Luke 24:13-43 Second Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert 3 April 2016
When Richard and I were dating (ages 21 and 26), we got up at 3:00 am on a Friday in Raleigh, where we were visiting friends to drive to a wedding in Indiana. He was a groomsman in the wedding and had to pick up his tuxedo before the rehearsal. So I said, “I’ll take the first leg of driving, and you sleep, and when I get sleepy, I’ll wake you.” I thought I was wide awake, as we drove west on I40 but for some strange reason at 4:00 am when I 85 split off, I took the northern route. Wasn’t Indiana north of the Carolinas? But when I saw the Virginia state line, it dawned on me, as the sun was rising, we were going the wrong way. Richard was not happy. This was the first time in our relationship (though not the last by the way) that he was very upset with me. I was equally upset with myself, as I have always prided myself on having a great sense of direction. This error meant that we would have to drive many country roads through West Virginia to get back on track. Teenagers, this was back in the day before GPS and cell phones. No voice on my phone saying, “Recalculating. Make a Uturn at your first opportunity.” Paper maps and pay phones at gas stations were all we had. But we were in rural West Virginia, and I was not sure where we might even find the next place to gas up.
The moral of this story is that it only takes one little, tiny mistake, made in the middle of the night, when you’re not doing your best thinking, to send you on a wild ride, which threatens to end a relationship, as well as make you miss an important event. Yes, there was about an hour there, when if Richard had not calmed down, and I had not held confidently my own sense of dignity after a humbling experience, that we would not be married today. Such is the journey of life. The question is always – where is Jesus – in this journey? Do we recognize him, especially in times of distress? And as we reconstruct the story of our lives, how do we tell it? Because you know, how you re-tell your story shapes the way the story goes into the future.
Hear now this crucial Easter evening story, about the mysterious appearing of Jesus to two of his followers.
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.
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)
Jesus came near to journey with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. It does not say that they were too stupid to notice it was Jesus. The mystery of his walking with them seems to be kept a mystery by none other than God. So perhaps faith is still a mystery to you. You just don’t feel confident that Jesus is with you, then welcome to the story of God’s people. God’s people are always looking for God, trying to figure out what is God doing.
Christ wants on this road to Emmaus to hear them rehearse the story of their lives. He knows it already. It’s about him. But he asks them to tell him. Same with us. There’s something significant to be gained by telling your story, the way you see it, and being carefully heard. And then having been heard, Jesus gives them perspective on what they’ve experienced, but mind you, they still don’t know it’s him. Prayer and prayerful conversations with others are so powerful. Christ is really present when we attend to one another, sharing our stories, particularly the struggles and disappointments and fear. “And we had hoped He was the One to save us.” Don’t you see the sublime irony in that statement? And how often we utter similar statements, “And I had hoped God would answer my prayer.” And God was answering our prayers, but in ways different than we wanted or expected.
So they reach the point of decision: Shall we invite this mysterious One into our home, our lives? He seems willing to keep moving on, not pressing himself upon them. But at their invitation, He is happy to linger. Same for you and me. Christ is never pushing us, forcing himself upon us, he’s just walking alongside us, waiting for us to say, “Stay with me.” And when we eat with him, the mystery unfolds, our eyes are opened. We’ve heard Him interpreting scripture and then breaking bread and for a split second we see Him for who he really is. Friends, this is why Word and Sacrament or Scripture and Communion always belong together, because it is the combination of the two that enable to get the best glimpse of Christ in our midst. He’s always there, walking with us, but we cannot always see, in fact, sometimes, it seems that even God prevents us from seeing clearly.
But what happens next is so very important. First they reflect on their experience together. Were not our hearts burning within us? That’s why I think we should do more reflecting on our own worship experience. We might need to revive the Worship Reflection class or something similar. We need places to think about and share our experiences of the Holy. They reflect in the moment about their journey and then they rush back to Jerusalem. It was a long way and it’s late, but they need to tell the others of their experience. It is in the telling of their experience on the journey and at the table with Christ, that Christ appears again -- this time to more of the disciples. This time, his presence is more real, less mysterious, and this is frightening, but He reassures them. “Peace be with you.” This time he really challenges them to believe, to trust that it is in fact, He, himself, the Christ. But see, it has taken an unknown Presence in a long journey with the sharing of experiences, a tentative invitation to come in to share table; a mysterious awareness of who He is, followed by disappearance and recounting of the story. Only after all that, do the disciples really see Christ in such a real way that it scares them.
And even with the reality of that appearance, the text tells us, they are in their joy, still disbelieving and wondering. So this story might make anyone who disbelieves or struggles to see Jesus feel more comfortable. You are in company, when you struggle to see Jesus and when you see him, still struggle to believe you are seeing Him.
But even more significant in this story is the power of the journey and of the story-telling of the journey. Life is a journey, and along the way, we make wrong turns, take easy exits when we should stay on the road.
We take this journey with others, including our brother Jesus, who is traveling with us, whether we recognize him or not. And here’s the most important thing beyond the power of the unity of Word and Sacrament, Scripture and Communion, that I have to say about this text: Pay attention to your journey. Don’t just wander onto a new highway unaware and find yourself trying to navigate the back woods of West Virginia (no insults intended – cause I’m from the pig fields of N. Carolina)
Reflect on your journey with others. That’s why we have dinner groups – not just for new recipes and more people to add to your Facebook page. That’s why we have adult classes, as well as classes for youth and children – to reflect on the journey of life together and try to figure out where’s Jesus. It’s why we gather every Sunday to worship, sing, pray, and most importantly, hear the Word and taste the Word because we want to see where Jesus is walking with us.
When our kids were little, I disliked the “Where’s Waldo?” books. How tedious to stare at a page, looking for that guy. But the sharing of stories, admitting to our detours, our relational mistakes, our fears, our failures, our lack of perspective, and then trying to see where’s Jesus in all of the mess, now that’s worth spending some time. That is worth the work. It does take time, and it does challenge us to look back and consider when we’ve been blind or lost or afraid or disbelieving. I don’t know about you but I have my blind, lost, afraid, or just plain stupid moments every week. I can try to forget them or blame someone else, but usually, it is better to process them and try to figure out what God was trying to teach me. When I reflect on my life and think about why I said what I said or did what I did, when I can do that while remembering who I am in Christ (valuable, beloved child of God) I grow.
It helps to retell your story to others and to yourself in a way that shows your weakness, your blindness. Imagine this story, if we only heard the part about Jesus sitting down and they recognized him and then they saw him again with all the disciples. No power to that story. No, the strength of the story was that they were blind and now and can see, the power of so many Biblical stories is they/we were lost and now are found. We were slaves in Egypt and now are free. We were sinners and now are forgiven.
Don’t be ashamed of not knowing, of all the dumb mistakes you’ve made in life, all the places when you have taken a wrong turn, and by all means, do not rush through life, never stopping to examine it. But reflect on and tell your story as it really is, because with the whole story, blindspots and weaknesses included, we all can see the grace places where Jesus was walking with us and we did not even know, when Jesus was opening our eyes and bringing us peace, peace at last.
I believe Christ can best open the eyes of our hearts, as we are bold enough to reflect on our own personal journeys of faith together with vulnerability, with trust, and with the confidence that when we do, Jesus will appear.