I have a confession to make – Holy Week was difficult for me. Seeing you, being back in worship – that was all lovely. But actually living into Holy Week, into the story of Christ’s Jerusalem entrance, to the Last Supper, to the Cross, to the stone being rolled away – felt harder than usual. When I left for maternity leave, we were finishing Epiphany, celebrating the incarnation of God in the form of sweet baby Jesus. And when I came back, he was a grown man riding a donkey into the town where he would be crucified. It jarred me and I had trouble figuring out why until I sat down with this week’s scripture passage.
The Resurrected Christ meets Cleopas and another disciple on the road. The two followers seem to be blind, unable to recognize the man whom they grieve and desperately long after. Jesus plays along for a bit, asking what they’re talking about, what has happened. The two recount the dramatic events of the past three days and Jesus responds: "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. These sweet, daft disciples have forgotten. They’ve forgotten, in three days time, the story they knew so well. From Moses to the prophets – the story that had been written long ago, waiting for Christ to embody the promise. The story they had heard every day in their worshipping community, the story they heard at the dinner table, in the temple, passed on through the voices of their ancestors. The story preached by their rabbis growing up and by The Rabbi they followed and yet…the disciples forgot what had been promised to them. In between the flurry of grieving at the cross and of the Marys’ unbelievable resurrection story, in between the worries and the fears of what would come next, in between the planning and the walking and the doing of life, the story they knew so well seemed to vanish from their memory.
And the thing is, I can’t say I blame them. It doesn’t take much time to forget what we think we know so well. The disciples had been living the Word of God through their teacher, their Rabbi, Jesus. With his death, their daily education stopped. And so maybe they stopped, too. Without someone to help, to lead, to give inspiration, the disciples are lost. When I realized this, I understood immediately why Holy Week was hard for me. I was out of practice. For three months while I was on leave, I hardly heard Scripture, heard the words of Christ. And it isn’t that I didn’t try. I tried reading the gospel of Mark aloud to Hank for a few days – we got to chapter 4. Same with Acts – we got to chapter 3. I started a lenten prayer journal to try and walk with you even while I was away – I got to day three. So when I came back on Palm Sunday, it was hard to enter the story, even though I knew it and knew how it would end. Without that daily opening of scriptures, without that daily walking with Christ, Holy Week felt hollow, like it was missing something.
It is clear to me from this Emmaus story that Christ believes the study of Scripture is vital to the life of faith. To help the disciples realize he is among them, Jesus turns not to his own resurrected body or to the wounds in his hands or to the memories he’s made with the disciples but instead goes to the Word. I love how Luke recounts the flabbergasted words of the disciples – "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?". Were not our hearts recognizing the words we knew so well but had quickly lost?
Many of you are far more faithful in your study of Scripture than I. Your own daily devotional practices are beautifully ingrained in your every move. Your own heart burns with love for the Risen Lord because you have no trouble recognizing Christ when he meets you on the road. But for the rest of us who long for such passionate faith but lack the skills, I invite us to turn to the Book of Order, one-half of our constitution as Presbyterians. Now some of you might think I’m joking since the Book of Order is known for its more dry material on running church meetings and forming committees. But the Book dedicates an entire chapter to "Worship and Personal Discipleship." Here is the thesis: "The daily challenge of discipleship requires the daily nurture of worship."1 The daily challenge of discipleship – of walking with Christ as a disciple – requires the daily nurture of worship.
There is a theory made popular by Malcolm Gladwell – the 10,000 Rule. If you spend 10,000 hours on anything, you achieve "greatness." Now, greatness is not a Christian virtue so let’s translate that into disciple. By no means does one have to spend 10,000 hours of worship, study, and prayer to become a disciple of Christ but it makes me wonder – how much time and devotion are we called to pour out for God? If doing something for 10,000 hours (that’s 20 hours a week for 10 years) makes us excel at said task, what is the inverse if we spend one hour in worship once a week? Or maybe worship plus one hour of Sunday School?
The peak of my spiritual life is undoubtedly Sundays. Worship, Confirmation, Young Adult Lunch, Youth Group. I feel deeply connected to Christ through all the different ways Scripture is opened up to me. But come Monday, I started to weaken. My calendar seeps in and my Bible collects dust. I certainly study Scripture to prepare for Sunday mornings or for teaching but that daily nurture to meet the daily challenge of discipleship?
Maybe you feel the same way – maybe you don’t. But if you do, I have a proposal for you, lest we end up like Cleopas and become unable to recognize Christ in our midst. Just as the Book of Order says – "The daily challenge of discipleship requires the daily nurture of worship." Every day, for this upcoming week, I want us to read Scripture together. I know you’re busy – I know we’re all busy. I know that for some of you, making a commitment like this will feel incredibly difficult in between the loads of laundry and the cooking of dinners and the feeding the baby and the mounting emails – oh, wait – that’s my excuse list. So I’m going to make it easy for you, for us, because we have to start small and have to start together. In your bulletin is a list of the daily lectionary readings. You can use this list or you can download the Daily Prayer app that our denomination created. Or you can go to the link listed in your bulletin and get the readings emailed to you. It is all that easy and all that hard. It is all Christ asks of us – to sit with him in the Word, to let our hearts be set ablaze, be transformed by the story we know and need to hear again and again and again. I have no idea what will happen to us or if we’ll be able to tell a difference in our daily devotional life but I know I need to find out. And I need you, my faith community to help me. I pray that you will join me in this practice – in this opening of Scripture through the Risen Lord. I pray that you will ask me questions about the passages, will tell me how the Spirit infused your reading, will read the gospel with your children before bed, will invite a friend out to breakfast to read the word together, will start a prayer journal, will read the scriptures while riding the stationary bike at the YMCA. But most of all, I pray that Christ will open up the scriptures to you and to me. I pray that our hearts will burn with recognition and that our eyes will be opened and we will see the Risen Lord in our midst. May it be so. Amen.
1. Book of Order 2013-2015. W-5.2001