Luke 24:13-43 2nd Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert 27 April 2014
This is one of my favorite stories in the whole of scripture. It has inspired many artists, like Carvaggio. Many artists and interpreters have assumed the travelers were both men and they may have been. But this modern artist sees it as I like see it, as Cleopas and his wife. Some have said it 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 and found an empty tomb but did not see Jesus.
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. Let me also point out that our brothers and sisters at Beth-El will be reading this story and sharing communion today too. The road they walk is difficult, but we know that Christ is on that road with them, and that they will be given new life, despite their grief and disillusionment.
So the two 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. 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.
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 we meet and the friendships we build at church. 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, we begin to understand that all conversation, at its best, ushers us into a deeper understanding the meaning of the scriptures and the purpose of our lives.
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.
This story helps us to see the 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.
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)
So as Mary and Cleopas rush from Emmaus back to Jerusalem to share their testimony, 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. This is his second meal – one in Emmaus and another in Jerusalem. Does he need food, or do they need his presence communing over food? Often times, when we eat, we are trying to satisfy other needs for comfort and reassurance.
We see here the value of every meal, remembering that we are eating with Christ and we have the potential to be Christ to one another, when we take our meal-time conversations seriously and put away the darn cell phones and Ipad and TVs and start being Christ-like listeners who bring hope to people for whom we are. When our children were little, we would often leave an empty chair and would tell them that Jesus was sitting in that chair, seen or unseen.
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 or together with others…. Christ is there, making meaning out of all relationships, making them authentic, filling them with hope and promise.
Christ is walking with this church and Christ is also walking with our Presbyterian friends and neighbors in the worshiping community of Beth-El, who are heart-broken over the arrest of their pastor and the pain of his family, and the whole church family. But as Kathy, executive director and I met with the congregation’s leaders and with the pastoral care of a compassionate Spanish-speaking chaplain, it became clear that, even in troubling times, Christ is near to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit, as the Psalmist tells us in 34:18.
After they shared their pain for two hours, we held hands and went around the circle, everyone praying in their own native tongue and the youngest among us, a twenty-year old raised in the Beth-El congregation, who has gone to Montreat with our youth, lifted the roof praying in both languages, giving thanks for God’s forgiveness, for Christ’s sacrifice for all people, including the pastor. She prayed for healing for the victim and comfort for the family and in the congregation. I firmly believe that their shared communion this morning, just like ours, is part of what heals us and gives us strength for the difficult times in our life.
Christ is on the journey with us, no matter where we find ourselves. Look for his presence. Listen for his voice. And remember that Christ is merciful, bringing healing in our darkest nights, opening our eyes to the goodness of God’s presence. Then we see that our hearts were burning, because Christ was there all the time, bringing life to us, even when we thought we were desperately alone and without hope.