined his family, holding in his hand the manuscript of his immortal hymn.

Despite what most think, Lyte's "eventide" has nothing to do with the end of the natural day but rather the end of life. "Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day/Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away." The words are about the faith that face life and death fearlessly and triumphantly in the light of the cross and the empty tomb....East of Easter. Thus Lyte could conclude, "Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee/In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me." Vicar Lyte died three months later.(1)

Jesus accepted the invitation of the two friends on the road, of course, just as he accepted the invitation of Henry Lyte. Jesus always accepts. And during the course of that simple Emmaus meal, as the Gospel record has it, "their eyes were opened." Did they suddenly have all the answers? Of course not. But they had a glimpse now of the future...God's future...a future to be faced with confidence.

The calendar of the church says "East of Easter," but that question comes again: does it matter? What does the calendar of the heart say? In so many ways, we are still far, far West. So Jesus turns the tables this time. Instead of awaiting OUR invitation to him, he invites a simple meal - just bread and wine - so OUR eyes might be opened to the fact that he is really with us, and open to a life of faith that can be lived genuinely and confidently "East of Easter."

Let us pray.

O God, we confess to often being overwhelmed by events that drive us to despair. We see so much in this world that ought not to be. Our souls cry out asking, if not for revenge, at least for justice. Forgive us, Lord, and remind us again that you are still on the throne and sovereign over all. Open our eyes in the same way as the eyes of those ancient Emmaus friends as we come to the table. For we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen!

1. Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion, (Morehouse- Barlow Co., Inc., Wilton, Conn., 1985), pp. 195-196

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