Our Scripture describes a time when two of Jesus’ followers saw events of Holy Week and the Resurrection from a very different perspective than what Jesus did.
Although we are one week out from Easter, our Scripture passage this morning takes place nearing the end of that same day as two who have been followers of Jesus head back home to their town of Emmaus after being in Jerusalem for the horrifying events surrounding Jesus’ death and then the confusing news that he has risen, that his body is no longer in the tomb.
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.
Just imagine what those two might have been experiencing as they walked along that road together. ….so many different emotions. They were in a period of uncertainty where all they knew to do was to return home and try to pick up the pieces of their lives that seemed so empty now. I wonder if even their bodies embraced the dejected, slumped over posture of those who seem to have lost all hope.
They were in a spiritual crisis. Ruth Haley Barton’s term for this spiritual transitioning is the time between “the now and the not yet,” when we don’t know what’s ahead or when it will happen. That certainly describes these two. So many had given up life as they knew it to follow Jesus. They had placed their trust and hope in him. His body was gone from the tomb, but they weren’t really sure what that even meant, for them and for all the others.
Maybe you see yourself in this place between the now and the not yet…when something is going on in your life in which you just don’t see the road ahead or where it will take you. Maybe you are not sure what God is doing, or maybe you are not sure if God notices you at all. Do you see Jesus walking that road with you?
These two didn’t, at least not until the end of the day, not until Jesus had reframed their ideas about what had happened, not until Jesus had listened and cared for them, not until Jesus had reminded them of God’s big picture, that they were part of that story. Not until Jesus’ presence with them had transformed them. They allowed this stranger to join them, and they discovered the transforming presence of Jesus. So can we.
When Jesus approached the two and asked what they were discussing, the two did not recognize him, and he did not set them straight. His concern was not to immediately take away their grief and make everything better. His concern was for their long term welfare, their spiritual transformation. So he gave them time to process their thoughts and emotions. He gave them the gift of listening to them, of being heard without fear of judgment or a quick fix. He allowed their perspective to develop as they relayed events to him. THEN he positioned them squarely within God’s story by drawing attention to God’s plan that the Messiah should suffer and enter into his glory.
He referenced Old Testament Scripture for them, ones that would have been familiar to them. Almost like saying to them…Remember. Remember what you have heard. Remember what I have told you.
This passage doesn’t tell us exactly what he referenced. There are so, so many. Jesus spoke of the necessity of his suffering, so he might have mentioned the Passover Lamb, the animal sacrifice that had to be made with blood shed, an innocent sacrifice for the forgiveness of the guilty.
Maybe he spoke of the beautiful passages from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant: “See my servant will prosper; he will be highly exalted. But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”
Jesus centered their experiences within the context of God’s plan and God’s promises. He didn’t negate what they were feeling. He honored their perceptions and then moved them beyond that into God’s reality which looked very different than what they thought.
Notice the hospitality they offered him, because very quickly this hospitality is going to be turned upside down. “So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Suddenly there was a shift from Jesus as guest to Jesus as host. He welcomed them and their eyes were opened.
Jesus revealed himself in two very poignant ways, through Word (the sharing of Scripture) and what we now call the Sacrament of Communion or The Lord’s Supper. We are receiving Jesus and in turn giving ourselves to Him. Word and Sacrament are where we recover our sight, where our eyes are opened to the transforming presence of Christ. In these we are transformed by our encounter with the Risen Lord.
So it is with us. You are never alone…even when it seems that you are…even when you do not recognize Jesus with you. You are never alone. When it feels like you are, we can learn from these two on the road to Emmaus. Word and Sacrament are the foundations where we encounter Jesus. He is the Risen Lord. To say that Jesus is risen is to affirm that He is with us and we will never be alone. To say that Jesus is risen is to affirm the hope we have in God’s reality.
References from Life Together in Christ, Ruth Haley Barton