Well folks it has been two weeks since we all proclaimed Hallelujah at the news of Jesus’ resurrection. We passed through the whole 40 days of Lent, waved our Palms and sang of the redeemer king, heard the story of the night in which he was betrayed and cleared everything off the altar and worship space. We walked the stations of the cross in our heart as we read through his final hours. And we waited with Mary and all the others in their grief as the tomb was sealed. Unlike them, however, we had the advantage of knowing what was coming. And it did…. as it always does!
Christ the Lord is risen today, Hallelujah.
So Jesus did all those things. All those really great things. Healing and teaching and walking on water. Washing feet, feeding the hungry bodies and souls. And then they killed him. We killed him. And then he “rose from the dead”. What a great story!
But did it really make any difference? Is the world any different? Or do we just go back to the everyday grind on so-called Easter Monday? These are legitimate questions to ask.
While our circumstances and details are be different from those of the disciples, our feelings might be remarkably similar and our gospel lesson today may just have a little bit to say to these kinds of thoughts and questions.
The final chapter of the gospel of Luke begins at a place that is often symbolic of life and death: early dawn, sunrise. It is that place where darkness and light wrestle with one another before the light carries us forward. Just one chapter earlier, we were in the full darkness of night, perhaps the greatest darkness the disciples would ever know: the death of their friend, their leader, the one they thought would be the Messiah. The death of hope. The tomb is sealed. All is quiet. It is, truly, finished.
And yet, our Easter morning begins with that glimmer of hope just as the sun rises early in the morning on the first day of the week. This last bit of Luke covers a lot of emotional and spiritual territory for us. It begins with the empty tomb, angels in dazzling clothes sending the women away with the good news—the text we heard on Easter Sunday. Then the chapter ends with Jesus giving his final blessing and ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.
And here, right here in the middle of this far ranging chapter, is today’s story of the two travelers heading for Emmaus. Stuck in the middle like us.
We don’t know why they are going, what their intentions are or why they’ve left Jerusalem. We could speculate on lots of things that might motivate them to leave: fear and despair are just two likely examples. What we do know is that as they walk, they meet a man.
The three of them talk as they walk, the two explaining to the one what has been their topic of conversation up until then. Anyone could have seen during this conversation that they were sad and who could blame them? You see, Jesus of Nazareth, the one who seemed to be The One, a great prophet of God, was betrayed, crucified, put to death and was buried. It had been three days. He was gone for sure. But the women who went to do what is necessary for the dead said that the tomb was empty.
It is clear to the one that the other two do not understand what has happened, so much so that he begins to explain it all.
Interestingly, this man does not just tell them something about the events they described, he starts from the beginning, from Moses and the Law all the way through the prophets. He does not simply say: ‘you should believe this amazing thing because I said so!’ Instead he tells them they can believe this amazing thing that the women have said because it is what God has promised; it is what God has done to fulfill all he said he would do all along.
All three of the men reach the destination of the two and they invite the one to stop with them. Stay with us, they tell him, because it is getting on toward evening and the day is nearly done. The one accepts the invitation and goes to eat with them.
Now, here is where things start to get truly interesting. This simple little story about three men on the road is about to become something more. Now, The One who had fed thousands with a little bit of fish and bread, The One who had eaten with tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and all manner of people, The One who had shared a final meal with those closest to him in the very night he was to be betrayed and handed over to death, was sharing a meal with the two. It is when The One breaks the bread that their eyes are opened. The bread is torn, the one body to be shared amongst them all, and they really see The One they have been talking with is Jesus. In the breaking of the bread, they are brought back from the shadow of death. Their eyes were opened. He really is The One! And he is alive!
Most of the time, this is where we live: right in the middle time, walking along the road and not really sure what to think about things. It’s the time between Jesus leaving the tomb and his return. Sometimes, this road seems pretty long. It was a very long time ago that those men walked along the Emmaus road. Centuries, millennia ago. These are ancient stories from an ancient time and heaven, that great, mysterious sweet by and by in the sky might as well be millennia or more into the future for it seems only that close in our ability to comprehend.
We are here, now, living in the middle part, walking on a really long road on which we can see neither the beginning nor the ending. Sometimes it seems like we’re just walking down this road talking about how we wish it could have been or theorizing and theologizing about a god in a book. God more in paper than in flesh.
But here’s the little hidden miracle in this story that was true for those two and is true for each and every one of us. Jesus is walking on that road right beside us. God is not a fanciful fairy tale or dusty deity living only in a book. Jesus is alive and at large in the world, walking beside us, sharing a meal with us, listening to us when we feel let down; when we are lost, lonely, broken, and afraid. Opening our minds, our hearts, our eyes to see The One, himself, alive in the world with us.
We gather together here, coming from our many different roads and pathways we walk down, to break bread, to share the wine, to hear again and again the stories from ‘in the beginning’ to ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt’, through all the prophets and on to the manger, down the dusty streets and up to the busy courtyard of the temple, the healing touch on the Sabbath day, the words of wisdom and life, the breaking bread to the bloody cross and on to the empty tomb. And here we are again, the breaking bread.
Open up our minds, our hearts, our eyes, O Lord. The world really is different this side of the resurrection!
In Jesus, our minds and hearts and eyes are open and, while that is decidedly good, it is not always easy. God wants to open us up so that we live, so that we can see life, so that we can see the Son for who he truly is. But God also wants us to see all the rest of the world as his Son sees it, too. It means we have to see all that is broken in the world and in our own lives. It means we have to really see the places of pain, loss, grief and fear as Jesus does. It means that we have to see the truth, even if it hurts. It means we have to see ourselves as in need of God, in need of his Son, in need of his body broken for us and given to us in the broken bread.
And yet it also means that we can see Jesus at work in the world. We can see our own hands and feet being his hands and feet. It means that we can begin to see that even in a world broken down by all kinds of pain, a world that is tired and in need of peace, Jesus is alive. For those two that day, for us and for those who will come after us.
When we come to the altar together today, when we stand around this table of the Lord together, our minds and hearts and eyes are just as surely being opened as those disciples on the road. The bread that is broken by the true host of that meal, Jesus Christ, is his true body given to us for the forgiveness of sins, for the strengthening of our minds and hearts and bodies for a life lived open.