2nd Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:13-4327 April 2014
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus. To reach out and touch him, and say that we love him. Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen. Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.
This is one of my favorite stories in the whole of scripture. I love the way it is set as a journey in which Jesus is the surprising journey partner, who when invited in, makes himself known in the breaking of bread. It is the story of how we come to know Christ in the whole journey of life. Before we read it, let me point out that there are three scenes in this story, and we will stop after each one to ponder it.
First scene, Cleopas and most likely his wife, whom I think might be that other Mary, not Magdalene, not Mother Mary, but Mary, the mother of James and Joses. She was one of the named witnesses of the crucifixion and one of the women who went to the tomb. Remember that many of the followers of Jesus have by Easter night heard that the tomb was empty, but do not yet know what happened.
So they are walking to Emmaus and talking sadly about Jesus’ death and the fact that the women who went to anoint his body found the tomb empty. And Jesus approaches and walks with them but they don’t know it is he. Much as he did with Mary in the garden by the tomb, he asks them questions, to which he presumably knows the answers. He said to Mary at the tomb, “Why are crying and who are you looking for?” He says to the other Mary and Cleopas, “What are you talking about?” When they answer it is clear they cannot believe he hasn’t heard the news.
Hear the first part of the story.
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.
So Jesus is explaining the scriptures to them, but they still don’t know who he is. But they know enough about this strange journey partner that they want him to stay longer. Sometimes we are like that. We might not know exactly what keeps bringing us back to church. We think it is the people, the strangers we meet and are drawn to grow closer to here. But really, it is the presence of Christ that makes these friendships warm and inviting, whether the people recognize Christ there or not. In this sense, one begins to understand that all conversation, at its best, is like a sermon, where the words are words of people but are intended to help us appreciate the meaning of the scriptures and the real presence of Christ.
So the holy stranger is welcomed and the story gets even better.
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?"
So because of this interesting relationship developing on the journey, they invite Jesus into their home. They provide kind hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 tells us,
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Jesus always comes in to stay when invited. He gladly stays in the homes of all who wish him there, and he takes the bread, breaks it, and blesses it, and gives it to them (the guest becoming host here) and then their eyes are opened, and then they realize the meaning of his words.
And so it is for us that when we break bread together at the table, we come to a deeper awareness that Christ is already here, and that he was teaching us through the words of the scriptures, which we heard prior to eating the bread. The table takes us to a new level of knowing, the kind of knowing that is intuitive, not explanatory. That’s why we never try to explain what happens with the bread and the wine, except to say that Christ is really present in a way that we do not understand but know to be very real. And that we cannot cling to him, because he vanishes here, just like he vanished from the Emmaus couple, and also from Mary Magdalene, who was instructed not to cling.
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. 36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. (NRSV)
To announce the Gospel is to make it even more palpable and real. So as Mary and Cleopas rush from Emmaus back to Jerusalem to share their testimony that Christ is risen and has appeared to them, Christ appears again. As if out of thin air, he is there. They are scared, but he is announcing peace. He is reassuring them that he’s not a ghost. He has a real resurrected body. He is not a figment of their imaginations. As he invited doubting Thomas to touch and know in the Gospel of John, so here, the apostles and other disciples, including women, were invited to touch and see. And while they are still disbelieving, he sits down to eat again – another sign of reality of his risen body. He wants to eat. This is his second meal – one in Emmaus and another in Jerusalem. He wants to eat, and be in communion with them over food. Does he need food, or do they need his presence over food with them. Often times, when we eat, we are trying to satisfy other needs for comfort and reassurance.
This story helps us to see the real need for weekly communion – how we come to know Christ in breaking bread, as well as in interpretation of the scriptures. How his presence is more completely felt and his teachings better understood when bread, his body, is broken and shared. We see here also the value of every meal, remembering that we are eating with Christ.
When our kids were little, we would often leave an empty chair and would tell them that Jesus was sitting in that chair, whether they could see him or not.
This story also teaches us the value of watching for and listening for Jesus as we journey together. (slide) Christ is with us in the journey, whether we are in a happy stretch of life, or whether the path is difficult, whether we are walking alone, having lost a best companion in life, or whether we are walking alongside a wonderful companion, Christ is there, making meaning out of all relationships, making them real, making them authentic, filling them with hope and promise.
Christ is walking with this church, every day, but especially as we spend one extra hour each week for the next seven weeks, seeking to hear his voice and his direction. Walk with us, will you? That together we might better discern Christ’s voice – together.
Think about all the resurrection stories, how the mutual sharing of good news is what made the good news great. Had it only been Peter and John, or Mary Magdalene, or the three women, finding an empty tomb, had it only been Cleopas and Mary, who knows whether this truth would have really been trusted, but the more it is shared, the more others encountered the real presence of Christ, many more believed. Even Paul, a Pharisee who was persecuting Christians had a face-to-face with the risen Christ, long after he had ascended. That’s how powerful is the reality of our God. Truth shared becomes truth present becomes truth known becomes truth shared again, and two thousand years later, we are still here, celebrating the presence of the risen Christ and his blessing in our lives.