Todays Scripture passage is one of a handful of stories of Jesus resurrection. But there is in this story a little twist. It carries the impression of being an answer to a pressing question. There were people alive at the time of Lukes writing who had not seen Jesus alive and near. They didnt know the sound of his voice or his silhouette in the dark. They were following a Jesus they had not seen. Even those who had seen him were now following him without an earthly presence. And so a question for the early church and all of us today: How do Christians follow a resurrected Jesus?
What follows is not only a story that explains the when and how Jesus appeared after his death, but also how we experience the presence of Jesus in a day when he does not walk in flesh and blood.
Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, What are you discussing together as you walk along?
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do know the things that have happened there in these days?
What things? he asked.
About Jesus of Nazareth, they replied. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didnt find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see. Luke 24:13-24
This is one of the most revealing portraits of the people who followed Jesus in the first century. Two disciples of Jesus are talking about everything that had happened, meaning the tragic events that led to Jesus death in Jerusalem. This man they thought so powerful in word and deed died the death of the worst criminal. They arrive in Jerusalem with such hope for change, and it ended with Jesus death. No one expects such a simmering hope for change to end as it did. They lost a friend and they lost a dream with his death. They lost someone they deemed sacred, an expectation of liberation they deemed sacred, and they lost it all in the sacred city of Jerusalem. On the road to Emmaus after Jesus crucifixion disciples can only wonder how all the good things fell apart, right before their eyes. More complicated, they fell apart right before Gods eyes.
The sacred things do crumble, dont they? Death comes to those we love, and by death we lose part of a sacred story; we had Gods will for our lives tied up in these people. Marriages stumble and crumble, and this was not supposed to happen. Our children hit rough stretches, even as we presumed that God would prevent that from happening. Jobs, health, friendships crumble right before our eyes. They crumble right before Gods eyes. And when all these things crumble, our expectations of God can crumble. The road to Emmaus after the sacred fails is a long, hard walk.
What I think this account tells us is that a resurrected Jesus can appear to us when sacred things crumble and sacred places dont prove so sacred. In fact, it might be that God does His biggest work in our lives when the illusions of life and love and prosperity are finally on the ground. The disciples here say what we say: we had hoped Not one disciple thought that God might be waiting for them on the other side of suffering, but He was. Not one thought He was waiting for them on the other side of crucifixion. But He was. And not one thought He was waiting for them on a disillusioned, doubt-filled walk to Emmaus. But He was.
*A point to ponder: Can you imagine God coming to you at the end of something sacred? What if the death of something sacred became for you the starting place for seeking God?
He said to them, How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27
The turn in the story is an unpredictable one. The disciples presumed that the Scriptures pointed to a Messiah who would lead and live, not led away and crucified. Jesus does not give them a break on this. Instead, Jesus calls for the disciples to search the difficult stories and warnings in the Scriptures, like Isaiah 53:4-6. Here the Lords servant is suffering, and the iniquity of us all is laid upon him. Here God is doing something wonderful through tragic means. And it is before us in the Scriptures. But it is a difficult teaching.
None of us like to think that God waits for us beyond Psalm 23 or John 3:16. We like the idea of Gods provision and exclusive help. Lately Ive carried a Scripture memory card with me with these verses: Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 14:12-14. These are hard verses, because I am tempted to lean away from enemies and lean toward those who can reward me. I am tempted to lead rather than follow, tempted to judge rather than serve, tempted to walk by sight and not by faith. Just because Scripture gets hard and asks for hard decisions does not mean that Scripture is irrelevant.
*A point to ponder: Can you imagine God coming to you through hard portions of Scripture? What if the hard places in the Bible became the starting places for you?
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over. So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon. Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Luke 24:28-35
And now the finale. As was the case with the resurrected Jesus, his appearing was not always so evident. We do not necessarily understand how his appearances were both concrete and mysterious to the disciples. As in this story, people would not know it is he at one moment and then see him clearly the next. I hope we can all recollect a time when we looked up and realized that God was helping, moving, nearer to us than we imagined. We simply didnt recognize Him. (*Missionary urging me to go to seminary; literally upended my life in 25 minutes.) In this account their eyes are opened as he breaks bread. Jesus was a guest in this home, but he takes the role of the host when he breaks the bread.
We all like to speak of Jesus being the guest of our home, the unseen voice and ear at every meal and evenings sleep. But the passage tells us that we may only see him fully when he is host in our homes. How can Jesus be host? He begins to be host when we find ways to honor him in our homes and seek larger priorities for our home. Maybe this means people give thanks to God before eating. Maybe this means people give thanks for each other before sleeping. Maybe this means parents and children find ways to open the Bible together and learn from God and share faith. He is host when we put our needs in his hands and entrust our families to him. He is host when we raise our children in faith, our marriages are forged in faith, and our relationships to our families become a central piece of our faith.
*A point to ponder: Can you imagine God coming to you in the highs and lows of your home? Can you imagine setting out on Monday to make Christ Lord of your home?