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(Luke 24: 13-35)
Some of the best stories begin in the most nondescript of ways: Two of them were walking to Emmaus, is how this one starts. We don’t know who “these two” are; their names are not given. And we’re not exactly sure where Emmaus even is, or was; scholars who would normally be in agreement on these sorts of things are kind of all over the place. All we do know is that we have two no-name guys making their way to some place somewhere, a few hours after the sun had risen on Sunday morning.
They were talking as they were walking – just as you and I might do if we went on a walk. And they were talking about the latest news, the buzz of the day. Which for them was what had transpired mere hours before. Something about women discovering an empty tomb where the body of Jesus of Nazareth was supposed to be. What could it mean, they wondered. A mistake? A prank? Or maybe the fulfillment of all their hopes, all their dreams?
This is what they were talking about, these two “no-names,” as they made their way to some place Emmaus.
They’re walking and talking, and soon they meet up with a stranger whose pace coincides with theirs. He asks what they’re talking about. They look at him a little incredulously, the same way we might react if someone were to say to us right now, hey, what’s this virus thing I’m hearing about? Something going on?
What are you talking about, he says. So they proceed to tell this stranger all about Jesus – his life, his death, and rumored resurrection. He listens, the stranger does. He listens to all of it. And then out of nowhere, right there on the road to Emmaus, this stranger starts quoting Hebrew scripture and practically preaching a sermon.
Two no-names heading somewhere, meeting up with an uninformed stranger who morphs into a street preacher. Could this get any more peculiar?
YES! Because there’s one other thing that makes this story exceptional; one more twist that leads the author Luke to write it down so his Christian community in the latter part of the first century would read about it, and thousands of years of Christians worldwide would hear about it, and you and I together this April 26 morning would know it. And that twist is that this stranger walking and talking with our two friends happens to be none other than Jesus himself, mere hours removed from the tomb.
And may the ridiculous, almost laughable irony of this never escape us: that these two men are talking to Jesus about Jesus. And they do not have a clue! On and on they go, and they never recognize him once – not when they first meet him on the road, not when he asks them what they’re talking about, not when he says he hadn’t heard the news, and not when he launches into his theological treatise. Some went to the tomb, they tell Jesus, and found it just as the woman said, but they did not see him.
No kidding they did not see him!
And so those of us on the other side of this are left wondering if there could ever be a rational explanation for their recognition limitation. How could they not have recognized Jesus?? Is it possible that they never actually saw Jesus before, they had no idea what he looked like in the first place? Perhaps.
Or maybe something about the resurrection had changed Jesus’ appearance, like no more facial wrinkles or graying hair. I mean, if you’re coming back from the dead, makes sense to come back in style, right?
Or maybe, as a dear friend of mine is fond of saying, maybe these two men were simply two bricks shy of a full load.
I know it’s easy to rush on to the good stuff, to the end of the story, where everything wraps up all nice and neat like a Hallmark movie. But I don’t think we’re supposed to do that just yet. It seems to me that this story, like so many in scripture, begs us to sit in the discomfort for a little while – and sitting in discomfort is certainly something we’re getting good practice in these days. The women and Peter came to an empty tomb that morning. The first sighting of the resurrected Jesus was by two dudes on the road to somewhere who didn’t even recognize him. Why? Why did they not recognize Jesus?
Or better yet, why did Jesus not just tell them who he was? Why the sustained incognito? I mean, isn’t this what he wanted all along, for people to see him alive, to know he had defeated death once and for all? He doesn’t say a word about who he is. Why?
Hold that thought for a minute – back to our story. These men offer the unrecognized Jesus a place to stay for the night and he accepts. They gather around the table for dinner where the guest suddenly becomes the host. Which if that sounds a little strange, that’s because it is – as it would be today, in a non-pandemic reality, if you invited friends over for dinner and they end up kicking you out of the kitchen and taking everything over. That’s pretty much what Jesus does here. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.
Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?
And in that moment, in that simple yet familiar act, the cloud of confusion is lifted, and they see him for who he is. Finally, their eyes are opened to see Jesus right in front of them. The Jesus who had been there all along. The Jesus who was made real to them, in the flesh – not as some fanciful tale of a dead man alive again, but the real presence of God walking, talking, eating, drinking, fellowshipping. Right in their living room.
This, my friends, this is the power of the Emmaus story for an Easter people.
I mean, can you imagine what Luke’s little tale must have meant to those early Christians? It had only been fifty years since Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it may as well have been 500. He was just a story to them. And yet, in this story, while Jesus remains hidden even when he’s walking and talking, he becomes seen….when? When they gather around the table and when bread is broken.
Do you see, then, the significance of this for us? Every time we are together as the family of faith, we see Jesus. Every time bread is broken and blessed, we see Jesus. And every time that bread is shared with one other, and with the world, we see Jesus.
And yes, even in these strange times when we are not together but still together, even now in this virtual online way when we are assembling as the body of Christ, we see Jesus in our midst. Granted, we may have to look a little harder because we’re not accustomed to doing it this way, but make no mistake about it – Jesus is right in front of you, right now; and all you have to do is open your eyes to see him.
Every Sunday worship is our own little Easter celebration; our response to the miracle of seeing Jesus in and among us, It is something we hold near and dear; something we cling to, sometimes with the thinnest of hopes, because the Good News of the gospel is all we have, and we dare not let it go.
I like the way one preacher describes it: that the life of the Jesus-follower is a tenuous balance of being an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. An Easter people in a Good Friday world. This is the world we are living in right now – of this there is no doubt. Presbyterian Outlook editor Jill Duffield puts it this way:
The economy is wrecked. We’ve been told to stay home not for weeks but months. There may well be a resurgence of cases in the fall. We do not know who to trust, what advice to follow, when we will be able to be together again. So much of what we’d hoped for this spring and the future did not come to fruition and besides all this, it is now over a month and people are still dying and moreover, we keep hearing various projections about when we will go back to normal or if we will ever go back to normal or what normal ought to even be after this.
Every day it is a “Good Friday” world that greets us when we roll out of bed. It is a world lost unto itself, desperate for some element of redemption and truth and not finding it on its own. A world crying out for something – someone – to give it hope and meaning, and too often seeking it on its own terms.
It is a Good Friday world we are living in. And that is right where we need to be. Despite our preferences to skip over that day altogether, bypass the cross and the messiness and pain of it all. Despite our desire to position ourselves in front of the empty tomb, or at the table that very moment when we see Jesus in plain sight.
No, this Good Friday world is right where we need to be. And we are called to be Easter people in this Good Friday world because Easter is not about the perfect ending to a fairy tale. It’s not about aligning ourselves with the “winning team.” It is the place we find ourselves after all hope has been lost, after the brokenness has been its most broken, after death has dished out its most painful sting and shut our hopes and dreams up in the tomb. Easter is when we unknowingly walk and talk with Jesus, even invite him into our homes, very and experience that glorious moment when we see him for who he is.
All of which is the real miracle of Easter – a reality and church season that extends far beyond a calendar April Sunday. The real miracle of Easter is not of one man coming alive again, but that man coming alive in every one of us. Because it is one thing to walk out of a tomb after the stone is rolled away. It is another thing entirely to walk with each one of us in our Good Friday world on our own road to somewhere, day after day after day. He is our Savior, he is our Lord, but perhaps most importantly, he is our constant traveling companion, this resurrected Jesus, and he does not need to practice social distancing. He is right here with us, now and always.
Some went to the tomb, but they did not see him. Of course they didn’t see him there. Jesus had people to walk with, bread to break, hope to share. Look around in this Good Friday world, beloved. Look beside you. Look across the table from you. Now, finally, we see Jesus.
And for that, in the name of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
 From Jill Duffield – http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102135377571&ca=42548e64-edb7-41d1-a3eb-5ea7d3bdbaee
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