The Neverending Story

The Walk to Emmaus (1970), Resurrection Chapel, National Cathedral

Easter 3 2020
Rev. Isaac Bradshaw
Luke 24:13-35

If your time spent in social isolation these last few weeks is anything like mine, you’re getting very close to reaching a crisis point. Things look dim, and even with something like a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a real sense of terror, because, if you’re like me, you’re getting very close to running out of things to Binge watch.

I’ve gone through Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. I’ve caught up with the super rich and powerful on Billions and Succession. I’ve Been to Schitt’s Creek and back, and plumbed the mysteries of America with America’s Secret History. I’ve even set some time to watch a movie called John Dies in the End, in which, disappointingly, John does *not* Die at the end. And at some point I will regale you with the plot of Velocipastor, but now may not be the time because… Now I’m down to watching Unsolved Mysteries from1988, and oh my goodness, the shoulder pads and mullets are overwhelming me! I need new stories!

So last night, I revisted an old one. The Neverending Story; maybe if you grew up in the ‘80s, this movie is bronzed into your memory. It’s the

story of a young Warrior, Atreyu, who must go to the ends of Fantasia to find the cure for the ill Empress and end the Nothing that is threatening to destroy their land. There’s Gmork, the evil wolf-servant of the Nothing. And Morla, the giant, ancient talking turtle. And of course, Falkor, the flying luck dragon who rescues Atreyu.

But that’s not,a s it were, the end of the story. Because Atreyu’s story is actually a story-within-a-story. It’s also the story of Bastian, a bullied boy who must get his head out of the clouds and put his feet on the ground.

What we have in Luke’s Gospel today isn’t just a story. It is something out of a fantasy novel or a movie. Whenever I read it, I think about scenes in stories or movies when it all comes together for the central character… Like we see a flashback to the bits and pieces of clues along the way that now only make sense in hindsight, or with the movie actually showing the viewer all the things they missed along the way.

Cleopas and friend are in a similar state as they walk to Emmaus from Jerusalem. We don’t really know the context of their journey, but it seems that they are part of Jesus’ broader community of disciples, not apostles, precisely, but certainly those who followed Jesus but who were not close enough to him to be among those who witness the resurrection.

Much has been made of the shape of this story, of how Cleopas and friend don’t recognize Jesus walking with them until the very end; but remember there were thousands of people following Jesus, right up until the very end.

But the story isn’t simply another resurrection account; and we have to say here that accounts, stories of dead people coming back to life are quite common in the ancient near east, and in modern western stories as well. So here’s what makes the Emmaus road experience so different, and so important to Christians and to us as individuals.

The story is about how Christ becomes present to us as the resurrected Son of God. And note how it happens: Christ is *already* among his followers, but we recognize his presence through the breaking open of scripture, and the breaking of the bread… And what are we doing today? What do we do every Sunday? We break open the Scripture, and we break Bread, and we recognize the presence of Christ among us.

Our present situation makes this recognition more… spread out, but we understand that the Real Presence of Christ in the assembly is both ongoing and made real regardless of physical proximity to one another.

The story starts out as something that happens to other people, something that happens to others, something that happens “over there,” to those people, to the 11, but not to us. The story… is safe.

But, then we *recognize* Christ’s presence through these actions. Christ is already present among us, but it is when these two things are brought together that we look around and suddenly, Jesus we go, “Wow! He was here all along! He was here when I graduated high school, he was here when my grandmother died, he was here when I cheated on that test in college, he was here when I got married, he was here when we got into our first fight” The Gospel is that Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is here!

Throughout the Neverending Story, it becomes clear that the book Bastian reads is something… special. Bastian reads his own presence into the story; at the end, Fantasia is rescued and Atreyu and the Empress and Falkor are saved because Bastian recognizes his own presence in the story. Fantasia and the human world start to meld and merge into one another.

The recognition of the presence of Christ means the merging of our story with Jesus’ story. And then we recognize Jesus among us. And the story becomes definitively un-safe, because of the power of the story to alter and change lives. When we become aware of the presence of Christ in our lives, then we become the presence of Christ in *other’s lives * It’s our role as the Church to *be* the presence of Christ in the world, just as the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, we must also become the body and blood of Christ in our schools, in our workplaces, at Kroger and Walmart. The story is no longer something happening over there, but here! And as a result, our story must become His story. This book that we read… It is not safe. This Bread that we break, it is not safe. Other books, other bread… You get to go back to the way you were. But this Book, this Bread…

Well, that’s another story.

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