Third Sunday of Easter–Sermon
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
The two disciples leave Jerusalem Easter evening with their heads hung low. Feeling the shame and disbelief of what they had witnessed. Skeptical of the talk of women and even more skeptical of the other disciples who seem to affirm what the women had told them. They sense shame and failing at the possibility of what could have been a better deliverance, a better messiah, a better Jesus. So they leave and depart. They need to escape Jerusalem and go for a walk to clear their heads. Luke doesn't give us the reason for their sojourn, but telling us their words and their mannerisms, standing still and looking sad, they are walking away from Jerusalem as defeated losers. There in their sorrows a stranger approaches them. One who looks like a good candidate to share their laments with, for it is true that misery loves company. How else can you describe the Chicago Cubs fan base? Only about 30 games into the season and they’re already in last place! And as we all like to do when in a funk, whether Cubs fans or the disciples on their way to Emmaus, we like to find someone else in the same state and complain together. Surely they must have thought that the unsuspecting stranger on the road would join in their venting. Seeing him on that very same road, they undoubtedly must be thinking that he is leaving Jerusalem the same way they are. Dejected, depressed, and disillusioned with Jesus and his "revolution."
What they had hoped to find in a companion to share their complaints and grievances with is not what they encountered. In fact, they find the exact opposite. Instead of someone to share the horrible news of what happened with, they met a man who shared with them Good News. Instead of someone to complain to, they met someone who wouldn't complain at all, except maybe about them. Instead of finding a fellow compatriot to drown their sorrows with, they encountered a stranger who silenced their dejected attitude with food. On the road of their own sorrows they are not met by a fellow man of sorrows, but rather by Jesus. The one who makes eyes to open, hearts to burn with zeal, and hope to overturn despair. And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Jesus opens to them the Scriptures. He told them how the Christ would suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised, according to those same scriptures. When all they can see is darkness, He shows them that the Word of God is indeed a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path.
Yet a bible study was not enough for them to recognize who they were talking to. Certainly their hearts were burning as he retold Salvation History to them and how it all was fulfilled in Himself. Yet they still could not see him. As far as they know it could have been another disciple whom they hadn't met. While wanting to know more and hear more from this man, they invite him to stay with them. They invite him as their guest to rest for the night, and then continue on their journey the next morning. Now normally, it is usually the host who makes sure their guests are provided for. It is his or her responsibility to see that the needs of the guests are met, including room and board. In this instance it is the guest, the invited companion who provides for their sustenance, not only physically, but spiritually. When they were at table, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. It is in those four verbs, the four verbs of the miraculous feedings of five and four thousand and the four verbs of the Last Supper that at once their eyes were opened. In the sacred act and ritual of Jesus’ communion with them, His fellowship and breaking of the bread they immediately recognize the act and the man who had done them before. In the “eucharisted bread” Jesus gives them eyes to see that He is the risen Lord and God. Through the Word and in the Sacrament they believe and run with great joy to confess themselves the Easter proclamation.
The disciples encounter on the road to Emmaus, becomes not only another resurrection appearance of our Lord in the gospels, but the very foundation of the Church’s life with Jesus Christ. Justin Martyr, the namesake of my own Justin, wrote to the pagan emperor Antonius around the year AD 155 describing to him the life of the early Church. He wrote, "On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. ...Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks that we have been judged worth of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying, 'Amen.' When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent." Listening closely to our morning's gospel lesson we see little difference between what those two wandering disciples encountered on their road to Emmaus and Justin’s description of the worship life of the early church. Indeed, we see little difference between the road to Emmaus, the early Church, and our own worship this Easter Sunday morning.
For I would wager to bet that some of us, who have driven here this morning have come from places of our own despair, dejection, and disillusionment with life and the things that we see in the world, maybe even by what we see in the Church. Our lives are filled with those moments of grief and depression. We may even find those moments where we cannot for one reason or another see or perceive Jesus at all in our lives. Whether from the doctor’s diagnosis, the failing grade, the pink slip, the culture falling away from the pillars which once made it blossom, the reality ever looming war and global conflict that seems to be coming, the evil that is perpetrated upon the Church both from without and within, the company moving halfway across the country, or the heart broken by pain, we journey on roads to Emmaus all the time. So much so that one commentator has noted, that the Road to Emmaus, is any road or path we take to get away from the harsh reality of life. It might be the road some of us are on this morning and here we find ourselves, we find the Church’s worship just like what Jesus did on that road so many years ago. For here His word is opened and salvation History lays before us. Here we see and hear how Jesus has truly fulfilled Moses and all the prophets. Here He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to us and in the consecrated bread and wine we behold Jesus, our resurrected Lord and God. What we sometimes might fail to miss in the readings, or the pastor fails to get across in the sermon, Jesus makes up for never failing to reveal to us His mercy, His grace, His love for us in the bread and wine of His body and blood. Jesus is known to us on our own road of sorrows in the breaking of bread. To see Jesus as Lord and God is to behold him in the breaking of bread.
Here in this communion meal, He gladdens hearts, he opens eyes, He makes hope overcome despair. He uplifts us disciples, forgiving our sins, strengthening our faith, and giving us everlasting life. Where we cannot see Jesus in the world, because of the world, here we can never fail to see Him and His mercy. Here our Easter joy is confirmed, pledged, and renewed week by week. Lord’s day after Lord’s day, just as it has been since the very beginning of the first Easter. Having heard from Jesus in the Word and seeing Him in Holy Communion you and I are sent with His joy to believe and confess with the whole Church that Christ is indeed risen. And to share the joy and zeal in your own hearts as the Lord God of the universe has stooped down to place his very life in your hands. For He is risen and reigns to all eternity and He is with us. Never leaving us to our sadness. Never leaving us to despair. But makes us to share in the song of the angels: Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!