Luke 24:13-35 / 3 Easter A / 08 May 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Imagine that you are one of those two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus that first Easter Sunday. It’s late in the afternoon, around 4 o’clock. You are on foot, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus; it’s about a seven mile journey. You’re talking. It’s been quite a day. You’d been awakened early in the morning, before sunrise. The women who had gone to the tomb of Jesus to complete his burial had come running back with some astonishing news. The tomb was open. The grave was empty. There was some almost incoherent talk of angels who said he was alive. Peter and John had rushed to the tomb and saw the grave cloths folded up neatly; the head covering folded separately. Mary Magdalene was nearly hysterical, claiming that she had seen Jesus and that He had called her by name.
And then nothing more. You waited with the other disciples for more news, but nothing. You had a light meal, just a bit of lunch. Finally, you decide to go home, you and your friend, and you set out on the road to Emmaus.
A stranger joins you, a visitor to Jerusalem, and invites himself to walk with you. He seems safe and decent enough, though a bit clueless as to the events of the previous week. He asks what you are talking about, and you fill him in on the details. You tell him about Jesus from Nazareth, how he was a great prophet in word and deed, how he preached the kingdom of God and healed people, and how the religious leaders had condemned him to death and had him crucified at the hands of the Romans. You stop for a moment and walk in silence. Do you go on? Do you tell this stranger what you have heard? It’s crazy, you know that, and so you hesitate.
Finally, you summon up the courage, and lower your voice a bit. “We had hoped he was the one. You know, the Messiah, the one who was going to redeem Israel. He looked like the real deal. And now it’s the third day since he was executed. Some women from our group amazed us with the news that they’d seen angels who said he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”
The stranger listens quietly, attentively. You’re surprised that he doesn’t laugh at what you just said, but he does smile slightly and shakes his head. “O foolish ones! So slow of heart to believe what the prophets have spoken! Don’t you realize that it was necessary that this should happen? It’s all over the Scriptures, how the Christ should suffer these things and enter His glory?”
You wonder about this. What does He mean the prophets had spoken it? You knew the prophets and the Torah and the psalms. You had to memorize them as a child in the synagogue. You knew what the prophets said about Messiah. What did this stranger mean?
And then the stranger begins with Genesis and he goes through the whole Scripture, Moses and all the prophets, and he shows them how it was that the Christ must suffer these things and enter his glory. He talked about the promise of salvation to Adam, that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. He talked about the Passover lamb and all the other sacrifices. He talked about the ram that stood for Abraham’s son Isaac. He talked about the tabernacle and the temple and the priesthood. He ran through the prophets, passages like Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant:
Is. 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
As he spoke, your head was almost spinning as he wove together all these passages and images you knew so well into a single, seamless tapestry. It’s one of those prolonged “ah hah”moments when it all makes sense, when all the loose ends are neatly tied together, when everything seems to clear. Your heart is racing with excitement. You see it. You get it.
Time seems to have stood still, because all of a sudden, you are at the fork in the road, and this stranger who seems to know the Scriptures as though he himself had written them, is going the other way, away from Emmaus. The sun is setting, the day is almost over, and you want to hear more. So you urge him, “Stay with us. It’s almost evening. You are welcome at our house. Please, stay with us.”
The stranger joins you at the table. Strangely, he sits at the head of the table, not the usual place for a guest. And when it comes time for the meal, he takes the bread as though he were the head of the household. He lifts his eyes to heaven, gives thanks, breaks it and hands it to you.
And all of a sudden, in a flash, your eyes are opened to this stranger with the broken bread in his hands, and in an instant you recognize who he is. He’s Jesus! He’s alive. He’s here with you giving you this broken bread he has just blessed! And you’re about to say something, anything, and just as quickly, he disappears. Vanishes from sight. And yet somehow this doesn’t disturb you in the least because it all makes sense in some very profound way. It was Jesus on the road teaching the Scriptures. It was Jesus at the table, breaking the bread. And you’re heart cannot possibly contain the joy and excitement and you have to tell others, so you run all the way back to Jerusalem. You run that seven mile road to tell the disciples what you had just seen and heard. You had to tell someone. You can’t keep such things to yourself. And the disciples confirm what you had seen. “The Lord has rise indeed and has appeared to Simon!”
How did you hear about the news that Osama bin Laden was dead? The television, the internet, a phone call, a text? My Facebook friends started posting. That’s how I found out about it. Within minutes, everyone was talking about it, and they haven’t stopped talking about it. It’s kind of interesting to look at in this second week of Easter. A notorious terrorist is killed and we can’t stop talking about the good news. Two short weeks ago, we heard the good news that dead Jesus is risen and probably haven’t given it much thought.
By the Lord’s own assessment, the two disciples on the road were “foolish” and “slow of heart.” Foolish as in unbelieving, slow of heart as in hearts that were hardened to the Word. They knew what Jesus had said, but they didn’t believe it. That’s true for all the disciples. Jesus had told them he was going to die and rise, but they were surprised to find an empty tomb that Sunday morning.
That’s us too. We can hear the good news of the resurrection and then go on as though nothing of significance had happened. We can hear that Sin and Death lie vanquished and defeated and still go through our weeks with long faces and guilt.. Luther’s wife Katie once chided him, “To look at you you’d never know that Jesus rose from the dead.” I had one of those weeks myself. I call them “As if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead” weeks where you get caught up in the treadmill and frustrations and failures and the general stupidity of life and you forget, “Christ is risen!”
This calls for a repentance, a repentance that turns slow hearts into burning hearts, like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. What caused their hearts to burn with faith was not the sight of Jesus risen from the dead. Note that. They didn’t recognize Jesus until the breaking of the bread and he disappeared. So they were no different than we are. They couldn’t see Jesus, even when he was walking and talking with them. Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. This was the Lord’s doing, not their nearsightedness. Jesus was weaning them of His visible presence. Teaching them to look for Him in the Word and in the breaking of the bread.
And that’s where our road and the Emmaus road intersect. It’s our road too, and we aren’t any different from Cleopas and the other disciple. We’ve heard the news, we’ve read the eyewitness accounts. “But him we have not seen.” Our eyes too are prevented from seeing Jesus. And yet he is quite here. The Scriptures testify to it. The breaking of the bread bears witness. He is with us in a most profound way, much more profound than a seven mile walk on a road. He is with us by His Word and Spirit, in the preaching of the Scriptures, in the breaking of the bread that is his Body, He is with us.
Easter joy continues, and it has continued for 2000 years, not because Jesus keeps popping up all over the place so that people can see him. Easter is not a series of ongoing appearances of Jesus. Easter continues in the preaching of Jesus from the Scriptures, in the Supper of His Body and Blood, “the breaking of the bread.” There the eyes of faith are opened, there he is recognized for who He is as Lord and God and Savior. There he walks with us and talks with us and hearts slow to believe are enkindled again by the fire of the Holy Spirit to believe.
Every Sunday is a little Easter, we say. Every Sunday, an Emmaus walk with Jesus, not seen but heard in his Word and recognized in the breaking of the bread. Word and Sacrament, we Lutherans say. It’s not a new idea. It goes all the way back to the road to Emmaus.
There is something else that goes back to this road. A prayer. The prayer of the two disciples as their traveling companion seemed to be pressing on and they invite him to stay with them for supper. “Abide with us, for the day is nearly over.” There are several well known hymns on that theme. “Abide with me fast falls the even’tide.” “Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide, for round us falls the eventide.”
It is our prayer at the close of the day, when we put our cares and anxieties to rest, and remind ourselves again that regardless of what has happened in our day, our week, our life – Jesus Christ is risen and in Him we too shall rise. This is a prayer from Compline, the prayer at the close of the day. It is our Emmaus road prayer at the end of a long journey.
“Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with your grace and goodness, with your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever.”
And He does, abide with us. In Word and Supper, now and forever.
In the name of Jesus,