April 30, 2017 – 3 Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24:13-35; Sabbatical/Sabbath Keeping
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
This morning’s gospel is the famous story of the road to Emmaus. It is Easter day and two of Jesus’ disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified. They were speaking about what had happened to Jesus. Anyone who has grieved for someone they love knows that at first nothing in the world has any importance but the loved one and the loss. These two disciples were so absorbed in their grief that they did not recognize Jesus when he walked with them and spoke to them.
So Jesus made his identity clearer as he taught them about the Messiah and provided from their scripture an explanation of what had happened to him. Still their eyes were not opened. But there was something about this man that made them want to remain with him. They begged him to stay with them and share a meal. “So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
Because of their encounter with the risen Christ these two men went immediately back to Jerusalem, a dangerous place for the followers of Jesus, because they were compelled to share their experience of the risen Lord with the eleven apostles and their companions, other friends of Jesus. Because the women and men who saw the risen Christ shared that Good News with others, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are gathered together here in Jesus’ name. Our principal act of worship on Sunday mornings is our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. At each celebration of this sacrament we, who are friends of Jesus, have the opportunity for our eyes to be opened and to recognize the risen Lord. This sacrament is one of the great gifts of God to the Christian Church, a means of grace through which we may better know the Lord of life.
We believe that God continually offers us God’s love and the opportunity to be in communion with God. But God gives us the freedom to choose how we respond to God. This is true when we receive the sacrament. God does not “force” grace upon us when we eat the bread and drink the wine. This isn’t magic! God’s grace will enter us only if we receive the sacrament with faith and love. The reading of scripture, singing hymns, the prayers – what we do together before we share the bread and wine – all of this rehearsal of God’s work of salvation in the world – serve to put us in the proper frame of mind and heart and will to prayerfully and lovingly receive the gift of God’s grace offered to us.
As you know, this Sunday is my last Sunday with you until July. I want to take this opportunity to speak about my sabbatical. First of all, you should know that the canons or rules of the diocese stipulate that “each presbyter [priest] canonically resident in the Diocese shall, following each five year period of service, be eligible for a leave of absence for four months for spiritual and intellectual refreshment.” I have been your priest in charge and rector for over six years. Bishop Lane and I agree that four months is a very long time for the priest of a parish this size to be away. So I will take two months now, and the remaining two months sometime before the end of 2020. While I am away, the Rev. Regina Knox, who has been at St. Giles several times already, will preach and celebrate the Eucharist on five Sundays. Morning Prayer will be led by Jean Greenwood and Mark Cooper, our licensed Worship Leaders, with the help of other parishioners on the other three Sundays. If there are pastoral emergencies, I will be available to you for whatever is needed.
Those are the “mechanics” of my sabbatical. But what is its purpose? It isn’t merely a two month vacation, a “perk” of serving as a priest for five years. As the canons say, it is a time “for spiritual and intellectual refreshment.” I’m sure that it’s true for every kind of occupation, in the home or other workplace, that no one who hasn’t done the work really understands what is involved or what the stresses are. I know that’s true for the priesthood. I have had the opportunity to speak with other priests over the years and sharing our experiences has been reassuring. One priest, in particular, helped me know that I am not alone in the exhaustion I feel after Sunday morning services and even more, after Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, or after a funeral. This is physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion that takes a great deal of time to recover from. By now, my exhaustion is at a critical point.
I have also read about others’ experiences of being a parish priest. In a recent issue of the magazine “The Living Church” (March 26, 2017) Joseph Britton, the rector of a church in New Mexico, wrote: “at its heart, ordained ministry is a form of sacrifice: it is less about what one receives from it, and more about what one gives to it.” He also recognized “the absolute necessity of remaining grounded in prayer” in order to serve as a congregation’s priest. That is because God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – is the source of the service. Without a connection to God, the work is too difficult, too draining.
In the next two months my goal is to reconnect, more intentionally, with God. For a long time I have wanted to establish regular habits of meditation and yoga practice, but I haven’t succeeded. Now is the time to try again. I want to read scripture, especially the gospels, without the pressure of writing sermons. I want to establish a practice of saying the Daily Office from The Book of Common Prayer. I want to reflect on my ministry with you and open myself to God’s guidance in prayer. I want to connect with God in music and in physical work outdoors, in God’s creation. I want to hear and obey Jesus when he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I want to feel again what the disciples felt on the road to Emmaus when they said to one another: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” With God’s help, I hope to find spiritual refreshment in this Sabbath time.
I am not the only person here in need of spiritual refreshment. I would encourage you to find Sabbath time in your lives, time to connect intentionally with God. At worship, in private prayer, in reading of scripture and other inspirational writings, in music, in nature – whatever helps you to approach the divine. The world pulls us away from God in many ways, and we need to intentionally resist that pull so that we can engage with God. After all, in the end, is anything more important, more lasting than that? In Jesus’ name. Amen.