St. John's, Centreville
April 30, 2017
3 Easter A
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus is one of my favorite post-resurrection stories. It is so vivid, so alive. There are only seven post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the gospels and this one we have just heard is recorded only in Luke.
It is easy, I think, for us to imagine the hopelessness and despair that the two disciples felt as they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had seen Jesus, who they saw as a "prophet mighty in word and deed", condemned to death and crucified. They had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel. These disciples knew that Jesus was dead. That was a fact. And with his death, their hopes were destroyed. Then some women said the body of Jesus was not in the tomb where he had been buried, and angels at the tomb said Jesus was alive. It was hard to know what to make of all this. So as they trudged back to Emmaus, back to business as usual, they talked over what had happened.
Then a man appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and begins walking with them. He doesn't seem to know what has happened these last three days in Jerusalem. So they fill him in on the events of the week and they share their despair and disappointment. Then this stranger begins to interpret the scriptures for them, beginning with Moses. Wouldn't you like to have been in on that conversation....Jesus interpreting the scriptures. I would have loved to have heard that.
But these two disciples still do not know that it is the resurrected Christ that is walking with them and telling them about the scriptures. They do not truly understand who he is until they invite him to stay with them for the night. At dinner, he blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to them. Then their eyes are opened and they know they are in the presence of the living Christ! As soon as they are aware that they have been with Jesus, he disappears from their sight. You can imagine their amazement, their disbelief that Jesus has chosen them to appear to after his resurrection. "Did not our hearts burn within while he talked to us on the road, when he opened to us the scriptures?" Their excitement was so intense, so real, that they could not rest. They left right then to return to Jerusalem, walking another seven miles at night, so they could tell the eleven apostles that Jesus had appeared to them. That was news that could not wait. They had to tell the apostles now.
What an incredible story - a story of fellowship: the two disciples welcoming the stranger to walk with them; hospitality - inviting the stranger to stay for dinner; and sacrament - Jesus breaks bread with them. This story has all the elements that we as a church profess to believe and incorporate.
Why do you suppose that the two disciples did not recognize the risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus? Perhaps he changed his appearance so he could walk with them and listen without them recognizing him. Or perhaps the disciples were not expecting to see Jesus after his death so they really didn't see him. Sometimes we only see what we expect to see. Perhaps the disciples were so consumed with their own grief and despair that they just didn't recognize the risen Christ in their midst.
How often does Christ walk with us and we do not recognize his presence? Quite a lot, I think. All of us have walked a similar path like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. It's the road you walk when your candidate has been defeated, your team has lost, your loved one has died, your job is over, your hopes are dashed. You feel despair, disappointment, hopelessness. So you walk back to the empty house, and try to get back to life as usual, if life can ever be usual again. It's a road of deep disappointment, of "if only's".....if only I had gotten the big client, if only more people had come out to vote, if only she had gotten to the doctor sooner, if only.......Then things would have turned out differently.
In times of deep disappointment, despair and hopelessness, Christ is in the midst of us, walking with us and we don't recognize him. Perhaps we are so consumed with our own problems and failures and disappointments that we don't look beyond ourselves to see Christ walking with us. It is so much easier to blame God for our problems and pain and struggles than it is to see God is with us through all that life throws our way.
The two on the Road to Emmaus hoped Jesus was the one who would save Israel. But that hope died when Jesus was crucified. In reality, though, Jesus liberated not only Israel, but the entire world from sin and from eternal death, which is much greater than the earthly redemption that the disciples had desired.
All of us have walked down our own Road to Emmaus - when we feel defeated, hopeless, full of despair and confused. Just as Jesus walked with the two disciples, so he also walks with us, giving us hope, strength and reassurance - that things aren't always the way they seem, that good things can come out of what we see as hopeless. But our eyes must be focused on God. It is from God that our hope is restored and our spirits refreshed and renewed.
With God at the center of our lives, we need to expect the unexpected. We cannot and should not try to fit God into our mold, our notions of how we think God should act, how we think things should be. That will not work. But when we open our eyes to the mystery of God's life giving presence, we are more ready to see God at work in the world around us, God at work in our lives.
The disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread - just as he blessed and broke the bread at the feeding of the five thousand, just as he blessed and broke the bread at the Last Supper. He broke bread with the two disciples and their eyes were opened to Christ's presence.
Christ is in our midst each and every time we share the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We cannot see Christ in person as the disciples did. But he left the sacrament of the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine to remember Christ's death and resurrection. "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
The eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw the risen Lord. May our eyes, too, be open to see God who loves us and walks with us now and forever. Amen.