Encounter on the Emmaus road
13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.
17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
19 He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
When you think about hope it seems to be in short supply these days. The Coronavirus has us hunkered down and isolated. There are those battling lost wages, lost jobs, and now even the potential of lost businesses. The oil prices are down, which is nice for the consumer, but for an economy so dependent on the oil industry it is not good news. Our grocery prices are up, hopefully because people aren’t shopping as much. All around us isolation and separation. Family and friends are unable to gather for fear of passing on the virus to those who are more at risk. “We stay at home so that when we gather again after this is over there won’t be anyone missing.” There is a fear of future. How will our world, country, community come back from such a devastating experience? People are searching for hope.
Where do you go for hope?
In our scripture this morning, Cleopas and his unnamed friend headed for Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. It is very interesting that with all the archeological expertise and exploration the actual location Emmaus has never been found. There has been speculation but not much in the way of proof. Maybe it’s a place you go for hope. As the two on their journey begin to share with the stranger who has joined them on the road they say (in verse 21), “we had hoped.” There is a sad note in their statement. It is in the past tense. Hope seems to be lost. With the beginning of their sharing, they were beginning a journey that would end in hope.
Their journey started with openness. As I pondered the way we usually deal with grief and struggle, I realized we often hold others at a distance, especially if they were not part of the loss or struggle. We often say to ourselves, “They don’t understand.” We tend to stay isolated from much of the outside world (for protection maybe). A well-meaning acquaintance might offer an insight or word of consolation, yet the outside input is not always welcome. These two, deep in their grief and hopelessness are encountered by Jesus, though they did not recognize him – the text says, “they were prevented from recognizing him.” They had every reason to move away from the ‘stranger.’ In their amazement they say, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?” This, as well, could have been reason to brush the visitor off. Instead Jesus invites them to tell their story. That invitation helped open them to tell their story. They started from what Jesus did to what was done to him. They even relayed a critical time referent – “All these things happened three days ago.” Finally, they tell about the empty tomb and the women who discovered it – those who went later and confirmed it. It is good to tell our story, not to dwell on it, but to get it off our hearts to someone who will listen with understanding.
The “Word”. In John’s Gospel we are introduces to Jesus as “The Word”. “In the beginning was the Word … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The two on the road encountered The Word. Maybe our journey to Emmaus in times of needing renewed hope begins in the Word. God’s Word. Scripture. This is not a passing brush with the Word, but an abiding in the scriptures long enough for God to speak to us through them. Abiding. How long do you suppose it would take to walk the seven miles to Emmaus? I looked it up. At a moderate pace, the normal person can walk a mile in 17-22 minutes. But, consider these two of today’s scripture. They were walking away from hope, dejected and downcast. You know the feeling. You have spent a beautiful day in the mountains, it has been filled with adventure and discovery. The end has come, and you are hiking back to the car. The quick steps of anticipation at the beginning of the day are replaced with a slow plod, reluctant to end the adventure. At that pace it would probably take much longer to get to Emmaus. The two on the road probably had 2 to 3 hours at least to abide in the Word as Jesus “interpreted the things written about himself… .” Even that wasn’t enough for Cleopas and his friend. “Stay with us.” They had arrived where they were going, and Jesus seemed ready to head on further. “Stay with us.” They wanted more – more conversation, more listening, more understanding. Sharing a meal is the ultimate kind of “stay with us” invitation. There had to have been a sense of connection with this visitor. When we say to God and God’s word, “Stay with us,” we are in essence hosting God at the feast of reading the Word. Stay with us! “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and may this food to us be blessed.” In that common table grace we may find an appropriate invitation for the Word of God to nourish us in our need for hope.
It is significant that Jesus begins with a question in verse 26. “Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” He was inviting them to remember what he had said, what he had shared several times in the weeks leading up to his Passion. Jesus then opens up to them the scriptures about himself. Remember this is referring to the Old Testament at this point. From Moses to the prophets, he shows them his story. As scripture intersects intimately with our lives, we call to mind – “remind” ourselves of - God’s past power in our lives. The Psalms are filled with the experiences of the people of God. Hear Psalm 116:1-4 & 12-29.
Psalm 116:1-4 & 12-19
I love the Lord because he hears
my requests for mercy.
2 I’ll call out to him as long as I live,
because he listens closely to me.
3 Death’s ropes bound me;
the distress of the grave[a] found me--
I came face-to-face with trouble and grief.
4 So I called on the Lord’s name:
“Lord, please save me!” …
12 What can I give back to the Lord
for all the good things he has done for me?
13 I’ll lift up the cup of salvation.
I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
14 I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
in the presence of all God’s people.
15 The death of the Lord’s faithful
is a costly loss in his eyes.
16 Oh yes, Lord, I am definitely your servant!
I am your servant and the son of your female servant--
you’ve freed me from my chains.
17 So I’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to you,
and I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
18 I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
in the presence of all God’s people,
19 in the courtyards of the Lord’s house,
which is in the center of Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
The Psalmist is witnessing to what God has done in his life in the past and how that affects him today. Stay with the story! Listen to you past encounters with the Living God. Stay with the story! Listen to God’s story in the scriptures and how it unfolds in our lives.
God reveals himself through scripture – the God of all hope! Note, it isn’t our pursuing God in this time of needing hope, it is God revealing himself to we who need hope. Did you notice in our passage today the prominence of “recognizing.” In verses 16 and 31 we have the notion of “revealed”. In verse 16, “They were prevented from recognizing him.” And near the end of the story, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him,…” The power of God is a revelation to our souls rather than something we strive for and achieve. The revelation comes in Word and sacrament. Jesus was revealed in one of his most powerful actions. “…he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” They immediately recognized him in that action. This gives further credence to what I have always believed - that there were more than just the disciples in the Upper Room. Cleopas and an unnamed disciple immediately recognized the action. It is God’s exclamation point behind receiving communion. Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” It is more than just remembering, it is experiencing Jesus in communion. As the two recalled what had transpired throughout the day, they said, “Weren’t our hearts on fire as he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures to us?” This is remembering with power! Next week we will again gather from our various living rooms or kitchens or wherever and share in communion with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and touch the heart of God. The sacraments are a powerful way that God reveals himself to us who are in need of hope.
The abiding of Cleopas and his friend had a definite impact on them and on many others. At beginning, we find them walking away from disappointments and the loss of hope. Walking away from the future. At the end, “They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem.” They were now ready to face the future with hope, even though the future was no clearer now than before. They had encountered the Living Christ in scripture and the breaking of bread. They had discovered an unending supply of hope.
Finally, they shared their hope in the midst of the gathered “Body of Christ.” It must have been like a family reunion – sharing each other’s stories of resurrection to living hope. Did you notice something unique in Psalm 116: 14 & 18? The sentences are identical. Twice it is repeated, “I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people.” When we find reason to hope, we must share it – keep our promise – with others.
As I close I want to share a prayer of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength.” [Ephesians 1:17-19]
Pastor Ross Kershaw