3rd Sunday in Easter
May 8, 2011
3Easter2011 Luke 24 – The Road to Emmaus May 8, 2011
Happy Third Sunday of Easter where we take a quick step aside from the Year of Matthew and the time in the Garden with John and hear Luke’s beloved Emmaus story. I’ve read this story many times, but still a new thought jumped out at me the other day – a thought having to do with time. The text begins telling us what day it is. It is the “same day” as at the beginning of Luke 24 – the first day of the week – Easter Day – the day the women went to the tomb and saw the angels who said Jesus was alive. On this same Easter Day two of the disciples, Cleopas and his friend, had given up hope that Jesus would be raised from the dead. These two disciples hadn’t seen Jesus and were beginning to doubt what the women said. The day was almost over – this third day – the day on which Jesus was to be raised.
That these disciples had given up hope is shown by their act of leaving Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where they would have expected him to appear – not off in their rural town of Emmaus. Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem. If they didn’t leave now, it would be too late to travel that dangerous road. And sundown was a time for prayer. They needed to be settled by sundown. Their spirits were dashed, for the third day was desperately near its end. They couldn’t wait any longer.
These two disciples were doing what is common for many of us. They were anticipating ahead of time that things might not work out as they had hoped, where they had hoped, and when they had hoped. How easy it is to anticipate the worse and to let our limited expectations place limits on God’s ways, times and places of coming. Who says God doesn’t frequent rural settings – and on God’s time table?
Luke 24’s Emmaus story is a story for all of us. And it’s a special treat that we have this colorful Korean art on our bulletin cover. The wonderful work of this artist, He Qi, (Google the name and art piece to see it) is utilized often by the ELCA – even in our ELW – including this Supper at Emmaus piece. It said various things to people at Centering Prayer – like thinking the disciple with his head turned upwards and sideways might be seeing Jesus from a whole new perspective. Or the one who noticed the white cloths the woman in the right corner is carrying as if coming out of the tomb and away from the three crosses just above that – and how the white cloths match the white robe Jesus wears at the table.
There is so much in this story for our daily lives. The road takes the disciples back to their ordinary lives and into their own community. They are sad because what they had hoped for, has not come to pass. Has it ever happened to you that your hopes have not come to pass in the time or way you expected? Perhaps we have hoped for something for our families, ourselves, our community, our church, our world. I often hear people hoping someone they love will move from received faith to searching faith to owned faith. When we struggle to hold onto hope this story is helpful in encouraging us to let our expectations of when and where and how be stretched and broadened. These two Emmaus travelers never expected Jesus to be walking home with them.
Some hold out hope for years for reconciliation within families, communities, church or world. This is certainly true of Palestinian Christians who remain in the Holy Lands. They are few, and it’s not easy, but they are bold in hope.
It’s not always easy to keep hopeful. The phrase that has stood out to me recently in this scripture is the second half of verse 22: “Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.” In other words, the time of expectation is so close that the disciples are on edge. Maybe it’s all been for naught – maybe they had it wrong – maybe they miss understood what Jesus had in mind for them.
In similar ways we can doubt ourselves: maybe we were poor parents, or poor teachers, or poor spouses or friends or community members. God doesn’t always show up on our time table and we can wonder if time is running out.
Today’s story comes with unexpected good news. The disciples were down in spirit. They were sad and gloomy – drudging along at a snail’s pace back to their homes and ordinary lives. But the story urges us back to hope. It may just be, like for these disciples, Jesus will yet show up – even if at the end of the day.
The disciples beg Jesus, “Stay with us, for it is near evening and the day is almost over.” In the Greek it isn’t, “Stay if you wish.” But, “Please, we beg you to stay.” The Greek literally says, “they almost twisted his arms, they were so desirous that he stay with them.” These disciples were good people. They knew the road.
They knew it was not safe for them to walk in the dark – and they couldn’t let someone who had walked with them be put at such risk – even if he was out of touch, not having a clue of the most important happening of their lives. It was almost sundown – the communal time for prayer. Jesus stays and sits down a table with them to break bread. And in this last hour – in the midst of this common human practice of sharing bread – the third day’s hope is finally met.
I know I’ve worried about things before it was clear there was something to really worry about. I’ve become fearful when time passes beyond when I thought it was reasonable to keep hoping. But I have also experienced how true it is that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s timing is not our timing and that God is far more creative and out of the box than my imagination and see ahead of time.
Who would have thought Jesus would walk all the way to Emmaus on the day of his rising? It took these two disciples the whole three days to recognize that Jesus was with them their whole journey through. They didn’t see until they stopped long enough to receive. When they received, they saw. We are called to the table today – a table to which all are welcome. Seeing the gifts of this table will come – not when we understand it all in our minds – but when we receive with the eyes of our hearts. “Receive” is this year’s Easter word.
And another mystery awaits us, for when we receive Christ at the table we also receive each other in new and profound ways as brothers and sisters. In closing I want to briefly share an experience I had not long ago. I was at an event attended also by one with whom I feel a misunderstanding. Perhaps this person feels this too. You may know those moments in your relationships.
It dawned on me that I couldn’t see this person sitting on the other side of the room because a big podium was in the way. The podium had a large cross engraved in it. What was between me and this beloved one was the cross. And that was what I needed to see – that both I and my beloved though estranged friend were safely linked to one another by the cross of Christ. In this gift is our healing.
This same Jesus the Christ sat with the two brokenhearted disciples and when they saw the Lord, they were changed. Even their walk changed. What took them hours to walk in one direction, they joyfully ran back in half the time. May we as individuals and as FLC have the hope and conviction to let the real presence of Christ heal our burning hearts! For Christ’s presence is real. He said, this is my body – for you! Believe that promise – it is for you! And you! And you!
Here is bread. Here is wine. Christ is with us. He is with us.
Break the bread, taste the wine, Christ is with us here. (ELW 483)
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA