An Encounter with the Living Christ: Luke 24:13-34

A Sermon for April 19th, 2015

Easter Sunday was two weeks ago, but this story in Luke’s gospel takes us back to that first Resurrection day. It is late, toward evening and two disciples have left Jerusalem to return home to Emmaus. One was named Cleopas, we’ve never heard of him before; the other is unnamed – perhaps it was his wife, or a brother or sister, or friend. Luke tells us they had to go about seven miles to get home, about a two-and-a-half hour walk. Along that way, they were discussing “everything that had happened,” when a traveler joined them on their journey. Now the traveler was Jesus, but they didn’t know that. They were prevented from recognizing him. And it says that their faces were downcast.

If you have ever been downcast, then you can enter into the today’s text. If you have ever experienced deep disappointment, or shocking loss, then this story sounds familiar. If you have ever been bewildered, with conflicting thoughts and emotions, not knowing what to think or feel,  then you can find yourself at home in today’s gospel reading. Jesus joined these two downcast travelers on their journey. That is a powerful image of understanding how God relates to us when we walk a downcast road. Where is God when hopes and dreams are unraveling? Where is God when we hold our face in our hands? Like these two on the road, God joins us on our journey. Sometimes it is through an inner presence, a sense of companionship deep within the soul, knowing that we are not alone. Often, God joins us through others who come alongside to walk a mile or two with us, to listen and understand. That is part of the ministry of God’s people, the Resurrection people, who join the downcast on their journey. This is what happens in this sanctuary after worship when people sit together; it happens in the fellowship hall over a bagel; we join one another on the journey. And when join one another in that way, it’s not just two people there; there is between the two a third person; there is the living Christ, walking in us and with us in the halls and rooms and spaces of our lives. So Jesus joins them on this walk, and decides to interrupt with a question, as if he knew nothing at all: “What are you talking about?”

Now, when you go to a counselor, it’s helpful to remember that a good counselor always knows more than he or she will say. The questions counselors ask are not just for their benefit, but often mostly for your benefit. Counselors ask questions that invite us to articulate events and feelings that we weren’t aware of before we put words to them. Cleopas and his friend are in the presence of the Wonderful Counselor. So when Cleopas heard the question, “What are you talking about?”, he stopped suddenly and replied to the strange man, with an indignant tone: “Are you the only person in these parts who doesn’t know what happened in the last few days!?” Jesus looks at him and says, “What things?” And so they explained to the ignorant stranger all that had taken place.

First, they talk about their great hope for this man called Jesus of Nazareth. He was powerful, and recognized by God and people. He was a prophet and could do great things! They hoped he was the one! And there is disappointment in their voices. But then they say, “Our priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.” And then there is the look of betrayal in their eyes. Not just anyone handed him over; our leaders and our priests. The ones who should have supported him, who should have recognized him for who he was, who should have followed him – they handed him over! That’s betrayal. But wait, there is more… Some women from the group had been to the tomb early that morning and they didn’t find his body. Instead, they saw “visions of angels” who told them he is alive. Some of the others in the group went to the tomb and found the same thing; the stone was rolled away and he was gone. They didn’t see him.

So now, Cleopas and the other disciple don’t know what to think. They are bewildered and confused, and leaving Jerusalem. Somehow they had a pressing need to get home. I can’t honestly imagine it. If I had heard the story of these women who went to the tomb, I think I would have stuck around. At least another day. But they left, disappointed, feeling betrayed and confused, they left. Sometimes when you are carrying that much emotional pain and turmoil, you just have to get away. Maybe that was it – they just needed some space? And then the risen Christ finds them on the road. There is no where we can go where the living God cannot find us. The Psalmist says if I make my bed in the depths, you are there; if I rise on the wings of the dawn and settle on the far side of the sea, even there you will find me. God can find us on the journey, no matter how lonely the road is, no matter how downcast it is. God can find anyone on the road; there is no one, not even in the worst place in the world, who is beyond the grace and presence of the living God.

Now, after Cleopas and his friend told Jesus everything that had happened, Jesus began to tell them what it all meant. In fact, Jesus was pretty stern with them, calling them foolish people with dull minds. When it comes to joining people on their journey, I don’t generally recommend the stern approach. But sometimes the direct approach is best, and certainly Jesus knew what he was doing. He then explained to them all of the prophecies, the whole Old Testament, how the Messiah had to suffer and then be glorified. He unfolded the truth to them, and gave them hope and renewed their spirits.

By this point, though, it was getting late. They had arrived at Emmaus, and it says that Jesus acted as if he was going on ahead. Why would Jesus pretend like this? Perhaps because he wanted to give them space to respond; he wanted to give them an opportunity to open the door to him. Jesus never barges his way into our lives; he always leaves room for us to respond, to welcome him in. These two were so excited by what they had heard, they said, “Don’t go. Come in and stay with us. It’s getting late.” A spontaneous response of faith and joy and gratitude, to invite this stranger – they still didn’t know who he was! – into their home to stay. When they sat down at the table, the stranger, the guest, took the bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. Now that should sound familiar. When Jesus sat on the hillside to feed five thousand, he took the boy’s lunch, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. When Jesus sat down for a last meal with his disciples, he took the bread, blessed it, broke, and gave it to them. Now, he sits in this house in Emmaus with the same motions, the same faithful prayer, and the same hands that broke the bread.

In that moment, their eyes were opened – they saw that it was Jesus. There is no way to explain why they recognized him in this moment; there’s no way to explain why they didn’t see him there before, but now their eyes were opened. The text doesn’t tell us and we’re left to imagine, what prevented them from seeing Jesus? And what opened their eyes in this moment? We don’t know the why, but we do know the experience. We can go long stretches unaware of the presence of God in our midst, unaware that Christ is walking the road with us; we travel many miles unaware that Christ is unfolding truth and bringing healing and hope into our daily journey. We go long stretches unaware, and then. Then there are moments when the truth breaks through like a shaft of light – we see that we have been in the presence of the living God. There were not just two of us on that walk, there were three; there were not just two of us in that conversation, there were three; there were not just two of us around that table, there were three. The living Christ was with there!

As soon as he appeared to them, he vanished; but Cleopas and his friend were changed completely. They said, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road…”, and it says they got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. It was dark, they had already walked seven miles; but it didn’t matter. They would run seven miles back to tell the others. They were changed from downcast disciples to joyful witnesses because they encountered the living Christ.

When we encounter the living Christ, it is the difference that makes a difference.  When we encounter Christ, we share his resurrection life; when we know that Christ has walked with us, and talked with us, and shared fellowship with us. When his resurrection power embraces our disappointment and hurts and our confusions, Christ transforms them into a joyful and abiding hope. We share in the resurrection of Christ on the journey.

That is the difference Christ makes, and friends that is the difference we can make for others, when we join them on their journey. When we join one another in the name of Christ and walk alongside them, by God’s grace we can be an instrument of peace, an instrument of Christ’s presence, for others on the road of life. The one can become two, and the two become three in Christ. That is the difference you and I can make in the world, when we walk joyfully as those who know, He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed! Amen.

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