Encounter on the Emmaus road
13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.
17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
19 He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together.34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
Thoughts on the passage:
I hope your Easter experience was a powerful one. For many of us the thrill of brass sounding off on “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” is a holy experience. For others the church filled to the front pews with friends and family is a wonderful one. I know that I work hard to provide a message for Easter that challenges us to live into the hope that we find in the empty tomb and the message of the resurrection. Whether it is on Sunday, or Monday, or maybe Tuesday, at some point the energy of Easter fades away and our lives return to normal. The joy of the resurrection has left us.
I want to challenge us to try and reclaim that joy and energy of Easter morning. The Wesley Choristers were our youth choir years ago and from what I understand their signature song was “Every Morning is Easter Morning.” I want our church to be a place where that is true. I want us to be a church where resurrection is not a once a year event but an every day experience. We won’t have brass every week and we probably will not be full every week either. What I do hope we experience each week is a reminder of the earth-shattering message that comes when God’s grace and God’s love overcomes our sins and even death itself and we find new life.
Our sermon today focuses on one of my favorite stories of Easter, the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. The powerful Communion imagery that we see when Christ is known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread is awesome. It is my tendency to often focus on that line and to use it as segue to yet another experience of Communion. We are not going to be doing that today. Instead we will be looking at the story in another way.
As a philosophy major at Beloit, I was required to take Logic. It was probably the easiest class I took in my four years of college and that is saying something since I took a class on the history of animation. At the same time that my logic class was a breeze for me, it was a seemingly insurmountable challenge for many of my classmates. So much so that many of them needed tutoring and so I was hire by the college to help my classmates that were struggling to understand the material. What I learned in trying to teach my friends logic was that no matter how much I explained it, you either got it or you didn’t. Until it clicked for a person, the best I could hope to do was help them memorize things.
We have probably all had the frustrating experience of trying to explain something to a person who is just not getting it. First, we will try one way to make sense of it and then another. We will use examples. We will try and find the simplest way to reduce it. We will look for comparisons to other ideas or concepts we think they understand, anything to help them grasp it. When they cannot understand it, it is easy to get really frustrated.
I wonder if Jesus felt the same way, walking along the road alongside his disciples. They engage him in conversation, but they do not recognize him. Instead they proceed to tell him that they do not understand this story of the resurrection they have heard from the women, even though they have the evidence right in front of them. Jesus tries over and over to explain to them what God is doing in the resurrection, using example after example from the scriptures but still they do not get it. He is ready to go on, but they persuade him to stay and so he gives one final example by breaking the bread and sharing it with them. Finally, it all falls into place and they realize that he has been with them the whole time.
Are we any different than the disciples? How often have we struggled to understand what God is doing in our lives? We have all probably heard the story about the footsteps in the sand, where a person looks back on their life and sees it as a trail of two sets of footprints, but at times there is only one set. They assume that these are the times that Jesus abandoned them, but the reality is those were the lowest moments of their lives, when God carried them. Like the disciples, and I think like each of us, they were unable to see God in their midst, even when God was carrying them.
What makes the message of Christ so powerful is that it is incarnational. Christ is alive and walks among us. The teachings of Jesus are great, they show us a lot about how to be better people. His commandments like loving our neighbors and praying for our enemies are important and worth study and practice. What makes them really work is the fact that Jesus did not just teach it, he walked it. He did not just talk about it, he lived it.
Jesus tries to teach the disciples with words, opening up the scriptures to them. Unfortunately, in the grief of the moment they are unable to understand. I think we can all understand that. In really powerful, emotional moments, what we do not need is cold logic and rational explanations, we need to be in touch with what our body and our emotions are telling us. Jesus is able to reach the disciples when he re-enacts the last supper and they are reminded again of his incarnational presence and the very real sacrifice that he made for them. The resurrection becomes real not because of the scriptures, or even the message of the women, but because they live it and experience it.
There is a story I love to tell about a man who falls into a hole while walking. First, a doctor walks by and the man calls for help. The doctor stops, writes a prescription, tosses it into the hole and moves along. Then a pastor comes along and again the man calls for help. The pastor stops, writes a prayer, tosses it into the hole and moves along. Finally, the man’s friend comes along and again the man calls for help. Much to his surprise his friend jumps into the hole with him. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Now we are both stuck.” “Yes,” the friend explains, “but I have been in this hole before and I know the way out.”
What we do not need more of in our life is advice that gets tossed to us while we are stuck in a hole. Whether it is the well-meaning advice of friends or the carefully researched and considered advice of experts. We do not need more people telling us how to get out of the hole or how to deal with our problems. What we need is someone who will be in that hole with us and show us the way out.
I know that whatever hole you are in, Jesus is in there with you. Jesus was with the disciples in their grief on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was with the disciples in their fear in the Upper Room. Jesus is with each of us as well. Even in the darkest moments and hardest times of our lives, Jesus is with us. Jesus is ready to carry us. This is the hope of the resurrection.
If we are to be a church of resurrection, we need to be incarnational like Jesus. It is not enough for us to know the right answers. It is not enough for us to tell others of the new life that comes from Christ. We need to live it and we need to show it. We need to live like people who have found new energy and new hope at the empty tomb. We need to live like people who know that through our darkest hours, God is with us. We need to show others by our actions, not our words the overwhelming power of God’s love and grace.
Jesus was known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. How can we use our relationships to show others Christ’s love? How can others find resurrection in our lives? In our communion liturgy we talk about how we are meant to be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. What does that look like?
We have all been in holes in our lives and with God’s help we have gotten out again. We all know people in our lives who are still stuck in holes. We need to be ready to jump in there with them and show them the way out again. Let us have the courage to go where people are hurting and show them Christ’s love. Let us have the courage to go where people are afraid and show them God’s grace. Let us go find people who are hungry, homeless, tired, frustrated, sick, and even dying, and show them the resurrected Christ. Let us be a church of resurrection. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?
What are the holes your life where you have needed the help of Jesus to get out of?
Who is someone you know who is struggling in their life and needs resurrection?
God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen