A sermon preached May 8, 2011 at Southminster Presbyterian Church.
We are a few weeks past Easter now, but our assigned reading for this morning takes us back to that day. The women have just raced back from the tomb to offer their testimony. ‘The tomb is empty! He is risen!’
But Luke tells us that the disciples didn’t believe. They thought the women had come back to them with an ‘idle tale’.
So Cleopas and an unnamed follower are heading out of town, thinking that they had just bet it all on the wrong proverbial horse and lost. Jesus was supposed to redeem them. He was supposed to be the man.
Now he’s dead and his body has gone missing, if the women’s story made any sense at all.
So much for this great plan to be disciples, to follow him around Israel, healing, teaching, sharing God’s love with the world.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what Cleopas and the unnamed disciple did for work before they met Jesus. But perhaps they were hoping the factory still had job openings, or maybe that their fishing boat still had the “for sale” sign on it at the marina.
They certainly seem to be walking home to resume the life they hoped they had left behind.
But as they walk home, they talk about what they had seen and experienced. You wonder about the stories they shared with each other. Did they remember the times Jesus talked about his death? Were they re-hashing all of those moments between the Passover dinner and the crucifixion?
Or were their stories the funny and startling stories you tell about those you love after they die? I thought of this text this past week as people shared stories about Bettie Perkins, whose memorial service was this past Tuesday. I only knew her for the last 3 years of her life, but I loved hearing the stories about her life. As many of you know, her husband Gene was a magician. And a story was shared about Bettie dressed as a magician’s assistant—fishnet stockings at all—and her son said, “Oh yeah, dad used to saw mom in half all the time!”
Were those the stories the disciples shared as they walked?
“Remember when Jesus fed that giant crowd on the hillside?”
“Yeah, that was awesome! Remember when he healed those lepers? I thought for sure he’d end up with leprosy after he touched them.”
“Yeah, that was gross. Remember when pronounced judgment on the religious leaders and they got so mad I thought their heads were going to explode!”
“Good times…good times….”
Whatever they were talking about as they walked, they thought their good times were in the past. They were not walking toward the next chapter. They were walking back to the past. The time before Jesus and before they thought there was a change a comin’.
And then Jesus is with them, asking them what they were talking about. But they don’t know who he is. Apparently, the risen Jesus is not easy to recognize.
And they stop. They stand still, looking sad. “Are you the only person in the world who doesn’t know what happened this week? Did you not ever get to hear Jesus speak to the crowds? Did you not get your hopes up that things were going to be different? That the Romans were on their way out?”
And so they tell him about this prophet they had known, whom they had hoped would be the one to redeem Israel. They mention the empty tomb too. “But women—you know the crazy stories they tell. I mean, yes, the tomb was empty, just like they said, but we didn’t see him….”
And then Jesus calls them back to the hope they had as they followed him through Galilee. He lets them know that they shouldn’t be traveling in defeat, but should be moving into the mission of the church. “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
And then Jesus sets up his powerpoint projector, pulls out his pie charts and graphs, and brings this class to session! He interprets scripture, helping them see the long path of redemption that God has been working out since the beginning of time.
Like these two disciples, we are walking somewhere after Easter. Perhaps we, too, are going back to life as usual. Sure, Easter was great. We love the great music and the pretty flowers, but perhaps now we’re back to where we were before. Wherever it is we think we’re headed, the risen Christ asks us to stop for a minute on the journey and reflect on Easter. What does it mean for us to claim Easter in a world with more than its share of Good Fridays? How does the life and the death of Jesus of Nazareth fit into the bigger story of scripture and of our lives?
By the time the lecture is over, the three travelers have reached Emmaus. Jesus keeps walking down the road, but the two disciples stop him. “Stay with us. You shouldn’t be on these roads at night. And my mom makes a great lasagna. I know there will be plenty to eat. Please stay with us.”
And he accepts their hospitality and their invitation.
Jesus wasn’t going to bust down the door and force himself into the family meal. He was heading on down the road.
Listen to what one of the commentators had to say about this passage:
“The hospitality of the traveling companions becomes the doorway to grace. The willingness of the stranger to enter their space suggests trust and hope—and Jesus more than repays their convivial overture. Hospitality expresses deep vulnerability; welcoming a stranger is always risky, and the tables might be turned—for good or ill. It is not readily apparent who the guest might really be. Jesus becomes the host at this meal, which becomes an expression of thanksgiving and deepened faith. ” 1
Because they were welcoming of the stranger, because they were concerned about the welfare of someone they didn’t know, because they extended an invitation to their table, they recognized Jesus.
As they are gathered around the table, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Sound familiar?
The gift of a meal shared with both family and with strangers is that we get to see Christ when we come together.
But as soon as they recognized Jesus, he was gone. And they said, “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”
Their day did not end they way they expected it too. What started as a long walk of failure and crushed dreams turned into greater understanding, stories, hospitality, and a meal shared, and a new focus on the future.
The two travelers immediately got up and walked the 7 miles back to Jerusalem. No time to waste.
I am sure that as soon as the two disciples returned to the group, the first thing they did was apologize to the women for calling their testimony an “idle tale”.
And then, after that, they testified themselves.
–To the power of welcoming the stranger.
–To the gift of broken bread.
–To the witness of the scriptures and
–to the many reasons why we are still supposed to hope, even though the world around us gives us reason for despair.
So, no matter where we might think we are heading after Easter, I invite us all to take time to tell stories, to offer hospitality, and to share meals together. Because it is in those moments that Christ opens our eyes and sets our hearts to burning. Amen.
1. Molly T Marshall in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2, WJK, 2010, page 422.