Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24.13-35
The beautiful and intimate story that we hear in Luke’s Gospel this morning brings us back to the first Easter Day. On the same day as the women discovered the empty tomb, two of the disciples are on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is a good two hours walk.
As we can imagine, they are discussing the events of the past days. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, their hope that Jesus would now show himself to be the Saviour he had told them to be. But then, his capture, condemnation and crucifixion; and now the empty tomb. They are trying to make sense of it all, but I suspect without much success.
This intimate setting of just two people walking and discussing together is one with which we may have become familiar in the last few weeks as well. If we are in a household with more than one person, we too may have had similar walks: discussing the current events and how to make sense of them. Or we may have had these conversations on the phone, or two meters apart in the queue to Waitrose or on our daily round of exercise. In whichever setting, I am sure that we too have found ourselves sad, bereft and anxious, just like these two disciples on the road.
Suddenly a stranger appears. Although, he is not really a stranger, but Jesus himself – as the text stresses –, but the two disciples don’t recognise him. Just like Mary had not recognises Jesus through her tears, so also do Cleopas and his friend not recognise him here. Jesus joins the conversation by asking a question ‘What are you discussing while you walk along?’. He gives them an opportunity to tell their story, although he of course knows it very well himself. But that’s not the point: he offers them the chance to tell it their way, which they do.
It’s what every good listener would do: give others time to talk, to narrate their story to express their feelings. However, subsequently, Jesus goes against any advice given to us: he tells them how foolish they are. I would say, maybe not try this one in your next conversation, although I would like to you hold this thought.
He then begins to teach, he repeats to them the things they already know, the promises they had been given in the stories of Moses, Abraham and Jacob: the promise of God’s everlasting presence and the prophecy of the Messiah who had to suffer and die, before rising again in glory.
We later hear that the disciples feel their hearts burning within themselves as they hear these words; as they hear the stories of old and the truth they contain. Coming back to our own conversations, I certainly have had those moments too. When someone did maybe not say what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear.
It’s never easy to be challenged, or to challenge, but this morning we are reminded that there is a time and place to do so. Sometimes we too need to be reminded of the things we already know, the promises we have been given; sometimes we too need to be shown the truth.
As the three men arrive at their destination, Jesus starts walking ahead of them. The disciples, however, call him back and invite him to stay with them to spend the night. That may not have been easy, after all that has happened and the conversation they have had. But yet, despite all this, they do what is required of them: they offer hospitality.
This too can be a model for our own relationships. After everything that has happened, we are reminded to look after each other’s basic needs: a meal and a place to sleep. When we are able to do that, we realise that everything is about to change. And that is precisely what happens to the disciples. As soon as they sit down together and Jesus breaks the bread and blesses it, they recognise who he is. At this moment, they know that what they were told is true: Jesus is risen indeed.
As with all resurrection appearances, the moment is short and fleeting: Jesus appears from their sight almost immediately. Nevertheless, the moment is lasting and life-changing. The two disciples get up, go back to Jerusalem and tell the others what has happened.
Every time I have the privilege of blessing and breaking the bread, I feel a little bit like one of those two disciples. In this moment, all the stories I have heard, the encounters I have had, and the ways others have shown me the truth come together. So much is contained in this act of remembering and sharing in which we all participate.
Sharing a meal is one of the most fundamental communal acts, yet the one that can touch our hearts most deeply. Those two things are also what I am most looking forward to when restrictions are lifted: sharing a meal, and sharing bread and wine.
For now, we do it this way. Virtually, we worship and pray together; we weep and we laugh together; we eat and we drink together. And we trust that we will be back together soon. Not a bad metaphor, I think, for the way in which we anticipate the fullness of God in this life.