April 26, 2020 Third Sunday of Easter The text is Luke 23:13-35.
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.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Often, the lectionary readings that are selected for each Sunday stray from a direct timeline. In the pre-dawn of the first Easter, Mary was the first to encounter the risen Jesus, as he stood before her, outside the opened tomb. And in John’s gospel we read last week that Jesus appeared to the disciples (minus Thomas) in the locked room, in the evening of the first Easter. And also, that a week later, Jesus again visits the disciples and offers Thomas, the doubter the opportunity to touch his wounded hands and side. And this morning Luke recounts yet another post-resurrection engagement with Jesus, with two others of his followers; Cleopas and another who is not named. We don’t know at what hour of that first Easter day Jesus first met up with the two travelers on the road, but it is clear that he remained with them until the evening meal. It seems that Jesus is determined to be with, and reassure as many of his followers as he can, that he has risen and desires to be with them; whether in the garden beside the tomb, inside locked rooms, or on the road back home.
Now, Cleopas and his fellow traveler are assumed to be followers of Jesus, although not among the twelve. But the Scriptures tell us that he had amassed a very large following of people who were absolutely confident that Jesus was, in fact the long-awaited Messiah; the One who would liberate the Jewish people from the oppression of their Roman occupiers. So, imagine the overwhelming sense of defeat, anguish, discouragement, and sorrow that weighed upon all who expected liberation, but were witness to the humiliating execution of the One they had counted on to set them free. I envision Cleopas and his companion walking along the sandy road from Jerusalem to the tiny town of Emmaus, heads down and dejected. I picture them tramping along, their sandals barely lifting from the dirt, with each depressing step dragging the sand as if to mirror their despondent thoughts.
“We had hoped” they confide in Jesus, unaware that it was he; astounded that this assumed stranger was not aware of the momentous events of the past three days. In other bible translations, this lament of Cleopas is written as “we had our hopes up”, or “we had trusted”. “We had hoped”. Note that each of these versions maintains the negativity of their conclusion; “we had hoped”, confirming that their faith and trust were gone and whatever hope they had clung to, had vanished. Yet, although they were unable to discern the true identity of the stranger who came to walk with them, their hope had not been unfounded; although it had not yet been renewed. The risen Christ spoke the Torah and the Hebrew prophets to them, detailing all the ancient writings that pointed to the suffering that the Messiah must undergo before being glorified. Still, overcome as they were by their grief and anguish, they remained mired in “we had hoped”. Not until the “stranger” at dinner repeated the actions of Jesus at the last Passover supper were their eyes opened to his presence. All was revealed in the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving of the bread.
Only then did they come to recognize that this was Jesus the Nazarene, the promised Messiah; and their hearts burned, and their hope was restored. They rushed back to Jerusalem and joined with the apostles in acknowledging that all they had hoped for had indeed come to pass. From ‘broken’ hearts due to lost hope, to ‘burning’ hearts filled with a renewed hope.
This Cleopas, named as a follower of Jesus is walking, discussing the recent events, and lamenting with an unnamed companion when they are joined on their journey, by Jesus; initially unrecognized by them. Since the identity of the other traveler is not revealed, this provides a unique opportunity for the us to assume his (or her) place. It’s rather easy to imagine that we are the one making the despairing trek home from the holy city, distraught and agreeing that “we had hoped” for a totally different outcome. The Passover festival that the unnamed companion had just experienced was certainly not as had been hoped for. And this Easter season has definitely not unfolded as “we had hoped”. In so many ways, we can fall into step with Cleopas as we walk the path we currently find ourselves on. We too are treading along with the knowledge that things are not as they should have been; not as “we had hoped”.
We’re not gathered together in the Nave, the choir isn’t singing sweetly, and the notes from the great pipe organ are not reverberating off the walls in the Sanctuary. Easter Sunday celebrations didn’t happen as “we had hoped”. We remain separated from our brothers and sisters in the faith. And our individual cups in our homes don’t quite count as “Coffee Hour” with the congregation. As so often happens in this life, things wished for don’t always turn our as “we had hoped”. Often, we find ourselves walking along with Cleopas, lamenting our situation and longing for what might have been. And, just like him we don’t always recognize that the risen Christ walks beside us. And just as Cleopas and his companion came to understand that Jesus was with them all along when the bread was broken and shared, we are reminded that Jesus abides with us; every time we hear the Word.
We are thus reminded that although we are not at the church, we still are the church! The Jesus who is able to console Mary at the tomb, appear to the disciples undeterred by locked doors, and walk with Cleopas (and us) to Emmaus, has risen just as “we had hoped”. Yet, often our eyes are kept from seeing him, now, and when we walked along the road to Emmaus with Cleopas. We will gather again in the beautiful Sanctuary that is Emmanuel. We will partake of the bread and the wine. We will feel the soaring notes of the organ pipes deep in our chests. We will share in the fellowship that makes us siblings in God’s family. Until then, let us take to heart the lesson that Jesus taught to Cleopas and us on the road and at the table. He is with us always, especially when we need his presence the most. Whether in despair, walking home from Jerusalem, or when worshipping in isolation, away from the place and the people we love. Jesus the Christ has risen; he walks with us; our hearts are burning within us when we hear his Word. And we are his redeemed people, in righteous relationship with the Father. All that was promised to us has been accomplished; just as “we had hoped”!
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, open our eyes to see that your Son walks with us always. Help us to remember that the road to Emmaus is not very different from the road to Emanuel, and that Jesus is walking with us; and will accompany us when we meet again to share in the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread. Just as “we had hoped”.
And in the name of the risen Christ, together we say…
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good.