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.
Luke 24:13-35 The Walk to Emmaus
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.
In seven miles, I can buy donuts, stop at the grocery store, stop at the vet, a brew pub, an antiques mall, a country club, buy a tractor, and a lobster roll. I can stop at two pharmacies, two gas stations, two post offices, and two flower nurseries. In about seven miles, I can get to the Monmouth transfer station. In about seven miles, I can hike at Mt. Pisgah. In just over and just under seven miles, depending on my route, I can pick berries at one farm in the spring or apples at an orchard in the fall. I can do a lot in seven miles. The two friends in this story can, too. In seven miles, they can see Jesus.
Imagine yourself on the road to Emmaus. We’ll call it the road to Mt. Pisgah if that helps you get the distance in mind. You and your dear friend have had one of the worst weeks of your life and you are very sad. And, you’ve decided that you need to get out of the city and go to the small town... or, in our case, Mt. Pisgah. And, you walk and talk about what has happened and you meet someone who does not know.... who seems to be coming from the same place you have but has no idea what has gone on. When he asks again, you try to figure out how to tell the story. You’ve got about seven miles to get it right.
If you didn’t know about the resurrection yet, and a stranger asked you about Jesus, what might you tell them? You all should have gotten a slip of paper when you came in. Write down what you might say and put your response in the offering plate. If you’re online, you can put yours in the chat as you think of it. I’ll share the responses later. Here's what the two disciples told the stranger who was walking with them. They said that Jesus was: "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." Despite his good deeds and powerful words, community leaders grew threatened by him. 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 thought that their hope was in vain. They didn't understand how redemption could come if he was dead.
They tell the stranger that it has been three days since their hope died alongside Jesus. That very 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. That’s right. This story took place on the day of the resurrection but these two hadn’t seen Jesus... yet. They tell the stranger that one friend, Peter, went to the tomb to see what the women were talking about. He sure as heck didn't see any angels. He didn’t see Jesus either... not his body or his spirit. Only his burial clothes.
How far into this seven miles do you think the story has taken them? Ted’s Trackside Grill? Charlie’s Chevrolet? Somewhere in the wilds of Monmouth? Maybe just the Circle K? Regardless of how long it took, they were likely surprised when the stranger responded to their sad and harrowing tale with something that sounded an awful lot like a rebuke. Did you hear the part where the stranger called them foolish and slow of heart? He went on to say that they've misunderstood everything about the law. He said that there was more divine, redemptive potential in this whole week and they had missed it. He then 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 through the Sermon on the Plain in chapter 6... 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, Jesus had been teaching them. If you had asked me where I would have guessed that these two would have recognized Jesus, I would have said right here, in this moment when he began teaching. How could they not see the one they so loved traveling alongside them when they heard the words of wisdom come out of his mouth?
Where are we now? Somewhere near that farm close to Mt. Pisgah trailhead? The stranger seemed to be ready to keep walking as the disciples reached their destination. Notice that he still hasn’t told them who he is. But, they aren’t ready to be done with his company. I once read a translation that said that they “twisted his arm to get him to stay.” They explained that it was late, with the subtext that it might be dangerous to travel solo at night. They invited the stranger to stay with them, where it was safe. That sure seems like something Jesus would have done.
I have often wondered if their offer of hospitality is what finally lets them see the stranger for who he really is. It’s not the muscle memory of the walk or the familiarity of the teaching, but the welcome and care that began to prepare their hearts for a revelation.
If we were walking about seven miles with them, we’d be near the fire tower now, right? Maybe setting out a blanket and getting the food ready that we brought to share.
The two disciples sat down with the stranger and began a simple meal. It might be familiar to you. There was bread, and the stranger blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. And, immediately it became clear. Familiar movements... a hand raised, bread torn, food shared. They had been fed like this before. The moment they knew who he was... that this was their beloved Jesus, he was gone, leaving them with crumbs in their beards and hope burning in their hearts.
Has your heart burned in recognition of Christ lately? Have you stumbled into Jesus in the midst of following his guidance, as these two disciples once did? Has an act of hospitality turned into an encounter with the divine? What’d you do about it?
Jesus’ friends ran seven miles back to Jerusalem when they realized who they had been walking and eating with. I have never run seven miles in one stretch in my entire life. I might be enticed to do so, even with this achy ankle, if I met Jesus in the midst of a hopeless time. 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 the women preachers had already told the rest of the disciples. They said that not even death could stop Jesus for long. They had seen him once again at the table. Of course, they met him at the table. Jesus is usually found at the table, tending to the physical and spiritual needs of friends, strangers, and enemies alike.
The disciples had seven miles and one meal to figure out who Jesus was. And, they had seven more miles to figure out how to tell their friends what they had seen. Jesus will show up on our journey, too, and we’ll likely feel him the clearest when we are doing as he taught... caring for the stranger. Feeding the hungry. Offering shelter to those in need of safety. May we recognize the Risen Christ in these moments. And, may you share with others what you have seen.
Resources 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.