Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 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?’ 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.’Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.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?’That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Meeting Jesus Again- Luke 24:13-35
You have seven miles to tell a stranger the story of what has happened in the last few days. You and your friend are walking, away from Jerusalem and all that pain, towards a small town called Emmaus. You are talking to one another, trying to sort out the events of the last week. You still don't quite understand what all happened or how you are supposed to go on after watching Jesus being killed. At least you have one another. You don't have to go through this alone. You are together and you know what you saw when you traveled alongside Jesus. Now, you will just have to work together to figure out how to live without him. In the middle of this intense, mournful conversation, a stranger appears at your side. Perhaps he noticed your sadness. Perhaps he's lonesome himself on this wilderness road. Who knows the reason... but he asks you what you're talking about. Overcome with a sadness that stops you in your tracks, you look at one another. Maybe you take a deep breath and nod to your companion, a sign to begin... to try to tell explain what your life has been like since you met Jesus... what he meant to you... what you will do now that he is gone. You have seven miles to tell a stranger what has happened in the last few days. You don't even know where to start. So, Cleopas begins.
If you were in their shoes and a stranger asked you about Jesus, what would you say? Wait... you can't talk about the resurrection yet, because you don't know that it happened. What would you say? The congregation said they'd talk about forgiveness and how he was a confidant and a good friend. They said "It's all about love" and ask "Did you know he died on a cross?" Some said they might ask if the other person had already heard about Jesus. Others said that they might simply ask, "Can I have a hug?"... Those are all great things. I bet these two disciples would have loved to have had you by their side to testify about Jesus. Here's what these two told the stranger who was walking with them. They said that he was: "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." Despite his good deeds and powerful words, the leaders of their religious community had grown fearful of him, perhaps threatened by his critique of the status quo. They turned him over to Rome and Rome killed him like a criminal, torturing him on a cross. In one of the saddest lines in the whole Gospel, these two disciples say that "we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." They didn't understand how he could do that now if he was dead.
They tell the stranger that it has been three days since their hope died alongside Jesus. It's been hard on everyone who loved him. This morning, some of the women who also followed Jesus showed up telling a rubbish story about how they saw angels at his tomb who told them he was alive. They tell the stranger that some of our friends went to the tomb to see what they were talking about. They sure as heck didn't see any angels. They didn't see Jesus either. And, now, they're walking to Emmaus. There is no body. No Jesus. No plan. Can you imagine these two disciples' surprise when the stranger responds to their hopeless tale with something that sounds an awful lot like a rebuke. Maybe he's made because they didn't believe the story that the women told them. He calls them foolish and slow of heart. He said that they've misunderstood everything about the law. He said that there was more potential in this whole cosmic story and they had missed it, and, he started teaching them.
I think it's really interesting that they don't realize that this stranger is Jesus when he begins to teach them. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been teaching them. From his first public mission statement back in chapter 4 (you know the part where he said that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind) through the Sermon on the Plain in chapter 6 (Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the mournful) through all the healings and exorcisms, through the prayers and parables, and long- lasting dinners, all the way up to the day of his arrest, he had been teaching them. If you had asked me where I would have guessed that they would have recognized Jesus, I would have said right here, when he began teaching. How could they not see the one they so loved traveling alongside them when they heard this words of wisdom come out of his mouth?
Yet again, we are shown that knowing stuff about Jesus isn't quite the same thing recognizing Jesus. Jesus has had seven miles to teach them, again, what the journey of his life was about, but they still couldn't recognize him for who he was. He seems to be ready to keep walking as they head into the village. He doesn't say anything about his identity, just keeps walking ahead, creating some distance between himself and the two tired disciples. Something interesting happens at this point. They don't let him leave. One of the scholars I read this weeks says that the Greek can be translated into something like, "They twisted his arm to get him to stay." They knew that it would be dangerous for him to travel during the night by himself. So they invited him in to stay with them, where it was safe. Huh... they invited a stranger into their home to keep him safe. Maybe they did actually learn something from Jesus after all. That sure seems like something he would have done.
Maybe that's why they were finally able to see him. You see, this is the point where they actually demonstrate that they had learned from him a baseline of welcome and concern for strangers. This is the moment when they demonstrate that his hospitality has become their instinct. Of course they'd urge a strange to stay with them and be safe. That's what Jesus would have done. Even if he is gone, they can still live out the lessons that he taught them. Even in their sadness, they could carry on his legacy. So, they sat down with the stranger and began a simple meal. And, their act of hospitality becomes his act of hospitality. They see familiar movements, a hand raised in blessing then reaching out towards them, bread broken and shared. They had been fed like this before. Could it be? Could it be him? Could the wild story the women shared with them be true? It was him! Jesus, who had taught them the value of welcoming the stranger... Jesus, who had shown them the power of hospitality to shift everyday perceptions. It was Jesus. He was alive and right in front of him. And, then, suddenly, he was gone.
Where has your heart burned with recognition of Christ before you? Where have you accidentally been living out your faith and suddenly stumbled upon Christ in your midst? When has hospitality brought you closer to God and what did you do about it? Here's what these two did about it... they ran those seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others. In the terrifying darkness, on the wilderness road, they ran back to make sure the rest of Jesus' followers would know the truth. They confirmed what they women had already told them... not even death could stop Jesus for long. Hospitality had helped them see him again. They had met him at the table, the place where they had come to know him most well all along.
And, here we are, hearing their testimony just like the other disciples back in Jerusalem. We, too, have a choice to make. We will believe them when they share their experience with the risen Christ? Will we begin to look for Christ at our table, too? Or will we forget the lessons we learned walking by his side and forgo the opportunity to offer the same kind of hospitality that he once showed us. They've had seven miles to figure out how to share this story with us so that we can believe. When Jesus shows up at our table, how much time will we need to understand that it's really him?
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon:
Pulpit Fiction podcast: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/easter3a
Sarah Henrich: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=933
Robert Hoch: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3234
Marilyn Salman: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1671
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.