Sermon on Luke 24 – The Road to Emmaus

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, April 26, 2020. Easter 2. Canon Claude Schroeder. Sermon on Luke 24.13-35

In today’s Gospel lesson from the 24th chapter of St. Luke, who in his Gospel had a very keen eye for historical detail, furnishes us with some very important details with respect to the time and the place of the story he is going to tell. He writes, “on that same day, two of them, were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and were talking about all these things that had happened…”

This was the day the women came to the tomb, and found it to be empty, and two of Jesus’ disciples are heading home to Emmaus, about a 2 and half hour walk from the city of Jerusalem.

Why is St. Luke so interested in locating with such precision the time and place of this story? 

I think Luke wants us to know that what he is about to tell us actually happened in time and space. The story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection isn’t a fairy tale, a metaphor or symbol of some spiritual idea. He was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of the Emperor Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. ( Luke 2.1-17) “He suffered under Pontius Pilate”, as it says in the Apostles’ Creed. Here “on that same day,” Easter Sunday, two of His disciples, one whose name was Cleopas, were given to encounter the Risen Lord, on the road to Emmaus.

Today is the Second Sunday after Easter in our church calendar, and the  15th  day in the 50 day the season of Easter. But when we come to church to celebrate the feasts, whether it’s the feast of Jesus’ Nativity, His Baptism, His Transfiguration, His Death and Resurrection, Ascension, Sending of the Spirit, we do not celebrate them as historical events, the mere remembrance of things that happened ‘once upon a time.’ We celebrate them as participants. We celebrate them as happening right here and right now. It’s why in our Easter anthem, we declare, “Christ our Passoveris sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the Feast.” (BCP p. 182). And when at Easter Christians greet one another, it is not, “Christ was Risen!”, but “Christ is Risen!”  Here and now, He risen, and God has “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2.14)

How is this possible?  

It is possible because God who is beyond all space and time, has broken into space and time, in the person of His Son. And He continues to break into our space and our time, where by means of the liturgy, it is given to us to encounter the Risen Lord, where the Lord opens our eyes that might truly recognize Him for who He is, and so enter into His joy.

It’s why today, we find ourselves, “walking the road to Emmaus”. We might say, that as Christians, we are always “walking the road to Emmaus.” For the road to Emmaus is for us not just a place on a map. The road to Emmaus is for us a place on the landscape of the spirit. 

What is that place?

To begin with it is a place of conversation and discussion. What kind of conversation and discussion? More on that in minute, because as we walk the road to Emmaus, we encounter a third party.  Luke tells us that, “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24.16)

Jesus walks with us on the road to Emmaus, but comes to us as “one unknown”, under the guise of a stranger.  Like the disciples, we do not recognize Him for who He is. But as we walk with Him on this road, He will reveal Himself to us: first as our conversation partner, then as our teacher, and finally, as we arrive in the village, at the end of the day, at table with us, in the breaking of the bread, He will reveal Himself to us as our Crucified and Risen Lord and Savior.

Jesus said to them, “What are you discussing with each other as you walk along? They stood still, looking sad.”

Here the road to Emmaus, in the landscape of the spirit, is a place of bewilderment, confusion, loss, disappointment, and at times, unbearable sadness.

This is where we find ourselves, and this is where He comes to meet us. In our sadness.

What sad things have you and I been discussing with each other this week? 

Well, I suspect a good deal of talk has been about COVID 19. 

Perhaps there has been some talk of what the government is and isn’t doing about it. 

Maybe there has been some talk of the fact that the producers of oil have been selling their product at a loss. 

Then, alas, there has been the sad talk about recent events in Nova Scotia, where there is grief upon grief.  

The disciples said to him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

The disciples are dumfounded.  What do you mean, “What are we discussing with each other?” 

It’s like, “Where have you been?”  

The irony of the situation is not lost on us. In the three days since Good Friday, where on the Cross, He ‘trampled down death by death,’ Jesus has been on a preaching tour of hell, sharing the Good News of His victory to the imprisoned spirits, (1 Peter 3. 19-20) and bringing ‘life to all who are in the tombs.’ (Orthodox Troparion for Easter Day)

Jesus knows exactly what has taken place in these days. It is the disciples who are ignorant. 

But Jesus plays dumb, and asks them, “What things?”  

Like any good therapist, or confessor, Jesus wants them to tell their story, to get it out. People, as we know, are desperate to tell their story, and are even more desperate to have somebody listen to their story, and even  more desperate still to make sense of their story, to find meaning, purpose in their life-story and to find some kind of enduring hope for their story. 

It’s about finding an answer to the question, “What on earth is going on here?” Given the confusing, nonsensical, bewildering character of life on this earth, trying to make sense of what on the surface appears senseless,  and maintain a posture of hope, is not at all an easy proposition.  In fact, it’s quite hard at times not avoid the conclusion, as Shakespeare put it,

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays are lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5, 16-17)

Or as Tolstoy put it, “After a stupid life, comes a stupid death.” (A Confession)

Or as the disciples put it, “But we had hoped he would be the One to redeem Israel.” ( Luke 24.21)

For the disciples on the road to Emmaus, what was as stake here in the story of Jesus was not only as sense of coherence and meaning of the story of their own lives, but also of the story of Israel, who were the people who brought us the story of creation.

You see the story of Jesus Christ, His life, death, and resurrection, is the clue not only to understanding our own story, but the clue to understanding all of history, because as the Word through whom all things were made, ( John 1.1) all of history is “ his story.” And it is the story of the love that suffers, redeems, and recreates.

Then Jesus said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24. 25-27)

Here we come know to the first great turning point in our story today, that is first great turning point in the story of our lives. That is when someone comes along and opens the Scriptures to us, to show us Jesus.  By Scriptures, we are not talking about here about the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament. When in the Nicene Creed we confess that “He suffered, and was buried, and on the he rose again according to the Scriptures, what we have in mind is the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and all that comprises of what we call the “Old Testament.”

According to our passage today, it is Old Testament, as the inspired Word of God, (2 Timothy 3.16) that is the principle witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by means of which God sets our hearts on fire with His Holy Spirit.  In the Book of Exodus, the Lord appeared to Moses in the flames of fire (Exodus 3.2). But how He is known and experienced as burning sensation within our hearts. Afterwards the disciples would remark, “Were our hearts not burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” 

I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have been one of Jesus’ first disciples.   What would it have been like to have heard Jesus preach and teach, seen Him heal the sick, cast out demons, feed the multitude, raise the dead, and along with Peter, James, John and Peter, to have seen Him transfigured before my very eyes, to have walked into the tomb and seen it empty, and then to have seen Him appear before me in His resurrected Body? Wouldn’t that have been fantastic? Because then, I would know as Peter did with certainty that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who was crucified. And then repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of my sins, I would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. My soul would be purified, and now, by my obedience to the truth, I would find myself loving those around me, deeply from the heart. In short, my life and my relationships would be transformed! Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

Here is the thing, having seen and heard all these things, the preaching, the teaching, the miracles, the transfiguration, the cross, the empty tomb, and the resurrection didn’t help the disciples one bit in coming to a living faith in Jesus Christ, and experiencing this change.

So how did it happen? 

It happened on the road to Emmaus, as Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 

This why we must say that our faith in the Resurrection does not actually depend on the empty tomb, and the appearances Jesus made to the disciples. This is not say that we don’t believe the tomb was empty, and that we don’t believe He did appear, but our faith does not depend on these things. Our faith depends rather on someone opening up the Scriptures to us that we might see Jesus in them.

And yet even this is not enough. 

As Luke tells us, as they came to the end of their journey on the road to Emmaus, the disciples asked the stranger to stay with them, and join them for the evening meal. Here we come to the second great turning point in the story. For Jesus, who had been the invited guest, all of sudden took on the role of the host, when He took the bread, blessed, broke it, and gave to them. This, of course, is exactly what Jesus had done on the night that He was betrayed. Jesus took the bread, when he had given thanks, broke it and gave to His disciples, saying, “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you.” 

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.

Here we come to the third great turning point in the story. Having recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, they turned around, and headed back into the city from which they had come, where they could now witness to His sin-forgiving, death-defeating, life-giving death and resurrection. 

It is why in the midst of the sadness that at times overwhelms our life in this world, nothing is more important that we should find ourselves on the road to Emmaus. Where does the road to Emmaus lead? The road to Emmaus is the road the leads into church, where the Scriptures are opened up, and where, in the breaking of the bread, our eyes are opened to recognize Him afresh.  And all these things proclaimed by St. Peter, the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the cleansing of the soul, the obedience to the truth, become ours.  A new landscape, a new spiritual landscape is opened for us, where with an enduring faith and hope in God, that confounds our despair, we come love one another deeply from the heart, so that all the world might come to know, love, and serve Him also, who for our sake suffered, died, and rose again, even Jesus Christ our Lord.