Preached by Rev. Jack Averill, March 27, 2016
Taken from Luke 24:1-12, also 13-35
Lord God, as we look into your word for us today, we want to welcome the risen Christ, so that he may live in our hearts by faith and be proclaimed in our lives by love. Amen.
This scripture is familiar to many people, and it’s relevant for today: “Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).
They are headed in the wrong direction, going away from the other disciples.
In the early morning hours on the day we know as Easter, disciples are moving quickly to the tomb, then running back to talk with other disciples; then others run to the tomb to see for themselves. Now, somewhat later, these two are leaving. They are going home.
The account from Luke’s Gospel, which Martha Ballenger read, tells us that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other disciples go at daybreak to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed. They find the stone — gravestones were round, they stood on edge in a trench in front of the tomb where they could be rolled to one side to allow entry, then back to close the tomb — the women find this heavy stone rolled aside and the tomb, empty. They are “perplexed.” Suddenly, “two men in dazzling clothes” stand beside them. The women are “terrified.” An earth-shaking question confronts them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
The women return to the city and tell the other disciples what they experienced. “But,” scripture says, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter goes to investigate, looks into the tomb, and returns “amazed.” The disciples are perplexed…terrified… disbelieving…amazed, which in the Gospels includes fear and a bit of anger: a strange, painfully honest introduction to this day of the greatest joy and celebration.
Our worship on Sundays in Lent responded to the theme, “Through the Wilderness.” Despite Jesus’ efforts to prepare them, his death on Friday, that devastating ending, cast his disciples into a wilderness of confusion and grief, despair and powerlessness unlike any they had ever experienced. We know that an astounding beginning burst upon them early Sunday morning, but it was far beyond their immediate ability to grasp.
It’s when Luke’s scripture for today continues that we first meet these two disciples who, bewildered in their wilderness, are now on the road, walking toward home. One is named Cleopas; the other, unidentified, is very likely his wife. We know nothing more about them, except that they must have been at the table with the other disciples as Jesus led them what we call the Last Supper.
As they walk along in their seven-mile journey to the village of Emmaus, they are deep in conversation, trying to make sense of what happened, not only that morning, but on Friday as well. They are questioning, baffled, uncertain. A man walking that same road from Jerusalem comes up alongside them. He asks what they are discussing. With some exasperation, Cleopas responds, “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who does not know…?” “What?” the stranger asks.
“Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” Cleopas replies, “our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, to rescue us from the Romans. 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 seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.”
The stranger and the two disciples continue walking down the road. Now they are listening to him as he interprets scripture, helping them to comprehend, to put in context, all that has occurred in these last days.
The turn-off to their village is just ahead. They have left Jerusalem. They have gone away from the other disciples. You may know from your own experience that when part of your life is falling apart, when you find yourself thrown into a wilderness of uncertainty and confusion and pain, heading for home may seem the best thing to do — as a “time out,” not a solution — until you can get back to what you may be avoiding.
I read recently about a man who, while traveling in England, took time to wander through the cemetery that surrounded a village church. He came to a low brick wall that enclosed 50 graves, somewhat neglected, graves of young men between the ages of 17 and 25, all from New Zealand. Placed into the brick wall surrounding the graves was a granite slab with these words: We Shall Never Forget Your Sacrifice.
Nothing in the cemetery explained what had occurred, so the man went to the village museum. The attendant there had no idea. Townspeople whom he asked did not know. The man could only surmise that these 50 were soldiers who had been stationed in the village during World War I and who died in the flu epidemic of 1918. “No one knew,” he lamented. “The impressive inscription in granite, We Shall Never Forget Your Sacrifice, was a lie. Their sacrifice had been forgotten. No one could remember.”
Had God not raised Jesus from death, would people eventually have forgotten his ministry? That, for me, is unthinkable because we know that God loved the world so much that God gave us his Son and, when part of the world responded with crucifixion, God loved the world so much that he raised his Son to dwell among us through all time and into eternity, a gift that no one can put to an end.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That question would become a pathway out of the wilderness of grief and lostness and apparent defeat and into the utterly new beginning that God had created.
The two disciples arrive at the side road that leads to their village. The stranger seems about to continue on his way. “No, stay with us,” they insist. “The day is nearly over.” So he enters their home. They prepare a meal. He takes his place at their table. They start to eat, but their guest begins to preside at the meal, to do what the head of the household would do. Says the scripture, “He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.” This is what had happened in the upper room. It was then, Luke tells us, that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” — literally, “He became someone disappearing from them.”
Without delay, their meal apparently postponed, these two are on the road again, going back to the others. Before, they had felt empty and dead inside. Now they are filled with new, resurrected life. “That same hour,” Luke tells us, “they got up and returned [the seven miles] to Jerusalem; and they found the other disciples gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Those words of scripture with which I began are relevant: “Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” For many of us, when and where we eat our meals has changed from some years back, and rare it is if members of the household sit at a table, all together at the same time. In fact, some us of rarely use a table—we eat standing up, or in front of the TV, or listening to music through our earbuds. Only on special days are we all seated at the same time, if then — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, perhaps birthdays.
If we want to open the door to Jesus so that he can preside at our table — well, we’ll have to think of that in a different way: if we want Jesus to preside in our lives, no problem — this is what he wants to do. And when we leave from here and go to there, we won’t be leaving him behind. He will walk with us throughout the day, encouraging us in everything to walk with him on his way, think his thoughts, and extend his care for all other people.
While we walk with him, we will discover who we are. Scripture tells us, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). We are all children of God. That’s who we are; that’s our new identity in Christ: all children of God. It’s our identity to accept, ours to grow into.