APRIL 23, 2023


Luke 24:13-35

Rev. David Germer

Children’s Moment: [As kids are coming forward]

Today is the third Sunday of Easter, and the second in our series on “Building Blocks of the Christian Faith.” We’re looking at foundational texts that shape us by reinforcing or illuminating core values or habits or attributes of followers of Jesus, living in light of the resurrection.

Last week, Shannon gave us three foundational building blocks for the price of one short text about Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room, proclaiming peace, breathing on them with the Holy Spirit, and sending them out. She invited us to: learn about Jesus, live like Jesus as disciples, and let the Holy Spirit lead.

This morning we have another gospel text from the Easter story, this one from Luke – before Jesus appears to the Apostles, but after the women had gone to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body, only to find the tomb empty. They go tell the disciples, who don’t believe them.

This is where our text picks up. Listen for God’s Word…

[Read from front, with three youth reading dialogue for Jesus and the two disciples. They begin near the Narthex in the center aisle, and slowly make their way down the aisle to the front, embodying the Emmaus Road journey, as a visual aid for the children and the entire congregation.]

“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’

Then he said to them, ‘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?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. [youth move up onto the chancel]

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let’s pray. God we give you thanks for this amazing story. Thank you for appearing to the disciples on the Emmaus road. Help us to see and feel your presence with us. Amen.

The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you. Let’s share that with one another.

[Beginning of sermon proper]

There’s a lot happening in this story, and it’s one of my favorite stories. I want to wonder with you about some of the ways that this story might serve as a foundation, provide some building blocks (or at least one) for us. And I want to do that by going back through the story. So this is a bit of an unconventional sermon. An alternate title for this sermon could be: “Seven scenes along the Emmaus Road, with a detour to an art gallery along the way.”

So here we go, Scene 1: We have two disciples: Cleopas and an unnamed disciple. There’s all kinds of speculation about who the other is, but the truth is that we don’t know, and I like it that way, because it could have been any of them, and it could be any of us.

These two are traveling to Emmaus, a village our text tells is us seven miles outside of Jerusalem, though historians say the description seems best to fit a place either twice or half that distance away. The truth is, we don’t know exactly where or how far they were going… and I like that, because they could have been going anywhere, just like we might be headed anywhere, when a surprise encounter with Jesus is liable to take place.

As they’re talking about the craziness of the past few days, and of this news from the women that is both disturbing and exciting, Jesus comes up to walk with them… but they don’t recognize him. The truth is that we don’t know why they don’t recognize him.

The text says “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

One commonly suggested explanation for this is that maybe Jesus was in his glorified state, and so unrecognizable, perhaps glowing in the way he did when he was transfigured on the mountain, before Peter and James and John. I feel like that would have raised some questions for them.

I think more likely, the text is telling us that they fail to see him for who he is not because he is so spectacular and splendid, but because he is so thoroughly ordinary.

And I wonder: how often do we miss Jesus in our midst because he appears to us in the unspectacular, every day, mundane trappings and details of ordinary life? How often do we miss the presence of Christ in the conversation we are having with our child, or spouse, or neighbor, sharing from their heart?

We expect, and wait for Jesus to appear to us, glowing… not recognizing him in our midst.

Scene 2: He asks them what they’re talking about, and they look at him with such sadness – you can almost hear them choking back tears. Cleopas swallows, and says, “Buddy, have you been living under a rock? You might be the one person in the region who doesn’t know about the things that just happened.” Of course… Luke’s telling of this story is dripping with irony here… the person they are talking to is the one person in the universe, at this point, who knows exactly what did happen. Death has been defeated, swallowed up. The new creation that will characterize and define the Church and the rest of human history, has begun. And Jesus is the only one who truly knows it.

But he doesn’t say that. He says: “What things? What are you talking about? What happened?”

And so they tell him what happened; they tell him about his own crucifixion. And they admit: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Remember that the Jewish people had been crying out for God’s deliverance for centuries. With Jesus, everything seemed to be leading to redemption. It’s not that Jesus isn’t up to that task.. it’s that he’s is up to so much more than that. They just didn’t see it yet. “We had hoped.” Again, the irony: they’re lamenting all that was lost when Jesus died… to Jesus – the living Messiah. They don’t see that yet, don’t see that God’s power is demonstrated in weakness, that redemption wouldn’t come in the same tired old ways of violence, of overthrowing and killing enemies. They wanted victory… but failed to see that the road to victory is through the cross. I wonder how often we see, and remember that.

And so to help them see this, and to see himself… he has a Bible study with them – Scene 3. He shows them, beginning with Moses, things about the Hebrew Scriptures, that are about himself. But they still don’t know who it is, so he isn’t saying, “That was me…” he is saying, “That was about Jesus, your friend. All along, the Scripture have been about God’s work in redeeming people. And all of that happens, through your friend, who is the fulfillment of all the Scriptures.”

Scene 4: They come near to a village, and he acts like he’s going to keep going! And they say “uh… no, stay, please!” I wonder if they sense God in their midst, before they recognized God in their midst, and they didn’t want that feeling to go away… and I wonder how often that is true for some of our friends and families and neighbors… and I wonder how often that is true, even for us. Do we sometimes sense God’s presence with us, without recognizing precisely where and how it is that God is with us?

I want you to flip to the front of your bulletin, and look with me at that piece of artwork (you can do this online as well, on the worship page of our website – you can even zoom in). This is called “Kitchen Scene with Christ at Emmaus,” and it was painted by Joachim Beuckelaer in the 16th century.

Art historian Rebecca Quinn Teresi writes this about this piece:

(And this is a bit long, but just imagine for a moment you’re part of a museum gallery tour in the Hague, in the Netherlands, where this painting is. This is our art gallery detour).

“Like the pair of disciples on the way to Emmaus who are unable to recognize the resurrected Christ, the viewer of this painting is initially distracted from appreciating its underlying theme. Joachim Beuckelaer crowds the foreground, which dominates the composition, with a hyperbolic abundance of produce and crockery. This highly tactile and faithfully rendered kitchen scene is a temptation of the senses. Its surfeit at first conceals and then reveals the significance of the biblical scene hidden within the composition.” (Do you see it?)

She continues: “The small background scene at upper right illustrates Luke 24:28–29, in which a trio of wayfarers—the resurrected but incognito Christ flanked by Cleopas and the unnamed disciple—are on the verge of parting at day’s end, indicated by the sunset in the landscape beyond. The disciples see, even touch, Christ and yet do not recognize him. The painter appears to have selected the precise moment when Christ feigns an intention to continue his journey while the disciples, still unaware of his identity, persuade him to join them for a meal.

This is suggested by the postures of the three figures: Jesus expresses his intent to go on by making a gesture of resistance with his right hand, while the two disciples reach for his arm and shoulder, entreating him to break his journey. The ambiguity of this moment—will he join them, or continue?—heightens the narrative tension of the picture and stresses the journey motif of the Emmaus story. The disciples are on the literal road between Jerusalem and Emmaus, but symbolically, their journey is from ignorance to insight.

The pictorial element bridging the two layers of Beuckelaer’s inverted composition is the pheasant hanging from the rafters before the kitchen’s framing column. This pheasant is the only ‘seeing’ element of the still life, emphasized by the conspicuously bright red feathers that surround its open eye. Its pupil, and thus its gaze, is directed towards the biblical action unfolding in the distance” (it’s hard to see on our bulletin, but the pheasant’s eye is looking back and down – directing our eyes to the figures). “The abundant still life thus becomes not only a celebration of the senses but also a reminder of their limitations—particularly of sight, the defining theme of the Emmaus sequence.” (OK, tour over, gallery closed.)

I wonder: Where does a “hyperbolic abundance” – of news, of things on our to-do list, of social media or entertainment options available to us – where does hyperbolic abundance keep us from seeing? What’s in the foreground of our lives that crowds our vision so thoroughly that we might not notice Christ in our midst?

Jesus directs the attention of the disciples to his presence by a) talking about God’s story with them, and then b) at the climax of the story, when they all sit down together at a table, and Jesus does what he had done a few nights before – this is Scene 5 – he took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

It’s possible that these disciples were at the last supper with him, and so the memory now washes over them and illuminates him. Maybe they were at the feeding of the 5000, when Jesus also took bread gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to those with him. We can see the connection, even if these two didn’t. And they might not have, in that moment. We don’t know.

The truth is, for these two, the ability now to see and recognize Jesus is not a credit due to them, that they finally pieced all the clues together – clues that Jesus had left like bread crumbs from all these broken loaves. No. “Their eyes were opened.” Listen to how passive that is. I wonder if we can allow that to humble us – to humble those of us who do have eyes, from time to time, to recognize the risen Christ in our midst. It’s not because we’re so smart. And I wonder if this can help us to have compassion and understanding and patience for those who have trouble seeing how any of this story makes any sense, or any difference in the world. It’s not because they are so dense. God opens eyes to recognize new life, resurrection. We can just keep pointing to it with our lives.

And we can follow the example of these two disciples.

You remember what they did, after they finally recognized Jesus, and he vanished from their sight?

Two things (and these are our final two scenes):

First – Scene 6 – they noted that their hearts were burning within them, while Jesus was opening up the Scriptures to them… and I wonder if we can relate to that sense of retrospective recognition? Were not our hearts burning, when we sang that hymn at the hospital bedside, or at the memorial service? Were not our hearts burning when we listened to and prayed with that agitated neighbor at Saturday Sanctuary? Was your heart not burning when you found yourself speaking surprising words of grace and truth to the person you see most Sunday mornings but felt compelled this week take extra time, because you know they’re really going through it? Was your heart not burning when you stood up to a bully at school, picking on someone (you don’t even like that much but who needed a friend), and so you stood up for them? Or when someone sitting at the table next to us berated a waiter, and so you subtly made your presence known, told them “I saw that, and I’m so sorry, and I’m here,” and then made it your mission to have the polar opposite experience – to be the kindest, best-tipping customer they have all week… and… now that you think about… was your heart not burning within you?

Can we look back to see the moments in which the resurrected Christ was with us, in our midst? That’s what those disciples did here.

And second – last scene, Scene 7 – they got up, and returned to Jerusalem. They walked miles and miles out of town… and now, they turn and go back… Why? Well, this, I think we do know. Because whatever they were going to do in Emmaus, no longer mattered, no longer made sense. They were living as though Jesus has failed, as though Jesus was dead, as though they were wrong to put all their hopes for redemption in him. And his presence with them – the reality of the resurrection, changed everything. All that mattered now was finding Jesus and the other people committed to following him with everything they had. I wonder what no longer makes sense in our lives, once we’ve remembered that Jesus has changed everything. I wonder if there are things that, frankly, it’s time to get up, turn away, and walk from.

This passage has given us a lot to wonder about. And I hope you have, and I hope you do, this week.

But here’s one solid building block that I think we can take, and use as part of a firm foundation for the faith that we have and live:

A surprise encounter with Jesus could happen anywhere, any time, with anyone – if we have eyes to see, if we have the courage to wonder to ask: “Where is the risen Christ, in our midst, here?… and then, later: “Were not our hearts burning with us?”


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