Sermon for April 12th, 2020
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus on the Road to Emmaus
Today's scripture passage takes place on Easter Sunday, the day that Jesus Christ rose from the grave. But unlike the part of the Easter story we are most familiar with, it doesn't take place at the empty tomb or in the garden. It takes place on the road to to a town just outside of Jerusalem called Emmaus. The two disciples in the story are leaving the great holy city where God was believed to have lived. They are leaving in despair and sorrow, all their hopes and expectations shattered. They are on the road, headed to their homes, perhaps unsure of what comes next.
I think we can identify with that. We are not celebrating Easter today in the place or in the way we are most accustomed to. We're all on a new road together, and we are faced with new anxieties and challenges that just a few weeks ago hardly seemed possible. So the first thing we can learn from today's scripture is that Easter--and our encounters with the risen Jesus--don't always happen in the places or the ways we might expect... but they still happen, and they still have the power to transform our sorrows into joy!
The earliest Christians did not call themselves "Christians." They called themselves the people of the road, or in Greek, ὁδός (hodos), which can also mean the way, the path, or the journey.
For this week and the next two weeks, we'll be talking about some of those "on the road" encounters with Jesus that we find in the wake of the resurrection. Here at First Presbyterian Church, we sometimes describe ourselves as a church for wanderers. That means that wherever you are on your journey--whether you've walked this road for decades, or whether you are just starting out, we want to walk with you on that journey, just as Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
In verse 14, we read that they are "talking with each other about all these things that had happened." Here too, I think we can identify. A good portion of my day and my online conversations are filled with talking about the latest Coronavirus headlines, the latest changes and developments in our world, many of which are frightening.
Jesus comes along the two disciples, and at first they don't recognize him. He asks, in essence, "so what's up with you guys these days?" Imagine if someone emailed or messaged you this week, saying, "So, what's new? How's life? You having a good time at work?"
Ummm...haven't you heard about what's going on? No, tell me about it.
And so the two friends "educate" this stranger about all that has happened. Here's the second thing I want us to take note of: Jesus patiently listens to their sorrow and their anxiety. Yes, clearly he DOES know what happened, but he takes the time required for them to let it all out. God knows what we're going through, but he still cares enough to listen. He still wants to hear it from us.
After they're all done, Jesus says to them in verse 25, "Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!"
I don't really think he's being harsh or judgmental here. I think he's being playful. He's teasing them the way he often did in life. But he's also gently reminding them that what seems overwhelming to us is not so overwhelming to God. If you look at things the way the world does--or your friends, or the headlines--you will be discouraged. But God, and the scriptures, offer a different perspective, a wider perspective.
Verse 27: "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures."
So the third thing we learn from this passage is the value of our sacred stories, our scriptures--which speak to us from the ages with wisdom and perspective. They were written by people who have walked difficult paths before us, and they were inspired by a God who knows our destination.
And yet still, at this point, the two friends do not recognize their Lord. Verse 28: "As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
Two important things here: When Jesus walks with us, he does not force himself upon us. He offers wisdom and insight, and then goes on his way. If you want more than that, if you want to recognize him for who he is snd really get to know him, you have to invite him into your life and into your home.
The other thing is just as important. These two friends, seeing that night is coming, show kindness to a complete stranger. That's exactly the kind of love that Jesus had taught them, when he said to his disciples that "whatever you do to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done to me."
If you want to please God, if you want to know and recognize Jesus, then learn to see him in the face of those who are in need. Now is a great time to practice that, with so many in dire need--will we recognize them? Will we help them? Or will we let Jesus keep on walking into the night?
Once inside their home, the disciples break bread with Jesus, and it is in that familiar moment that "their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight."
We begin recognize our Lord when we act in service to others, but we recognize him most completely in the act of worship, in familiar rituals, words and traditions, even when they happen in unusual ways and places. This is why we continue to gather together, virtually, on Sunday mornings. This is why we continue to study the scriptures together, online. This is why we continue to love and support each other as a church community, now more than ever.
When they recognized him, Jesus vanished from their sight. But not from their hearts, which burned within them. The final thing I want us to note is their response. Verse 33: That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They (too) were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In a world filled with so much bad news, when we hear and recognize the good news, we are compelled to share it with others. When we do, we are sure to find that others have seen what we have seen, experienced what we have experienced, and our faith, our hope, our love, is multiplied.
Today, on this remarkable and unusual Easter Sunday, we are all on a new road together. Some of you may be running down that road full throttle, trying desperately to get somewhere familiar, somewhere recognizable. Some of you may be walking casually, pretending that nothing has changed, that it's still the same road you've always known, even if you're not walking down it in quite the same way. Some of you may be standing still in the middle of the road--stuck--wondering what happened and which way you're supposed to go?
For all of us, on all of our roads, my resurrection prayer is this: That we might let Jesus interrupt us along the path, that we might be open to a new way--a God way--of seeing our journeys, that we might open our hearts to help the helpless, to befriend the friendless, and to give hope to the hopeless.
And in our wandering, in our working, in our worshipping, may we all rejoice...knowing that we worship a God who brings light out of darkness, order out of chaos, and life out of death. Happy Easter, First Presbyterian Church. The Lord has risen. He is risen indeed.