(A lector reads the Gospel story from Luke 24:13-35 at the ambo)
On the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
That seven-mile walk must have felt endless to the disciples, because their road to Emmaus was one of confusion, sorrow, and defeat. Of course, I’ve never felt lost, and I’m sure you haven’t either, so the story isn’t really relevant to us, is it? But just in case we ever were to become confused, sorrowful, or defeated, let’s just see whether today’s Gospel might relate to our lives.
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Jesus shows up in our daily walks, especially when we’re downhearted. The funny thing is, they don’t recognize Jesus. Notice the words, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Jesus often shows up looking a lot like a neighbor or a stranger. He arrives incognito, and invites us to share our lives.
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.
Their hope was shattered.
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.”
They simply told their story, disappointments and all, and it was their own lives which they laid before Jesus. God yearns to share our life.
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.
God always broadens the context of grace, and in this we find comfort. As the story says, “their hearts burned within them.” Now comes a critical moment…
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.
The disciples arrived in Emmaus, but Jesus waited to be invited into their home. Jesus waits to be invited into our hearts and into our homes. What if they had not invited Jesus to come in? Just think: he would have walked on, into the night.
What if we don’t invite Jesus into our hearts and homes? But the disciples did invite this stranger, because they were attracted to the hope that our Risen Lord embodies. So they urged him, “Don’t go on.” “Don’t go on; please come in.” “Welcome.” We long for God’s living hope.
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.
Their meal became worship. Sharing that meal together, with that person of living hope, changed the landscape for the disciples. They made Eucharist: Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to them. Immediately their eyes were opened, and they recognized him! Jesus presides over our thanksgiving. We find God in the breaking of the bread. And just as they recognized Jesus, he vanished. One glimpse… and God is gone. For all of our lives, God is just around the corner.
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?”
They compared notes—they dared to name their experience to each other. They were willing to admit grace. That takes courage. And as they dared to share their experience, they were filled with hope, with God’s hope. It was as if Jesus bent down and breathed his Spirit upon them.
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
They were filled with hope, and their joy overflowed. They ran seven miles in the middle of the night to tell their story. The road from Emmaus to Jerusalem was quickly and joyfully traveled. When they arrived, the assembly was full of people who also told their story. Some even told a story on behalf of others.
They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
Simon: that’s Peter. They were overcome by hope; they were willing to let go and to be a fool for Christ. Others responded with equal joy, and with a shared hope.
Of course, none of us have experienced the same loss and sense of defeat as Cleopas and his unnamed companion, who had witnessed the death of Jesus. But if life ever steers you onto a road called Emmaus, know that Jesus walks with you. He is the risen Lord, whose defeat is beyond your own experience of defeat, whose suffering is beyond your own suffering, and whose sorrow is beyond your sorrow. He bore the sins of the world.
Likely you won’t recognize him, but your heart will be strangely warmed, and hope will burn within. Listen intently to this stranger as he stretches your imagination and dilates your vision of God’s hand at work in your life and in the world. And above all, above all, urge Jesus to enter your home and sup with you. Don’t let him go! And when, in a twinkling of an eye, you recognize him, let your world be turned upside down. Jump up, and run to tell God’s people what you have seen and heard! Make Eucharist together with open hearts and grateful minds.
Maybe, just maybe, you have already walked that lonely and dusty road. I have, many times. Indeed, I hope you’re on the road to Emmaus right now. If so, whether you recognized him or not, Jesus walks with you. Or maybe you’re on the road from Emmaus, for you have glimpsed Jesus out of the corner of your eye, and your heart leaps with Easter joy!
And to all who have ears to hear, I declare to you most solemnly that this aisle in the center of All Saints’ is the road to Emmaus. It leads us up to this table, where bread is broken; and it leads out those doors, where we are to walk with others on their road to Emmaus. We walk with Cleopas, and with the unnamed saints who have gone before us. And Jesus makes himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The Rev. Rick Matters, preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel