May 4, 2014; 3rd Sunday of Easter – A – Walking and Talking with Jesus
Psalm 116:1-19- responding to God for the blessings we receive
Luke 24:13-35- Jesus on the road to Emmaus
“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” Luke 24:32
Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in our language begin with the letter D? Doubt, disappointment, disillusionment, defeat, depression, despair and death. All of these are mixed in the conversation of Cleopas and his companion when a stranger joined them on the Emmaus road. They had left the disciples in hiding with the events of Good Friday fresh in their memories. We can sympathize with their bewilderment.
The Master they had revered, loved and followed had been horribly put to death- a cruel death of the most degrading kind. Death by crucifixion was the most shameful of deaths; the victim was made a public spectacle, exposed to the jeers of all that passed by. Deut. 10:23 and again in Gal. 3:13 tell us that in the Jewish community, “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree.” Only a week before, on Palm Sunday, the disciples’ hopes had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed-for deliverer from the tyranny of Roman occupation but now he lay dead in a sealed tomb! Their hopes were dashed; the dream was over!
These two were on their way home. The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty had only confused them more. Their entire world had come apart. The two downhearted disciples summed up the situation when they said, “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers it’s difficult to revive.
Have you ever experienced such total hopelessness? There was no way out… no matter what you tried, there was nothing you could do to change the situation…
I have seen that look of total helplessness in the eyes of people who have given up…“There is nothing they can do for me – the cancer has spread too far.” “My spouse has left me for another partner.”
“I’ve tried so hard to give up smoking.”
“I feel so stuck in my job – I hate the job but, I can’t quit because my family needs the income and I don’t know how to do anything else.”
“I’ve given up.
Nothing will ever change with my church. The old guard will never give up power, and a lot of spirit-led creativity is stifled in order to maintain the status quo.”
Have you ever heard yourself or someone else say these words? Then you have a bit of an idea what the two from Emmaus were grappling with. Hopelessness is desperately hard to cure. When you see someone you love and care for overtaken by an illness that goes on and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery… you even become afraid to hope because you don’t know if you can cope with another letdown. Just yesterday I heard myself saying a similar thing on the phone as I spoke with my parents. We were planning to go to an event together on Sunday evening to honor my father for 60 years as a Mason, and I had to tell them that Judy had been very sick and in bed the whole week, only getting out to go to the doctor two times. She was on antibiotics and showing a little improvement and Dad said that maybe she would be back to normal tomorrow. My realistic side (read: Ye of little faith…) caused me to respond with my thought that that kind of recovery might be too much to hope for, and then I thought that the prayer of faith leads us to a different conclusion, and I corrected my disbelief with a hope that it could be so…
And so it is, in our heart-break, like the Emmaus disciples, we put up a wall of hopelessness around ourselves, and we become trapped in our misery. “We had hoped …” “We had hoped…”
What they were saying – and what you may be saying is, “We don’t expect it now anymore… we know it’s not going to happen… but once we did… This hope we once had… it’s gone.” “Now there is nothing left to do.” Do you know the heartbreaking disappointment in your own life?
But, this isn’t the full story… Praise God!
As the travelers made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger fell alongside them. It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks in history! We know, of course, that it was the risen Jesus, but somehow they didn’t recognize him. In fact Luke tells us “they were kept from recognizing him.” Maybe they were too preoccupied to look him in the eye. Maybe they didn’t care. What difference did it make who was walking with them…
They were grieving a great loss in their lives! And along comes a chatty stranger, who hasn’t got a clue about the things that happened in Jerusalem… or so it seems. The stranger asked them, “What’s going on, guys?” And he listened as they poured out their hearts.
Jesus doesn’t dumb them down… but rather, in his infinite consideration for their brokenness, and their bewildered minds he comes next to them and joins them on their journey… He walks with them…and He listens… and then He fills their hearts with the promises from God’s Word, and ultimately with hope and understanding.
Jesus knew that downtrodden people don’t need someone to tell them, “You should have listened better.”
They need companionship. They need a listening ear before a stream of good advice. The last thing they need is a brisk “cheering up” talk or being told to “snap out of it.” Instead, Jesus joins us on our journey… He spends time with us… sometimes unrecognized in the person of a stranger…
Jesus enters their pain, and allows them to share their story of disappointment. And as they tell the stranger what they thought the man of Galilee was all about Jesus unpacks for them the full mystery of God’s plan of salvation. He fills their broken hearts with a lesson in faith and hope.
Starting right with the story of the fall of man, and how God deals with our human failure… Jesus told them about God’s plan of salvation in the OT… the thread of God’s activity in the lives of His people… Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, Moses and the prophets… the Exodus out of Egypt… the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah…
And then he said, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things …” Yes, “suffering”… that’s the one thing they hadn’t factored in… Like many of us, the disciples were counting on a Messiah who would rule with Power and crush the enemies of Israel and establish the Kingdom of God on earth once and for all.
They could not conceive of the idea of a Messiah who would suffer and die on a Roman cross.
And maybe today Jesus says to us what he said to the disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
Their two-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus must have seemed like just a few minutes. They were so wrapped up in this conversation with the Lord whom they had not yet recognized. Luke informs us that, “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus seemed to be going further.” And they invited him to come in, because the day was about over, they wanted more conversation, and he would have to stay somewhere.
They didn’t have to ask him in. But their hearts had been strangely warmed during the conversation on the road, so, they set the table for three. The stranger took the bread and gave thanks… And in the act of breaking bread they recognized him for who he was.
“He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” They saw his hands – they were different from when he had broken bread at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and at the Last Supper.
They were the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. In an instant they knew him. And in an instant, he’s gone.
* I met a young man this week at Wal-Mart- he looked at me and I at him & we paused to look at each other in recognition that we knew each other… it took us a few exchanges to remember how we recognized each other, and then he was off- he had left his dog in the car, he said as he left.
Why did Jesus have to disappear? Couldn’t he have stayed longer?
I can visualize Cleopas and his friend standing in amazement; asking each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They suddenly recognized for themselves that Christ is risen from the dead!
So, they quickly packed up and lost no time in retracing their steps to Jerusalem to share the Good News. A simple two hour walk turned into a life-transforming experience. Now their hearts were burning with passion to share with everyone what they had seen and experienced.
* The noted conductor Reichel was taking his choir and orchestra through their final rehearsal of Handel’s beautiful and inspiring “Messiah”. When the soprano soloist came in with the refrain, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” she sang it with flawless technique, perfect breathing, and clear enunciation. After she completed her part, everyone looked at the conductor expecting to see his responses of approval. With a motion from his baton for silence, he walked over to the soloist and said, almost sorrowfully, “My daughter, you do not really know that your Redeemer lives, do you?”
Embarrassed, she answered, “Why, yes, I think I do.” “Then sing it!” cried Reichel. “Tell it to me so that I’ll know you have experienced the joy and power of it.” Then he motioned for the orchestra to begin, & she sang the truth with a fervor that testified of her personal relationship to the risen Lord. Those who listened wept and the old master, eyes wet with tears, said to her, “You do know, for this time you have told me.”
I am almost certain that the two-hour journey back to Jerusalem took the disciples half the time. They were on a Mission! Their hearts were burning! They had some Good News to share! They couldn’t keep it to themselves… Their broken hearts had been transformed into hearts that were on fire for their Lord! You see, Hope has that powerful effect on us. It transforms ordinary people, like the Emmaus Disciples…like you and me… into passionate witnesses of the risen Lord!
As we journey along and as we experience defeat, despair and disappointment in our daily life let us welcome the stranger that joins us on our journey. May our hearts also be warmed by his company and may our lives be ignited with passion to share with all that we have seen the risen Lord!
Christ is risen from the dead! Christ is the Savior! Christ is the hope of the world! The two disciples lost no time in retracing their steps to Jerusalem to share the Good News. May that be our experience this Easter season and for the rest of our lives. Let us sing it, so that they will know that our Redeemer lives!.