On the road to Emmaus

This morning’s sermon…

Luke 24.13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles* from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.* 18Then 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?’ 19He 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, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.* Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and 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. 24Some 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.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Have you ever walked in the wrong direction? Perhaps for a long distance or for a long time? In this story the disciples, who incidentally had been told by some women that the body was missing and that there were some angels telling them that Jesus was alive, they left Jerusalem and walked to Emmaus. Presumably because they couldn’t believe that Jesus was alive. Presumably they were giving up on being part of the fellowship and going to go home to resume their normal lives. They were sad, dejected, depressed, perhaps. This is a story of repentance, they walk 7 miles in the wrong direction and then they turn around and walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem. Repentance is simply this, it is turning around and walking in the right direction.
I’m writing a book at the moment. It is not very loosely based on my life story. In it, the main character Ashley spends all her time trying to sort her life out and walk in the right direction but despite these sometimes noble efforts she is often walking in the wrong direction. I belong to a writer’s group and each time that I submit a chapter the others in the group are saying “Oh No, Poor Ashley, what now!” I’m afraid the story of my life is a series of face palms. I relate to the disciples walking in the wrong direction. I am with them on the road. And fortunately so is Jesus. You’ll notice that Jesus is also walking in the wrong direction, walking alongside them, walking alongside us when we get it wrong. In fact you might find it weird that the journey where Jesus is closely walking with them is when they have it wrong, he doesn’t bother accompanying them on the journey when they have it right!
And the story is full of irony – they say to Jesus ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ Well actually Jesus knows quite a lot about the things that have happened, but responds, ‘What things?’ And they say to Jesus, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth.’ You can almost see Jesus sniggering at this point. Or perhaps imagine the disciples telling the story later – hamming it up – “So then we said to Jesus – JESUS – we said to him ‘do you know nothing of the things that have happened’…. And you’ll never guess what Jesus said….” And then there is the irony that they tell Jesus that it has been three days since these things happened – and what did Jesus say would happen on the third day?
Times of transition are immensely fruitful in our spiritual lives. These disciples had presumably been with Jesus for three years and not really understood what Jesus was on about. They wouldn’t have chosen it but the trauma and loss that they experienced enabled them to hear Jesus for the first time. They were in an abyss and that is the place where we can find faith in a new way, a deeper way…. Of course not if we are bitter and closed, but if we have open hearts and allow God into our places of fear and anger then transition can be immensely fruitful. And look at the disciples – they are open and candid even with a stranger.
There is a story of a Zen master who had a visitor come and ask for wisdom, and the visitor didn’t stop talking, talking about his problems, talking about all that he had tried. Eventually the Zen master started pouring tea into his cup and he kept pouring even though the cup was overflowing. The Zen master said “Stop you can’t fit any more in, the cup is overflowing.” “And so it is with you,” replied the Zen master.
The disciple’s cups had been emptied. Only now could they take in what Jesus was saying, and their hearts burned within them. It reminds me of when I first became a Christian – I didn’t want to believe in God, but I showed up to church each week, wanting to disprove it, and my heart burned within me when I hear the truth, however weird and freaky it was, I couldn’t help myself.
In the breaking of the bread they meet Jesus. I wonder whether that is because the see his wounds, one of the only things we know about Jesus’ resurrection body is that he retains his wounds. Our wounds are clearly nothing to be ashamed of.
So the disciples travel back to Jerusalem, they rejoin the church and they proclaim the familiar Easter greeting “Christ is Risen” to which the rest proclaim, “He is Risen indeed.” This is our calling – to be part of a church which travels towards the Holy City, the place where we can know God, and along the journey we proclaim the risen Christ. Amen.

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