The Third Sunday of Easter (A)
Union Grove United Methodist Church
Hillsborough, North Carolina
13Now 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 ind 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.
28As 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.
Luke 24:13-35 NRSV
The disciples were heading to Emmaus. Where is Emmaus, you ask? Seven miles from Jerusalem. Why were they going to Emmaus? Because it’s seven miles from Jerusalem, and if you’re walking, that sounds like it’s far enough to get away from the misery and confusion of Jerusalem. Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite writers, says we all go there.
Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had—ideas about love and freedom and justice—have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.
Frederick Buechner, Magnificent Defeat
(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1985) 85
For me, Emmaus is music. I hear that the past couple of times I’ve played the organ in church, portions of the service have been a little loud. I’m learning to correct that, but you should have heard me when I was at Wake Forest. When something was really bothering me, I would go into the chapel at night, when nobody was left in the building, roll up the cover on the four keyboards of the massive organ console and select one of my custom settings, which ranged from loud to thunderous to “shake the building.” I was almost always playing hymns, and something about the audible power of the instrument and the enduring power of the words and music of the church made me confident of God’s rule in the world and soothed me.
Seven years ago this summer, my maternal grandmother died. My family had been camped out at the hospital for a couple of days, and I had driven separately that morning, so after our initial period of grieving together, my mother sent me home so that someone would be there to answer the phone and receive visitors. When I walked into the house, the emptiness was stifling. The hard questions began to flow through my head. What would life be like without my grandmother? Why does someone so kind and wonderful not get to live longer? Why did I ever allow an opportunity to see her to pass by? And so I sat at the piano, inherited from my grandmother’s aunt, played many times by my grandmother before arthritis made it impossible. I started to play, first sad songs and then more festive ones, because I needed to know that God was victorious, even though the death of the most godly person I knew made God look pretty weak.
An ignorant stranger
And that’s where Jesus found those two disciples: going to a place where they could sort through the pain of Christ’s death and the confusion of the rumors floating around that maybe he wasn’t dead after all. Jesus approached the disciples as a stranger, and his mood didn’t match their own, but rather he was informal and kind of chatty.
“What are y’all talking about?”
The disciples look at him, filled with several kinds of sadness, apparently also a little annoyed at the ignorance of this stranger.
“What hole did you just crawl out of? Everyone knows what’s been happening in Jerusalem.” And the disciple began to tell this stranger on the road about Jesus, his death, and the rumors of his resurrection.
Jesus rebuked them for being so reluctant to believe, and to prove his point, ran through all the scriptures, from Genesis through the Prophets, explaining how they pointed toward this very moment, and they listened, but didn’t hear him, and certainly, though they might have looked, didn’t see him.
As our strange trio of travelers approached their destination, Jesus, who always seemed to be several steps ahead of the disciples, walked on as if to continue his journey, not wanting to impose on the hospitality of the disciples or to force himself into their still-mourning hearts. But the disciples urged him to stay. I imagine a view of Jesus’ face before he turns back to them, a small smile breaking: his disciples were slow to believe, but at least they were kind to him—a stranger—and that was a lesson he had worked hard to teach.
You can’t nail him down
Now the scene changes. The strange traveler, their honored guest, has been given a spot at the head of the table. As they prepare to eat, he follows a formula that he has used before, and that we have been using in the church ever since: he took the bread, broke it, blessed it, and gave it to the disciples. That was what they needed.
When the disciples finally recognized Jesus, he disappeared. Why would he do that? Was it to convince the two disciples that he was Christ? No. They recognized him just before; there was no need for a trick to convince them. Was Jesus late for another appearance? I don’t think that’s it. The fact is that we aren’t told. We definitely learn something from his vanishing, though. You can’t nail Jesus down in one place any better than you can nail him up on a cross.
Surely the disciples would have wanted him to stay with them; they wanted to understand the mystery of his resurrection, they still had a couple questions about some of those stories he was famous for telling, and most of all, they wanted him to rest in their midst because there was something so wonderful and indescribable about him that filled the empty places within their hearts.
God is present with us and shall always be, but it seems we can only feel it when we don’t expect to and often we only recognize the feeling as we look backwards, like the disciples who remembered the burning in their hearts as he spoke to them. Maybe there’s a place for you where you’ve felt the hand of Jesus touch you before, but going back there again won’t necessarily bring the same old feelings. We can’t make God fit our schedule. So we search for ways to feel the presence of Christ and to celebrate him.
During Lent, a group of us met each Monday night to study scriptures for the season. One night we read Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper, and talked about the phrase:
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:24c NRSV
I shared with the group that while the church has used that phrasing about as long as we’ve been reading the Bible in English, that’s not the most literal translation. The most literal translation is a little more awkward: “Do this into remembrance of me.” We talked about it some and decided that made sense to us. When we take the bread, give thanks to God, break it, and share it as disciples of Christ, we aren’t just doing something that reminds about Jesus. We are doing something that moves us into a different understanding of who we are, and makes us into people who can appreciate who Christ is.
As we come to the table and take the bread that Christ offers to us, let us do it into remembrance of him.
As you go from this place, may Christ surprise you from his presence when it seems as if there is no hope, and may he feed your body and spirit so that you might share the good news of his work in the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.