Vision Renewal

Lk. 24:13-35

In l946 my brother’s high school band teacher told my parents that he thought that my brother was a gifted musician. He suggested that my parents send my brother to Interlochen, The National Music Camp, outside of Traverse City, Michigan, for the summer. This was a slightly “daring” idea at the time. The Camp was run by Joseph Maddie, a music professor at the Univ. of Michigan and The Chicago Tribune suspected that it might be Communist. After all, the students played music by Russian composers, as well as some by Polish, and Czech and other eastern Europeans. Moreover, the camp accepted students of all races, colors, creeds - and it was co-educational!

My staunchly Republican mother said, “I don’t care if they are Unitarians! My son is going to get a good music education!” So we all packed into the Studebaker Commander and drove off to Interlochen. The students had individual instruction and orchestra rehearsal. In August my parents spent two weeks vacation time at Interlochen. My days were spent walking along the shoreline of the lake or sitting on the end of the pier.

It was an incredible experience for a boy of eleven. While I was by the lake, music would come through the pines as the orchestra played. Every morning these gifted musicians would tune up to Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” I can still remember the French horns and the oboes. Prior to this I had never really heard “classical” music. There had been occasional Texaco Metropolitan Opera performances, narrated by Ben Grower, on the family radio, but they were hard to follow. I didn’t yet know German, French nor even Italian. Nothing up to that time had prepared me for the experience of hearing “The New World Symphony” on a lake in the midst of a woods. I knew then that this was the kind of music which I was meant to listen to and to enjoy. There was a natural symbiosis of the heart of a young boy and of art which has a defined integrity and a vision of beauty. From that time on, I knew that the rest of my life I would have to pause from time to time and listen to great classical music. Were I not so to do, my soul would be bereft of something which makes it feel right and whole and at peace. From then on, I viewed and understood the world and life from a new perspective.

Now I tell this story, not to dramatize myself, but because I think that many of you have had a similar experience - perhaps about graphic art, or a relationship to another person, or even about something in science or work. You knew that this was for you. This was right. This was where you belonged. This was something that you would take with you on your life’s journey. Your vision was renewed. Your course was reset. Your life was changed.

Such was the experience of the two men on the road to Emmaus. These fellow travelers were on the periphery of the band of the twelve disciples. As Cleopas and his friend were walking along, Jesus fell in step with them. The two travelers were upset about what had happened at Golgatha. They were confused about the empty tomb and the reports of the women who went to the tomb. Jesus reminded Cleopas and his friend of the words of the prophets and of the messianic expectation of Israel. Their hearts burned as He talked with them on the road. While they were having dinner, as Jesus broke the bread, Cleopas and his friend realized that it was Jesus who had joined them. Then Jesus was gone! Quickly they ran and told the disciples.

Cleopas and his friend’s lives were changed from that time on. Previously they had seen Jesus and heard His teachings, but now the significance of Jesus’ life and death was stamped on their hearts, as it was to be on the rest of the disciples, by their experience of Jesus’ resurrection - by their experience of Easter.

You and I have shared at our respective churches the glorious experience of Easter and the hope and joy which Easter brings. I preached last week about Doubting Thomas and the way in which creation, the material world, reason and the intellect are affirmed by Christ’s physical resurrection. I asked that we bless our doubt and share our faith. The story of Christ’s appearance on the road to Emmaus celebrates a different side of our lives. It celebrates not the rational, but the sensate. It celebrates not proof but vision, not ideas but intuition, not the head but the heart.

The experience of Cleopas and his companion, and of the disciples, is more akin to that of the musician, poet or artist. It is that knowing and seeing that comes in insights, epiphanies, or flashes of intuition. Where as Doubting Thomas’ world is that of the linear sequential, Cleopas’ world is that of the random abstract thinker, or perhaps the artist. David the musician, Elijah and Elisha, the prophets had “insights.” They became convicted of certain of things. Their vision was changed and their perspective was shifted. It is the experience of an epiphanic moment or an insight of faith.

So the first thing the story of the event on the road to Emmaus teaches us is that certainty of faith often comes in a non-rational form. It is often in the area similar to the aesthetic.

Secondly, sometimes conviction of faith has a dramatic emotional side to it. Note that the hearts of the two men “burned.” Even so, I would venture to suggest that the disciples did not have perpetual heart burn. Some of their experience was ecstatic, and over the centuries charismatics, Pentecostals and renewal types have made a lot of that. But for most of the Church, the renewal of the vision of Jesus and the renewal of faith which they experienced at Easter, was more similar to my experience with classical music. It fit, was right, was rewarding and informed my life over a long period of time. So too did the revisioning experience of Easter for the early Church.

Finally, the experience of Cleopas & his friend was not simply an ahistorical experience without roots or connections. Just as Dvorak’s music incorporated American folk music, so Cleopas and his friend’s experience incorporated the legends of the Torah and the prophets. Religious insight, like esthetic insight, often is anchored around a concrete event or object, thus becoming a metaphor. The Church could not understand the atoning work of Jesus as the Christ “in the abstract.” It had to be tied to a concrete image. So too, Cleopas and company knew the presence of Jesus not in an abstract vision as they walked on a dusty road but rather “in the breaking of bread.” Their religious and esthetic vision was brought alive as it became centered in a meal, a meal which carried the metaphorical overtones of the Passover meal and the Last Supper. The meal in which Cleopas and his friend found Jesus Christ, was in effect the Eucharistic meal to which the words of institution are tied and which we also celebrate today.

This Easter tide, as you continue to celebrate the joy which comes from atonement and forgiveness, in which you and I affirm that sin, evil and death do not have the last word, and in which we rejoice in the assurance of eternal life, remember the story of Jesus’ appearance to two individuals just like you and me.

As you walk your own road to Emmaus, as you continue your faith journey, meet the risen Christ not only through your rational side but also through your intuitive and esthetic side in prayer and song. Meet the risen Lord through your heart. Bless the fact that the song of Easter “fits” and stays with you throughout life. And finally, I invite you to meet the risen Lord as the Church has throughout the centuries. Meet Christ through the living reality and metaphor of the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Lift up your hearts. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.