Maybe George Lucas had it right . . . maybe. He began telling the story of Star Wars, starting in the middle, calling it Episode 4. Then, several years later, the Star Wars story travels back, all the way to the beginning in order to tell the first part, or Episodes 1 through 3. That way we could better understand the middle part of the story. And now, as many of you may have heard in the news this week, there were announcements that the cast has been selected for the final three episodes. And it was just in time, for this very day. For although we in the church know this day as the third Sunday of Easter according to the liturgical calendar, many of you may also know today as May 4th.
And to that I say, “May the fourth be with you . . . .” And because we are in an Episcopal church you respond by saying, . . . “And also with you!”
Personally, I prefer Emily Dickinson to George Lucas. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant . . . .” she writes. Because this story in our gospel reading this morning, this walk to Emmaus, seems to be a bit of a windy road. This story begins in the middle. And in that middle is the confusion and fear and hope and bewilderment of that present moment. Then a stranger joins these two, walking along with them, and as they ponder the present, this stranger reminds them of the past. And then just as the stranger seems to be moving on, they ask him to stay with them, to eat. And that is where past, present, and future come together . . . in a meal. This stranger reveals a future to them that is seen in the opening . . . or breaking of bread.
Dickinson writes that “the truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind.”
There is something about stories that unfold over time, something special about meals that take a while, with stories told over the breaking of bread. Change does take time, and sometimes change takes breaking . . . maybe even death and resurrection. And it is not until after that change or that passage or that walk, oftentimes with a stranger, that you can see what you did not see before, that your eyes may be opened and you may be opened. Admittedly, that’s hard to see on this side of that change.
Several months ago, I found myself listening to a story about a transformation of a very particular, but somewhat mysterious kind: the story of how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. No, it was not the children’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but instead was a science program called Radiolab. And they offered a vivid description of that process of what happens in the chrysalis. The first part I thought I understood fairly well. Caterpillars eat and eat . . . and eat (reading the Very Hungry Caterpillar over and over helped me out on this). But then, at some point, when that time is finished, they find a nice branch or safe perch and begin making this structure around themselves, this chrysalis or cocoon. That wasn’t the mystery.
But where the mystery was for me, and maybe for you as well, is what happens inside that structure that the caterpillar builds around itself. It seems that the explanation for how this happens is much less clear than you might think. Because the caterpillar, on entering the chrysalis dissolves itself inside that structure. The parts that were brain and stomach, heart and muscle, are no more. If you were to slice open a chrysalis or cocoon after the caterpillar has entered, you would find what the reporter described as “yellow goo”.
Everything that was once recognizable as a caterpillar is now gone . . . and what is left is this “goo” inside the chrysalis. You do not see two tiny wings or six tiny legs, as I suspected. And you would not find anything that looked like the caterpillar that once was. The transformation is quite complete and quite messy.
And maybe we should already know that change, that transformation is messy and difficult. And what we are along the way is not who we have been and not exactly what we will be. And what we see now is not what we saw then. We do not understand that there was a time where we crawled and could not imagine flying.
Those disciples on that road did not recognize the Risen Christ who walked alongside them. In that messy time of transition and change, of fear and bewilderment, they could not understand who was beside them. So Jesus told the story again, going back to the beginning. Even telling them that this was “necessary” that the Savior should suffer before “entering glory.” And so it is that suffering enters our story again too.
We are in many different places in our lives, in our journeys with the Risen Christ, even in our collective journeys as communities of faith. And we may not always understand the difficulties of the present, of where our own “slanted” story is at this moment. And so sometimes God asks us to look back, to remember where God provided and saved in the past. But we must also look ahead, knowing that the way through involves transformation at times. The path that Christ leads us on is often a path of being open to our brokenness, looking for where God is transforming us and where God is transforming you.
And knowing that it is in the brokenness where Christ meets us, where the Risen Christ is revealed . . . in the blessing and breaking of the bread.