3rd Sunday of Easter

April 26, 2020


That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But 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 happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 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?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 ESV)

What would you do if you died and been raised to life three days later? Who would you contact? Who would you see?

Let me make it gruesome … you’ve been murdered and now you’re back to life. Death is defeated for you. What do you do?

Yes, I can imagine – I think we all can – seeing family again and maybe also confronting the murderer(s) with a definite “I’m back!”. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies and so today’s Gospel reading seems out of place. Luke records the women at the empty tomb and the two men in dazzling apparel and the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection – and that he told them that after his crucifixion he would, on the third day, rise. The women tell the apostles but are not believed. Peter goes and checks the tomb and it is empty except for the linen cloths by themselves.

And then Luke records the account of the walk to Emmaus – of two disciples – and we only get to know the name of one of them – Cleopas. For Luke, Jesus’ first resurrection appearance is as a stranger walking on a road heading out of Jerusalem! Huh?! We have the same thing happening as we heard in John’s account last Sunday – the eyes don’t work consistently – God wants them to hear, it seems, rather than see at this moment – the ears are the guide to what is happening and even what is seen. And so Jesus goes for a walk on the day he is raised to life again. This unexpected afternoon activity one does after one is resurrected has got to be a sign of humility and also personal care for two disciples of Jesus who are getting away – escaping more like it – from Jerusalem.

Jesus plays ‘Passover Tourist’ it seems. What things? What are you talking about? And Cleopas and his friend are pretty dumbstruck – this was news! – where have you been?! – and they explain the hopes they had for Jesus. A prophet. Mighty in deed and word. But instead crucified. We had hoped he would redeem Israel – buy it back? get it back? who knows? but they wanted freedom, not to be someone else’s. And now to make things weird some of the women went to the tomb, it was empty, and angels said he was alive.

Jesus responds by calling them foolish – not in the ‘a fool says that there is no God’ way but in the ‘slow of heart’ – missing the point – not knowing what they should know – way. In effect, he says, ‘Why are you so dumbfounded, so crestfallen, so confused?’. If you knew the Prophets, you wouldn’t be in this state, on this journey.

And what Jesus does next so very critical and important – v.27 – And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus essentially preached himself! Not in an arrogant, big headed way but in a way that they could see that the Christ, the hoped for Messiah, had to go through what Jesus went through, had to do what Jesus did, could say what Jesus said – and it was all there in the Scriptures they knew – what we, today, call the Old Testament.

The night is falling and it is dangerous to travel and so the two invite the stranger to stay with them and then weirdly the stranger becomes the host and now we have the other critical component of this account – v.30b,31 – [Jesus] took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.

Bread and sight – the eyes work for a moment – but Jesus defies physics and vanishes. Frustrating to be sure. But we get no sense of that from Cleopas and friend – instead we get apparent stupidity – they now travel in the night to get back to the place they got away from and they share with each other how ‘their hearts burned’ as Jesus shared – opened – the Scriptures – and so we might say they might even be fired up, on fire, enlightened to tell the Eleven their news, except Jesus has beat them there and appeared to Simon. And there is no record that they are miffed, peeved, mortified but they tell their story of the walk and the teaching and finishes with the breaking of the bread and their eyes opened. Jesus has changed everything!

Luke’s researched account is powerful theology! Word and Sacrament – the preached Word, the taught Word, the word that points to and conveys Jesus brings life to people, bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, hope to the lost, mercy to the ashamed, a welcome to the fearful, light to the darkness. And his meal – not just bread only – but the Sacrament of the Altar is a critical and personal component of the Christian Faith ever since.

Of course in our pre COVID-19 times, this would be the time to talk about Holy Communion as a means of grace – as Jesus being both host and meal, self giving and gift for the strengthening of faith, for physical healing, and for the forgiveness of sins which then entails salvation and eternal life. There would also perhaps be a comment about how personal this communing is and at the same time how communal it is because the one body of Jesus, of bread and cup, is the communing group. Spiritually speaking to emphasise the personal is to walk down more the privacy road – this is a private matter – whereas for the Church it has always been a communal matter, even if it is behind closed doors.

If we were in Reformation times, this would be the time to talk about the misuse of the sacrament as sacrifice, to speak against the sacrament being used for purposes other than eating and drinking, and to encourage people to see the sacrament not as a work to be done mechanically or without faith but willingly to receive the gift Jesus wants to give – himself! In Luther’s Large Catechism, he makes a big point about not looking down on the sacrament because it is almost an empty legal thing to do and people had not communed for possibly 3 years and he was encouraging them to think more highly of this meal and to come and receive from Jesus his gifts and to treasure them. Luther argued that no one should be forced to go to Holy Communion and that the phrase “as often as you do it” means that communing is up to the individual but don’t ‘look down’ or despise the sacrament. To not commune weakens people but people should not be force fed! And then Luther even makes the distinction between not communing when you could – when it is offered – and not communing when something ‘prevents’ that happening (LC #49). Luther doesn’t give any examples at this point in the Large Catechism but one might think of illness, work, disaster, or circumstance.

If we were in the Formula of Concord times, this text might talk about the distinction between spiritual eating and sacramental eating because, by that time, there had been 50 years or so of teaching in the Reformed circles and among some Lutherans that however one understands Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion, Jesus was not physically there. He might be there symbolically, through faith, in numerous spiritualised ways but he was not present to be consumed, to come within, and to actually do anything physical or spiritual, bless or judge. That was the issue of the Lutheran Reformers in the 1570s and I’m sure this text would have spring boarded many a Real Presence sermon!

So what about today – not pre-COVID-19 times, not Formula of Concord times, not Reformation times, not even early church times – what do we say in response to the walk to Emmaus and back to Jerusalem?

We have said that for the good of our neighbours we will not meet together because we understand virology and transmission. The government’s rules of closure are not an attack against the 1st Commandment but are viewed in the light of the 4th and 5th Commandments – obedience to authority and a desire to promote life not harm it. As we say that the rejection of baptism – not its absence per se – is a serious sin and if held at death disastrous so we recognise our context – we may live hours from the church, we might work shift work, we travel away from home and church – it happens, we are ill in hospital, we are ill with an infection at home – there will be times when we are not able to gather around the Lord’s Table with our sisters and brothers but this is not a looking down on the Sacrament. Similarly this sacramental fast is not undertaken with contempt or disregard for Jesus – indeed our hunger grows – but we are on our screens because we are serving our community.

In the mystery of our Christian experience of the Faith we return daily to our Baptism, we commune as often as Holy Communion is offered or as often as we can attend without ever looking down on Jesus or regarding time with him and our congregation as not important, but we are surrounded wherever and whenever we are – by the Word of God. Here Bible memory verses, Bible stories, songs dripping in and influenced by Scripture, Bible readings, prayers, and even the Small Catechism which basically points us to the Bible all walk beside us, all make our hearts burn within us, all nourish us, challenge us, and can even send us into the unknown – which is like a darkness – but we are never alone. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

One day the screens will pass and we will see each other with our own eyes and our eyes will be opened at the breaking of the bread and yes, Jesus is there for us – physically, definitely, sacramentally. Today we also confess that Jesus has never left us. Jesus never leaves us!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Bible References

  • Luke 24:13 - 35