Steve Lindsley
(Luke 24: 13-35)
Easter Sunday

Some of the best stories start out in the most nondescript of ways: Two of them were walking to Emmaus is how today’s story begins. We don’t know who these two were; there aren’t any names given. And we’re not even really sure where Emmaus was; scholars who would otherwise know these sorts of things are not in agreement. So what we have are two no-name guys making their way to some place somewhere, a few hours after the sun had risen on that new Sunday morning. Like we said, sometimes that’s how the best stories start.

They were walking to Emmaus, and they were talking – just as you and I might talk as we made our way down Providence on a sunny spring morning. And they were talking, as we would, about the latest news, the buzz of the day. And for them, that buzz was something that happened hours before. Something about some women who’d discovered 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, just maybe, the fulfillment of all their hopes, all their dreams? This is what occupied their time, these two “no-names,” as they made their way to some place called 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 incredulously: Haven’t you heard? And so they proceed to tell this stranger all about Jesus – his life, his death, and rumored resurrection. He listens, the stranger does. And then right there, on the road to Emmaus, he starts quoting Hebrew scripture and 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?

Apparently so! Because there’s one other thing that makes this story exceptional; one more twist thrown in that leads the author Luke to write it down so his Christian community in the latter part of the first century could read about it, and thousands of years of Christians worldwide could read about it, and you and I sitting here this morning on Providence Road could read about it. And that twist is that this stranger walking and talking with our two friends was none other than Jesus himself. The same Jesus who had emerged from the tomb just hours before.

And herein lies the ridiculous, almost laughable irony of it all: that these two men are talking about Jesus to Jesus. They don’t have a clue! On and on they go, talking about Jesus to Jesus, and they never recognize him once – not when Jesus asks them what they’re talking about, not when he says he hadn’t heard the news, and not when they launch into their long spiel, concluding their tale with this: Some went to the tomb and found it just as the woman said, but they did not see him.

No kidding!

And so those of us on the other side of this story are left to wonder if there’s a rational explanation for their recognition limitation. It’s possible that they never actually saw the man before, so they wouldn’t know what he looked like anyway. After all, there was no Instagram or Facebook back in the day. There wasn’t a Jesus selfie trending on Twitter or making the social media rounds. Maybe they didn’t know what he looked like. Or maybe something about Jesus’ appearance changed after the resurrection, like no more facial wrinkles or graying hair. That’d be nice. Maybe that was it. Or maybe, as a Mount Airy friend of mine used to say, those two men were simply two bricks shy of a load.

I know it’s easy to rush on to the good stuff – this is Easter, after all – but I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to do. At least not just yet. I think this story urges us to ask the obvious question – and resist the temptation, just for a moment, to jump head-first into our resurrection celebration. Because that’s not the way it happened as Luke tells it. 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 nowhere who didn’t even recognize him. Why? Why did they not recognize Jesus?

I mean, could it really have been that hard? Everyone has some idea of what Jesus looked like, right? We’ve got all kinds of pictures and icons with historical legitimacy. There’s even been a sighting of Jesus on a piece of toast. You heard me right. It happened about fifteen years ago; a young woman, fixing herself a grilled cheese sandwich, looked down on her plate to seen none other than the face of her Lord and Savior, staring back up at her, burned into the bread. Google it. It’s fascinating.

Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Better yet, why didn’t Jesus tell them? Why didn’t he clue them in? I mean, it would’ve been easy to just kind of slide it in there. Umm, yeah, that whole dying on the cross thing you’re talking about…. Been there, done that. Hint, hint!   He doesn’t say a word about who he is. Why?

Hold onto that thought for a minute – let’s get back to our story. The unseen Jesus accepts the kindness of strangers and spends the night with these men. They gather around the table for a meal, and much to their surprise, the guest becomes the host. Which if that sounds a little strange, it’s because it is – as it would be today, if you invited friends over to your place and they suddenly took control of the whole affair. That’s pretty much what Jesus does here. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.

Sound familiar?

And guess what? In that moment, in that simple nondescript act, the cloud of confusion is lifted, and they see him. I mean, really see him! Finally, their eyes are opened to recognize the 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, staying with them. Right in their living room.

The power of the Easter story for an Easter people.

And it’s not just us I’m talking about. Not yet, at least. Can you imagine what Luke’s little tale here must have meant for those early Christians? The ones during Luke’s time? It was only 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it may as well have been 500 or 5000. 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 the bread is broken. When they gather around the table.

Do you see, then, the Easter message for them, for us? Every time we are together, we see Jesus. Every time bread is broken, we see Jesus. Every time bread is blessed, we see Jesus. And every time that bread is shared with each other, and with the world, we see the risen Jesus.

That is why every Sunday worship is our own little Easter celebration; our response to the miracle of seeing Jesus in and among us, even when he’s not. Knowing he is walking with us, talking with us, spending the night with us and sharing the table with us, even when we don’t always recognize that he’s there.

That is Easter – the message, the “good news” that followers of the recognized Jesus have proclaimed for thousands of years. It is a message we hold near and dear; it is the very cornerstone of our faith. And it is also sometimes a message we cling onto for dear life – sort of like that picture of the cat holding onto the tree limb – legs dangling, arms outstretched, his claws dug into the bark. You’ve seen that one, right? We cling onto Easter, sometimes with the thinnest of hopes, with the tiniest of dreams, because the Good News of the gospel is often all we have, and we dare not let it go

I like the way one preacher puts it: she describes the tenuous balancing act of faith as being an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.[1] I love that – an Easter people in a Good Friday world. Here we are, heirs to this amazing promise, this wonderful truth that can change our lives and change the world. And yet, every day it is still 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. It is 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 world where religious extremism of all kinds greets us on our TV screens and websites, leading us to fearfully wonder when the next beheading will be. It is a world where inexplicable tragedies, like school shootings or church burnings or third-world tsunamis, leave those of faith and those without pondering how such horrible things could ever happen. It is a world that continues to wrestle with issues of equality and justice, and the ramifications of the fact that everyone of us – each and every one of us – was created in the image of God. And it is a world where many people – more than you and I could possibly fathom – suffer silently in the imprisonment of their own desperation, fears and anxieties; teetering precariously on the thin line between keeping it all together and completely falling apart. That’s what life is like in a Good Friday world.

And the truth of the matter is that you and I need to be in this Good Friday world. Too often as people of faith we’d prefer to skip over that day altogether, bypassing the cross and locating ourselves right in front of an empty tomb, or greeting a wayward stranger on the road. But that’s not the way it works, is it? That’s not our story.

We are called to be in this Good Friday world. We are called to be here because Easter is not about the perfect ending to a fairy tale. It’s not about aligning ourselves with the “winning team.” Easter is our destination on the road to Emmaus. It is the place we find ourselves after all hope has been lost, after the pain has been its worst, 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, and then experience that glorious moment when his presence is made known to us. And we come to see in that moment that he is no longer dead, but he is very much alive and calls us to commune with him.

And that right there, my friends, is the real miracle of Easter. See, it is one thing to walk out of a tomb after the stone is rolled away. But it is another thing entirely to walk with each one of us, day by day by day, in our Good Friday world, on our own road to Emmaus. That right there is why he is our savior, that is why he is our Lord; coming to us in his good time and sharing the Good News – that Jesus is with us, now and always.

Some went to the tomb, but they did not see him. No, they wouldn’t see him; not there. Look deeper into this Good Friday world of ours. Look beside you. Look across the table from you. He’s taking the bread. He’s blessing it.   He’s breaking it. And he’s handing it to you. Now, finally, we see Jesus.  And he is risen. He is risen indeed! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God; and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!