What a great story!
Generally acknowledged as one of the best in all the gospels!
Which is saying a lot, right?
We’re going to consider it a little,
and then I have three things for you to go home with.
You may go home with more than that.
There’s so much here,
but three things stand out (this week—to me)
as particuarly important.
Our story unfolds on the very day we have come to know as resurrection day,
immediately following that other great story—
of the women setting out early that morning before the sun rose
to go to the tomb to anoint the body,
only to find the tomb empty, the body gone,
to see the two men in dazzling clothing (called angels in our text)
who asked them why they looked for the living among the dead,
who reminded them of Jesus’ words and promises—
his teaching about the suffering Messiah.
Because he predicted it all, right? Remember?
It’s recorded back in the eighteenth chapter of Luke when
“he took the twelve aside and said to them,
‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and everything that is written about the Son of Man
by the prophets will be accomplished.
For he will be handed over to the Gentiles;
and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon.
After they have flogged him, they will kill him,
and on the third day he will rise again’” (Luke 18:31-33).
None of this should have come as a surprise.
None of it.
That story though, you remember, ended with the women
telling the eleven—reminding the disciples
of what they should have known—
those disciples who nonetheless dismissed
the women’s testimony as an idle tale—
like the preaching of too many women continues to be dismissed
even to this day—even in light of what Jesus said and taught and lived.
On that day, two of them (followers of Jesus)
set out for Emmaus.
Now, we don’t know where Emmaus was.
Not really important to know where Emmaus was.
What’s important is these two were leaving Jerusalem.
Passover was past; it was over,
and the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29)
had been slain. What was the point of sticking around?
Time to go home. Back to routine. Back to the way things were—
with all the let-down that comes after rich and extraordinary experience.
You know the let-down I’m talking about?
When you’ve been with people you love and then everyone leaves.
When you’ve just experienced something wonderful, but it’s over.
And you’re left with that question: how can something so good
and so important and so marvelous be over?
So they were walking along, dis-spirited, slowly,
tossing words back and forth between them—
trying to make sense of thing, yes—
relating what had happened over and over again.
Trying to hold onto what they could.
You know how you do—
probably locating themselves within the story—
“I was over on the far hill. I couldn’t see.” “I couldn’t get to him either.”
“I can’t believe it.”
But not just talking through the events of the last few days—
reflecting as well on their experiences with Jesus throughout his ministry:
his stories and teachings—what they has seen and heard.
“So of all the stories he told that we heard, what’s your favorite?” “I liked the one about the father with the two sons.”
“Yeah. Mine would have to be the one about the guy in the ditch.”
“Do you remember the Pharisees’ faces
when Jesus started warning people about them?”
And talking, too, about the future: “So now what?”
And they turned a corner and they came upon him,
or he caught up with them—speedwalking, you know.
No wiggly nose and poof though.
(Sorry, the girls have been watching old episodes of Bewitched.)
Maybe he was on a skateboard … or a scooter!
Roller blades. I think Jesus would have been on roller blades,
skating circles around them.
And as he came near, let’s note, they were kept from recognizing him,
it reads. And because you’re, well, you,
you were probably thinking to yourselves
back when I referred to the passion prediction in Luke 18,
Jesus saying what was going to happen to him—
you probably thought to yourselves,
he’s leaving out some important verses.
Well, I knew I couldn’t slip anything past you,
because after Jesus said what was going to happen to him,
verse 34 of Luke 18 reads: “But they understood nothing about all these things;
in fact, what he said was hidden from them,
and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34).
So these two on the road were kept from seeing, we read,
just like the twelve had been kept from understanding earlier.
Now, do you think that’s true?
Do you think God keeps us from recognizing God?
Is there a verse we don’t sing:
“Amazing grace how strange the sound
that made my sound eyes blind.
I once was found, but now am lost.
that is how I’m inclined.”
Or is it just easier to blame God
than to acknowledge we so very regularly miss God—
so very regularly misinterpret God?
But, here’s the thing, the truth of God
experienced in our living
is so very unexpected—
so deeply mysterious and wildly wonderful and surpassing strange.
You know, maybe one of them on that road even thought,
“This guy kinda looks like Jesus,”
and the other, “Huh, he sorta talks like Jesus.”
But Jesus, remember, was dead.
How could this be anyone
but someone who looked like Jesus or sounded like Jesus.
Jesus takes the initiative—which is a polite way of saying he butts in.
“What are you two talking about?” he asks.
Literally, “What are these words
that you have been pitching back and forth to each other?”
Now I don’t know about you,
but if I’m walking and talking—
especially talking about something personal and emotional,
I don’t want anyone I don’t recognize drawing near and butting in!
In fact, there’s a fair number of people I would recognize
I wouldn’t want drawing near and butting in! Right?
But they engage him in conversation,
in part because they’re polite.
In part because they just can’t believe he doesn’t know what’s happened
over the last few days.
His question actually stops them in their tracks.
“Are you the only stranger who doesn’t know?” they ask.
“Know what?” asks Jesus back.
And they offer a summary of Jesus’ ministry and the passion.
And it’s not a bad summary.
Yes, there’s the irony that they think they know what they’re talking about
and they’re talking to the one who does know,
but that’s actually the irony of anyone who risks speaking of God, right?
And, here’s the thing—or we’ve already had the thing, right?
(the truth of God is so very unexpected—that was the thing.)
So here’s another thing, what do they call Jesus?
“A prophet mighty in word and deed.”
Or maybe they call him a very good man—
someone admirable—an example to us all,
our favorite philosopher, a great storyteller,
someone fully human, a deep religious thinker,
a creative ethicist.
And Jesus says, “My, my, my. How foolish you are.
how slow of heart to believe.
You still don’t get it, do you?” And he reinterprets for them—again.
You think he ever got tired of that?
“When God comes to you, God suffers.
It’s inevitable. That’s just the way the story goes.
Let’s look through all of Scripture real quick.” Now that’s just who you want to run into on the road—
just who you want to sit down next to you on the plane!
“Let’s look through all of Scripture real quick.
We’ll start with Moses. We’ll move through all the prophets.
It’ll pass the time.” Won’t it though!
They get to where they were going—to Emmaus,
and Jesus moves on ahead of them.
Now that’s a curious detail, don’t you think?
In the culture of the day it would have been considered polite—
not assuming anything—giving them the option to let him go.
It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact
that one of them’s eyes had glazed over!
But it’s also metaphorically indicative of how Jesus is always moving on ahead—
or skating circles around us!
But they didn’t let him get away from them—begged him to stay.
He had talked them through all of Scripture,
and they begged him to stay!
And the way it reads, it sure sounds like Emmaus was their home—
that they were inviting him into their home.
And he comes into their home—
and he acts like the host—right? Takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, shares it.
“If you invite me in, then I am the host.
Not someone for you to imitate. Not a good man.
Not a prophet mighty in word and deed.
If you invite me in, I am the host.”
And in the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of the bread,
in his being host, they recognize him. “Oh my God!”
And when their eyes were opened, he vanished.
When their eyes opened, they couldn’t see him anymore!
Wiggled his nose and poof.
Right? I mean in contrast to his coming,
his going is … mysterious—incredible.
We know the elusive God—
of and with whom we share fleeting experience—
the God who can’t ever be nailed down.
Now that you’ve seen, you see, you don’t have to.
And the two are left to reflect on what had just happened—
which they had been doing … right? On the road before he drew near—
pitching words back and forth.
They had just been striking out—before—
in identifying the important stuff—
in naming what was crucial.
Were not our hearts burning within us?
Here’s yet another thing,
we tend to overestimate what we can know in the moment.
We tend to underestimate the value and possibility
inherent to reflection in faith matters.
Moses saw the back of God as God passed by (Exodus 33:23).
Job confessed, “Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him” (Job 9:11).
These two saw Jesus moving ahead of them.
The angels told the women to remember.
I’ve told you before about the Puritan spiritual discipline
of reading the evidence—
sifting through the details of the day gone by
to find evidence of the presence of God.
Literally, actually, by the way, it doesn’t say
were not our hearts burning within us?
Isn’t that interesting? As well known as that verse is.
It’s singular though: wasn’t our heart burning?
This is a communal experience, in other words, not an individual one.
That’s more than a little bit important.
since we tend to make heart burning reflections about as personal as we can.
And that same hour, it’s late, remember, after supper,
they took off back to Jerusalem.
They go back to where they came from.
And can’t you just imagine their excitement?
The anticipation with which they approached the city,
bursting with good news to share—
can’t you picture the imagination with which they pictured sharing their news—
imagining the reception of their news.
And they get there, and they find the eleven already gathered,
and already sharing the good news they were anticipating sharing!
“The Lord is risen and appeared to Simon!”
What a let down!
You ever had news you were so excited to share,
but it wasn’t news anymore by the time you got to share it?
“Oh, well, yes, he appeared to us as well—
we rushed back to ….”
They hadn’t been daydreaming the whole way to Jerusalem
about confirming someone else’s news.
Now, I’m sure it worked both ways.
The disciples hadn’t believed the women, remember?
Who turned out to be right.
And I’m guessing—just guessing—Peter was basking in it.
“He appeared to me.”
And then here comes whozzit and what’s his name—
“Is it Cleopas?” “I don’t know.”
“Who’s the other one?” “I don’t know.”
“Why did Jesus appear to them?” “I don’t know.”
It’s not that no one’s special, you see. It’s that everyone is.
Part of Luke’s message: what was exclusive, isn’t.
And what we get in this chapter,
is not so much the primacy of Peter
as the peril of primacy.
We’re all just confirming for ourselves
what others have already known,
and in this twenty-fourth chapter of Luke,
the sun rises on resurrection,
and the sun sets on resurrection,
and there was morning and there was evening of that day,
and it was very good.
So, from the very get go, when I first started thinking about this text,
a couple of things (as in two) struck me as very important.
And so I thought about it some more until I had three things!
First, our text includes/acknowledges three distinct dimensions of being.
There’s the physical. Note how much is done.
People are walking and talking, looking, standing,
resting and eating, taking, breaking, blessing, giving.
Then there’s the emotional. They were sad. They were grieving.
The text says that.
Then we imagine surprise, wonder, excitement, joy, anticipation.
Finally, there’s the intellectual—the interpretive dimension
to Scripture and faith tradition. “Let’s consider all of Scripture!”
Such an awareness of the holistic—of the whole of being
is entirely in keeping with a tradition that demands
we love God holistically—
with our whole mind, body, soul and spirit
(Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).
Now it’s interesting to consider
in light of these three dimensions of experience
included in this story of resurrection encounter,
that of those three, we experience all but one, right?
We feel certain ways about the resurrection. We think about it.
But we are physically removed from it. Right?
Unless … well, hasn’t your heart burned within you?
Haven’t you felt that flush of heat in the realization of wonder?
That physical response to depth that clogs the throat
and clenches the stomach and burns in the heart—
the physical that is, when you think about it, emotion?
Oh we’re included even in the physical.
Which I just find fascinating—
because what we usually think excludes us from this and such stories,
somehow, in the breaking of bread, in community,
in the stories told and considered,
in the love of God among us, well, our heart burns too.
We experience the fullness of the wholeness of this story.
We are not separated from resurrection truth—
from resurrection encounter in any way.
We can know it as much as anyone ever has.
What was exclusive, isn’t.
Second, it’s precisely in the midst of grief that they were surprised by by joy—
in the midst of having given up that they were surprised
by the possibility of believing again.
It surprises us, you see—sneaks up on us—
draws near to us when we’ve given up.
Combine these first two observations,
and you have a mini-explosion in your brain,
and maybe your heart will burn just a little as well.
Because most of us have given up on the idea
that we can experience the fullness of resurrection.
We’re all ready, in other words, to be sneaked up on,
and we believe God is always sneaking!
So we, too, can be surprised by—gifted with—blessed with—
the resurrection of hope—of belief.
Third, and finally,
you may not be going where you think you’re going.
You may have to turn around.
You may not be going home—to routine, to life as you know it.
Or you may not be going to where you think is home,
but rather back to the story you thought had ended—
back to what you left.
Go back to where you were when you gave up.
Who and how would you be, if you hadn’t?
Hadn’t given up?
If you did still believe that love prevailed—
If you did still believe that love would transform—
If you did still believe God wouldn’t let love fail.
Most of us aren’t there.
But that just means God is sneaking up on us.
Has been our whole life long.
And somehow, in the breaking of bread, in community,
in the stories told and considered,
in the love of God among us, our heart burns too.
So go back to the story too good to end.
Go back to dreams too rich to let die.
Before it’s beat out of us, you see, starved out of us,
out-prioritized, drained, exploited out of us,
we have, I believe, a sense of love—of hope—
a sense as children that our parents should love us.
They’re supposed to love us.
They’re supposed to take care of us.
Indeed adults, in general, should be responsible for us.
We’re not ever supposed to be afraid of grown-ups.
And as we grow up—as we mature, we take on that role—
of responsibility for the least of these.
And some name that an innate goodness, an admirable ideal,
a positive philosophy, a great story, a fully human and humane ethic,
the core of much religious thought.
Some, sadly enough, would even name that prophetic—
as far from the truth as it is.
And I don’t argue with any of that—don’t disagree with any of it.
But we say that’s also God-with-us.
We think back—we reflect—and this we know:
we reflect God,
and that’s the truth to ever return to.
“What are these words
that you have been pitching back and forth to each other?”
“Ah, well, we live you know, since we were children
in hope of hitting a home run!”
“My, my, my. Don’t you know you hit the ball out of the park already?
Go back in remembrance of me—
so you can go forward into the dream prepared for you from the beginning.”
“Oh, and by the way, when it comes to me,” he adds,
“it’s three strikes and you only think you’re out!
Eye on the ball now!
Hit it like you already did—
deep—deep—deep into the heart of—God.