Our gospel today is about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It happened on that first Easter evening. Luke says, “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.”
Who were they? In verse 18, Luke says one was named Cleopas.” But the other one’s name isn’t given. Maybe it doesn’t matter. We don’t know anything more about Cleopas anyway.
Cleopas and his nameless friend were probably two of the seventy disciples that Jesus had called back in Luke 10.
But when Luke says these two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus, maybe he doesn’t want you to think of specific people. Maybe he wants you to think of yourself. Imagine that you are the one going down that road with Jesus.
So where were they headed? Luke says Emmaus was “about seven miles” from Jerusalem. Yet for all of the stuff the archaeologists have dug up in Israel, nobody’s ever found Emmaus. But wherever it was, Emmaus was home. The disciples were going home. They had a house there, and enough food on hand to feed themselves and Jesus.
But remember, the disciples are you. And so Emmaus represents your home. And that’s important.
From the beginning, people have thought that God is present in some places more than others. The Greeks and Romans thought the gods lived on Mount Olympus. In Bible times, many Jews came to think that God lived in the Jerusalem temple.
But the disciples are going away from Jerusalem. They were going home. Sometimes we seem to think that God will enter our lives only at certain moments; that we can “feel the Spirit” only at big crusades, or only when certain kinds of songs are sung. We expect to feel God’s presence in the great moments of life, like birth or death.
But the rest of the time? Maybe not so much. We think Jesus hangs out here in the building we call “the church,” –but we don’t expect Jesus to follow us home.
Oddly enough, that’s exactly what Luke says in verses 15 and 16: “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him.”
“They were kept from recognizing him.” But who kept them from recognizing him? Was Jesus playing some kind of mind-control game? No, I think the answer is very simple: They kept themselves from recognizing Jesus, because they weren’t expecting to see him. They weren’t looking for him. They didn’t expect Jesus to follow them home.
But again—“they” is “we.” Do we expect to have Jesus follow us home, or does his presence just go unrecognized?
Better yet, do we even want Jesus to go home with us? In our family, our table prayer begins, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Are we serious? Would we really want Jesus helping out in the kitchen? When the family is arguing over where to eat, would we want Jesus to add his two-cents worth? Would we want him interrupting as we’re watching TV? Would we want him to hear us grumble about the people who messed up our day ? No, Jesus, you stay in that church building over there, and we’ll come and be your guest sometime.
Then we come to the heart of the story. In verse 19, the disciples start to tell this stranger about Jesus, but what they end up doing is telling him about their own uncertainty and confusion. In verse 21, they say, “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Yes, they thought Jesus was the Messiah. But it hadn’t worked out. The Messiah was crucified. And now, they said, “some of our women amazed us.” They told us that they found his tomb empty and that they had some vision of angels telling them he was alive, but when some of our guys went down there, they didn’t see anything.
It left them wondering. Who is Jesus? Where is he? What kind of Savior did I expect Jesus to be? If his tomb is empty, what does that mean?
Is it that way for us? We know the story of Jesus. We got the gist of what he taught. We probably know the Golden Rule. We know he could probably heal. We know he died on the cross. We know he’s supposed to have risen again.
But what do we think he’ll do for us? He forgives sin, but sometimes I don’t feel very guilty. He’s supposed to have the kingdom, the power and the glory forever, but stupid and painful things keep happening. Why doesn’t he do something about it?
Jesus doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for them: “How foolish you are,” he says. But then, in verse 27, it says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
In other words, Jesus explained the Bible to them. Did they know it was him? Not yet. At every point in our lives, God has sent people to explain his word to us—parents, teachers, ministers. Nearly every day, he sends somebody across our path who is doing something to reveal the grace and love of Jesus to us. Are we paying attention? In the mix of human deeds and human voices, do we look and listen for Jesus?
For Protestants especially, this is a precious teaching. Martin Luther believed it deeply, and also managed to have great fun with it. He liked to make fun of just how awful the average preacher could be. And if the truth be told, he wasn’t much of a preacher himself. He often spent more time going over the announcements. His real power came was in his writings and the informal conversations with his college students around the dinner table.
But Luther believed that the Holy Spirit could speak through even the most boring sermon from the most incompetent preacher, and bring to any person the exact word they needed to hear. As you go down the road to Emmaus, Jesus is speaking to you. He’s telling you and showing you exactly what he wants to know. Do you expect that to happen? Are you paying attention?
The climax of the story comes in verse 30: “When he was at table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
The sequence here is deliberate: take, thank, break, give. It’s the same thing Jesus did at the last supper. It’s the same words we say next when we celebrate Holy Communion. –And we will get to celebrate it together again!– The message is simple: We meet Jesus around the table. Something real happens. His life enters into our life.
We may meet Jesus in the suffering of those around us. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” Genesis 1:27 says that we were all made in the image of God. Do you see the living presence of Jesus reflected in the faces of those around you? Do you see them that way? Do you treat others the same way you’d treat Jesus himself?
Powerful voices are always telling us that it’s okay to ignore the suffering of others, to ignore their needs, blame them, and just walk away. If you got the virus, it’s your own fault: Don’t expect me to stay home and miss a haircut.
But that’s not what Jesus said. In helping others or caring for others or standing up for others, we may well have our eyes opened, and see Jesus among us today.
Where will you see Jesus? Will you hear his voice in worship? Will you meet him in Holy Communion, in the breaking of bread? Will you hear his voice in the world outside these doors, when people talk about love and care and generosity and forgiveness? Will you see his image in the faces of those around you?
Jesus is alive today! Let us pray that, like those disciples of Emmaus long ago, our hearts will burn within us, and our eyes will be opened to his living presence among us; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.