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Luke 24. 13 - 35
On the Road to Emmaus

 Even though this is the third Sunday of Easter, we heard today another story of what happened on that first Easter Sunday.  It’s that special Sunday afternoon, and these two gents, followers of Jesus, are returning home to Emmaus from Jerusalem, about a seven mile hike.  They are still deep in grief over Jesus’ death, and were talking together about all that had happened. It was all that anyone was talking about, apparently! So when a stranger starts walking alongside them and asks what they’re talking about, they can’t believe he didn’t know. They’re so shocked, in fact, that it stops them dead in their tracks, and they tell him he must be the only one who hadn’t heard! The stranger responds: So, tell me, what happened? And they recount the events of the last three days, about the man whom “they had hoped ... was the one to redeem Israel” (vs 21). They tell him about the women disciples having seen and heard the angel saying that Jesus was alive, risen from the grave, and when the men disciples went to the tomb, they didn’t see Jesus. You can almost feel their sense of grief, pain and disappointment.

You know what struck me when I read this? The fact that Jesus asked them to tell the story, and that Jesus just lets them talk it out --like any wise counsellor would. They needed to share the experience, to put words to their grief. It’s not like he doesn’t know what happened! Jesus just listens, he’s letting them express their pain—a grief so intense that they don’t even recognize who they’re speaking with— I’m sure that’s what Luke means when he says “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (vs16) Have you ever been in a situation so intense, you are so involved in the experience, so emotionally overwhelmed, that it’s all you can deal with at the time—nothing else gets through to your consciousness? Deep grief or pain or stress can do that to you. That’s where these two guys were at, totally overtaken with the experience and the emotions. And Jesus gets it, he lets them express it, talk it through, and by talking it through they are processing it. Jesus does this I’m sure so that he can take them to the next step in understanding. Jesus, still a stranger to them says “Foolish men, you’re missing the bigger picture!” And he takes them through the whole accounting of the Messiah’s coming, right from the time of Moses, and through what the prophets said. Jesus brings them the fulsome understanding, the revelation of the fullness of the Messiah’s, of his coming and purpose. Wow, how I wish that conversation had been written down! The two travellers feel their grief lifting, there’s a sense of excitement rising within them, this stranger’s teaching is striking a chord with them, they feel it deep within themselves, the strong stirrings of belief, and faith. There’s something to this stranger’s teaching that’s reaching them in new places. It’s getting late in the day when they reach Emmaus, and Jesus was just going to keep on going. But they invite this very knowledgeable stranger into their home. Hospitality was a key value in Jewish culture, and of course Jesus would have known that. But even so, Cleopas and his friend had to ‘urge him strongly’ to join them, Luke says, (v28) they had to work at convincing him to come in and eat with them. They didn’t want to take their leave of this very interesting man. And Jesus concedes and goes in with them and he becomes their guest. Their new friend says the blessing, and when he breaks the bread, they have a eureka moment, an epiphany! “That’s it, now we know who you are!” And as their eyes are opened to seeing this stranger as their risen Messiah, Jesus vanishes from their sight. “No wonder our hearts were burning within us when he was talking about the scriptures!” they say. (v. 32)

I love that description, ‘our hearts burning within us’. Ever had one of those moments, when what you’re hearing or maybe reading, or perhaps you’re praying or meditating or even singing —there’s that feeling that starts within you, a sense that something’s connecting, something you’d not put together before, and it builds up reaching you to a depth you didn’t know could happen. A sense of specialness that is opening your mind to a new knowledge that you just know intuitively, without question, that is right.  And you know that this is of God, that the Holy Spirit is touching your soul. For these two gents on the road to Emmaus, this was a ‘Christophany’, Christ was with them. This is not the only Easter ‘Christophany’, a seeing or experiencing of the risen Christ. First Jesus comes to the two Mary’s who were going to Galilee to tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the grave.   Later that day Jesus appears to the disciples, who’d locked themselves away in the upper room, frightened of reprisals by the Jewish authorities.  All of them but Thomas, who wasn’t there. But a few days later, Jesus comes to Thomas too, showing Thomas his wounds so he would believe.  Ok, so back to Cleopas and his friend.  They felt that sense of rising excitement when Jesus was explaining the scriptures to them, and when he broke that bread, the penny dropped. Yes! This is Jesus, the Lord really broke the bonds of death. God is victorious, even over the powers of evil that put him in the grave! They know and understand completely: it really is him, Jesus lives! It is in the Eucharistic context that their eyes are opened, when Jesus, who is the bread of life, says grace, and breaks the bread. It is in the action of Christ breaking the bread that they see Jesus for who he really is--their Messiah, their Saviour.

And what did Cleopas, Thomas and both Marys feel when their eyes were opened to see Jesus? Pure joy, the joy that only the love of the Lord can bring. So, what do we take from these stories—besides the obvious and of course miraculous fact that Jesus the Christ rose from the grave, that our Almighty and Glorious God overcomes any evil, even the worst evils that humanity can come up with? It means we believe in Christ’s resurrection. And, in the words of Tom Wright, a retired bishop in the Church of England, and author of many books:  “Ultimately, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a matter of believing and trusting in the God who would, and did do such a thing.”[1]  Believing and trusting. So we also believe that the living Christ comes to us, and trust that he will come to us in grief or gladness, and he can come to us anywhere; on the road, if we’ve locked ourselves away in our rooms in fear, at our work and when we’re gathered together in worship. 

And of course, Christ comes to us in the sacraments, in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist and the waters of baptism! You recall what the sacraments are:  “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”, or “earthly signs of heavenly activity. When we baptize someone the outward sign is the water, but inside the person is changed.”[2] It is by the grace of God that we are changed; it is God’s gift of love, of God’s presence that changes us.  Jesus is always available when we go to him in prayer. We feel his Spirit, as revelation of himself, as he gives us his love, his understanding. He listens when we tell him of our hurt, like he listened to Cleopas and his friend. Jesus gives us understanding and reassurance, just as he showed Thomas when Thomas needed to see Jesus’ wounds to believe. He calls us by name, like he called Mary Magdelene at the tomb. In the midst of their overwhelming grief, their pain, their loss, their sense that the Lord had abandoned them, Jesus came to them all.  And Jesus will come to you. Take your pain to Jesus, your grief, your loneliness, your anxiety, even your doubts, Jesus will come. Faith is truly knowing Jesus is there when we are going through whatever angst life throws at us.  Faith is holding onto that belief, even in times when it doesn’t feel like he’s with us. Remember, Jesus was in the garden standing right next to Mary and she didn’t see him, Cleopas walked miles alongside him and didn’t see him. And even if you’re not sure you want to believe, like Thomas was unsure, Jesus comes, if you have eyes that want to see.   But sometimes, when we’re feeling down and out or overwhelmed--for whatever the reason—grief, pain, loneliness, illness, or stressed to the max, it can be hard to see Jesus in the emotion, and our impulse is to think that God has abandoned us. And afterwards, when you look back in hindsight, and realize that God’s been with you all along. I’ve discovered it’s easier sometimes to see Jesus in the rear view mirror than out of the windshield.   

These post resurrections stories are stories of belief and unbelief, of challenge and pain, and of hope fulfilled. Jesus does make himself known to the followers, each in a way that they will understand. Cleopas and his friend needed some help, needed to understand some more about how it came to be that Jesus was the Messiah, and then, it the simple gesture of breaking of bread, recognition dawns, it all comes together and they see! They needed to learn more to see clearly—ah-- isn’t that true for most of us! As our minds are opened, our spiritual eyes open too.  And as our spiritual eyes are opened, we can see Christ in many more ways and places and people in our lives.  And the more we see Christ’s actions in our lives and the lives of others, the deeper our faith becomes.  So when life throws us those curves balls and challenges, --because life does that to us all-- we can hold onto that faith, knowing that Jesus walks along side us, the grace of God is always with us, and the Holy Spirit strengthens us.  Amen.  

[1] N.T. Wright. Simply Christian. (Harper-Collins: NY, NY) 2006 p. 207

[2] Scott Gunn & Melody Wilson Shobe. To Love and Serve (Forward Movement: Cincinnati, Ohio) 2022 20