SCRIPTURE – Luke 24:13-35
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
“What Are You Discussing?”
May 8, 2011
Of all the resurrection appearances in the four gospels, our story today is by far the most fully developed one. I like how this story is a microcosm of our own faith formation. This is pretty close to how my faith has developed over the years: a long journey filled with questions, struggles, forays into scriptures and discussions with traveling companions, with a few fleeting glimpses of Christ in my midst along the way.
In the story it’s Easter Sunday, and Cleopas and the other unnamed person are traveling back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, where some amazing and perplexing things have happened. So here’s my question: If there’s talk of a missing body and appearing angels and a risen Savior in Jerusalem, why are they leaving? If I were them, I would want to stick around, to find out what’s going on, to get to the bottom of all these glorious rumors. Why are they heading out of town when all the answers are behind them?
Because what’s behind them represents the destruction of their dreams. Barbara Brown Taylor says that “hope in the past tense is one of the saddest sounds a human being can make.” Cleopas says, “We had hoped that he was the One who was going to redeem Israel.” We had hoped. We had hoped for an optimistic diagnosis. We had hoped for financial security. We had hoped to spend the rest of our lives together. There is nothing that rips your heart out like hope in the past tense. And where does that leave us? Not wanting to stick around, that’s for sure. We want to run away.
You and I have walked this road to Emmaus before. It’s the road of deep disappointment. It’s the road of realization that your plans may not be God’s plans, that life sometimes stomps on and smashes our biggest hopes. If Jesus had truly been the one to redeem Israel, he should have been defeating pagans, not dying at their hands. We had hoped.
You see the irony at play here? The travelers are walking along, chins dragging, looking like they had lost their best friend, when this stranger – we know who it is – comes along and asks them, “Why the long faces?” And they say, “Hey knucklehead! Are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on?” Then, they begin to explain to him all that had happened and how their dreams had been dashed and how this prophet Jesus had disappointed them by having the audacity to let himself get killed. Cleopas literally says, “No one has seen Jesus,” and he says it to Jesus!
I was in the drugstore recently to pick up a prescription, and the pharmacist said to me, “This prescription is for Kory?” and I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Can you verify the address?” And I said, “1717 Hunters Rest Court.” And he said, “Has she ever used this medication before?” And I wanted to say, “Lady, I’m her! I’m standing right in front of you, how can you not know me?”I wonder how many times I’ve asked God to be with me, to give me some kind of sign, and all the while God has been standing right in front of me going, “I’m right here! How can you not know me?” How often have we walked lonely roads and gone through difficult times thinking we are all alone, only to find out that Jesus was walking beside us and we didn’t even know it. It gives me hope to know that God won’t stop walking beside me just because I don’t acknowledge his presence.
After the travelers pour out their hearts, Jesus responds rather unsympathetically, “And you’re calling me a knucklehead? If you’d read your Bible, you wouldn’t be surprised.” And he proceeds to interpret the biblical story for them in light of his resurrection. Because that is how the story must be heard. That is how all stories of faith must be heard. The Creation Story, Noah’s Ark, Joseph and his fancy coat, Moses and the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the prophets’ warnings and predictions…all these stories, all the stories in the Bible, are illuminated for us Christians when read in light of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, in light of God’s plan for us.
The story didn’t end the way the disciples thought it would. I love movies like that, ones that have surprise endings. I’m terrible at figuring them out, which may be why I enjoy them so much. We’ll get to the end of a movie and I’ll go, “E.T. was an alien? Now I get it!” I especially liked the movie “The Usual Suspects,” because the twist at the end is so well done and so surprising (at least to me!). When I found out the true identity of Keyser Soze, I immediately watched the movie again to see all the clues I missed and gain a new understanding of the story.
When we’re in the middle of the movie of our lives, things don’t always make sense to us. We don’t quite understand why things happen the way they do. We get caught up in the tensions of what feel like irresolvable conflicts or inexplicable events. But what this story tells us is that if we strive to look at our lives through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection, we’ll gain a different perspective on our story.
That perspective, which the travelers lacked, was the perspective of hope. What this story reminds me is that I believe in a God who has this amazing knack of taking dead dreams and resurrecting them in surprising ways. For the two travelers and for us, what may on the surface look like the end of hope may actually be the beginning. God’s promises are trustworthy. God is good, God is with us, God will redeem us, although maybe not in the ways we plan or expect. Who knows when Christ will appear in our lives, walking beside us, helping us to make sense of life? The question is: Will be recognize him?
That’s the thing with Easter, I guess. Can anyone tell me the date for Christmas next year? How about two years from now? Ten years from now? Sure, it’s Dec. 25th. That never changes. What about the date for Easter next year? Or two years from now? I don’t know. It’s never the same. I think the date is set by multiplying the circumference of the earth by the wind chill factor, then dividing by Pi. Whatever formula is used, I haven’t figured it out.
That’s OK, though, because I’ve also never figured out the formula to predict when Christ will turn up in my life, either. Or in my church, or in my community. I just don’t know when he’s going to show up. All I do know, from this story in Luke, is that when Christ does appear, if I’m paying attention to him, I have a reason to be hopeful.
One reason this story makes me hopeful is it clues me into the kind of people who experience Jesus’ presence. In this story, he didn’t come to those who had it all figured out. He didn’t walk with people who were able to keep a smile on their face while their world was coming to an end. Instead, he comes to those who are disappointed, doubtful, disconsolate. He comes to those who don’t know their Bibles, who don’t recognize him even when he’s walking right beside them. He comes to those who have given up and are headed back home. He comes to people like us.
When the travelers get to Emmaus, this stranger becomes a companion. Did you know that the literal translation of “companion” is “with bread”? The traveling companion took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them. And their eyes were opened. What did they see? Maybe it was the hands, because the hands that broke the bread would still have holes in them. Or maybe it was the actions — took, blessed, broke, gave – that reminded them of another meal just a few days before in Jerusalem, a meal where the host said, “This is my body, broken for you.”
And just like that, the dashed hopes are replaced by something even stronger – faith. Faith in the one who was dead but now lives, faith in the one who walks beside us on the journey, helping us to make sense of life’s attempts to crush our spirit. And the two travelers immediately return to Jerusalem and find that what they could not bring themselves to hope for – resurrection! – was true.
Of course, they only came to this realization after a journey. That gives me hope that my own faith journey doesn’t have to be an all-at-once experience. It’s gradual, as we walk along our journey, as we hear scripture Sunday after Sunday. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, or we just can’t seem to figure out it. But other times, our hearts are opened and we experience God’s word as if it was for the first time, God’s word shines like a light into our places. Then someone takes bread, blesses it, breaks, it shares it, and Christ presence is revealed to us. Cleopas and the unnamed disciple had their hope restored through the experience of hearing scripture and breaking bread. It gives me hope to know that the unnamed disciple on the journey? That could be me. Or you.
If we pay attention to the strangers in our midst, we never know who might become a companion on our journey. And then, from out of nowhere, we’ll recognize Jesus with us, and it’s Easter all over again. You never know when Easter’s going to happen – could be today or tomorrow or next Sunday, or next Spring. You never know where it’s going to happen – a sanctuary, a hospital room, a dinner table, a funeral home. Every time we hear scripture and share bread together, it’s a reminder to us that the tomb is empty and we are not alone on this journey. An old proverb says, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” Because of what Christ has done for us, hope simply cannot be spoken of in the past tense. Thanks be to God.