a sermon on Luke 24:13-35 for the Second Sunday of Easter
preached on April 7, 2013, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
It started out as just an ordinary journey, two of the disciples walking about seven miles from Jerusalem to the nearby village of Emmaus on a Sunday afternoon. But it was not an ideal time to make the trip. Passover celebrations were in full swing in the city, and people were coming and going everywhere. Others were catching up on trips that they had postponed for a day due to the Sabbath. And the disciples were still somewhat shocked and saddened by the strange events that had swirled around them just a couple days before as their friend and teacher Jesus had been tried and executed by the religious and civil authorities of Jerusalem.
That morning before they left, though, some of the women who had accompanied them along the way reported that the tomb where they had laid him on Friday was empty. Most everyone felt that this was pretty silly, really—an idle tale—it was time to get on with life and put Jesus behind them. So the two disciples began that day’s journey as a pretty normal walk along a familiar road, with their spirits somewhat subdued by the grief and pain that were still in the air even as they started to think about how they would go on with life without Jesus.
Along the road, a stranger eased his way into their conversation. He asked them what they were talking about and why they were so sad as they walked along the way. Apparently he had not heard of the events of Thursday and Friday, so they brought him up to speed as they walked and talked. But this stranger didn’t share their sadness at the death of their friend and teacher. Instead, he suggested that this person, this Messiah, had come for this very reason, to experience these very things, to suffer and die and then enter into his glory. He wasn’t worried that the tomb had been found to be empty—instead he suggested that this was all exactly as God had intended and very much in line with all that Moses and the prophets had said over the centuries. The conversation with this stranger made the seven miles on the road pass quickly for the two disciples, and what had seemed to be an ordinary walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus started to become something to remember.
Like the disciples, I’m quite a fan of a good walk. A brisk walk remains my preferred way to get exercise, even though I certainly do it far less than I should! On nice days like we’ve finally started having recently, there’s nothing quite like a good walk to clear my mind and get a little blood flowing. And there’s no better way to restore my spirit after some busy days than to share a walk around New York City with a good friend. Most of my walks are pretty unremarkable, really—I don’t expect to have a grand epiphany of life that helps me to understand God and the world better or run into someone who will change my life. Normally they are just ordinary journeys, a way to get from point A to point B and give me some time to clear my head and assess the day before I dive back in to the busyness of the world.
By the time those two disciples and the stranger who walked with them got to Emmaus, it seemed to have been a pretty ordinary journey, save for the especially good conversation with the stranger that had helped take their mind off their grief and sorrow. As the disciples started to head into the village for the night, the stranger who had walked with them prepared to continue on to his destination, but it was late, so the disciples invited him to stay the night and join them for a little more conversation. When they sat down for dinner, the stranger “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”
In this moment, something happened. As he broke the bread, as this guest took on the role of host, this stranger was no longer unknown. The two disciples realized that they had known this man all along. They had not been talking with a stranger all day—they had been talking with Jesus. Not only that, the reports of the empty tomb were true—Jesus was alive! But then just as quickly as they had realized that it was Jesus with them, “he vanished from their sight.” It had indeed been no ordinary journey after all—they had spent the afternoon with Jesus without even knowing it!
That walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus was pretty incredible—it’s nearly impossible to beat that kind of a story! Even when I look back on the best conversations I’ve had while walking, none of them even begin to measure up to what the disciples experienced! But this extraordinary journey can still illuminate even the most mundane walks in our lives. Like the disciples, we can share our hopes and dreams and struggles and fears with those who walk with us along the road. Like the disciples, we might just meet someone unexpected who can help us understand where we have been and where we are going. And like the disciples, we might just encounter God in strangers we meet along the way.
Even when things are pretty normal and uneventful along our journeys, we can trust that God is working to prepare our hearts and minds for whatever encounter is ahead for us, that God is walking with us along the varied roads of our lives and opening our eyes to the fullness of the divine presence just when we need to recognize this new thing in our midst. Because of this incredible encounter on the road to Emmaus and at table with Jesus, we can trust that even our most ordinary journeys can be filled with the wonder and grace and mystery of our God who is made known to us in the breaking of bread.
This extraordinary journey was not over for the disciples. They had to get back to Jerusalem as quickly as they could. They had seen the Lord, and they had to let everyone else know about it, even if it was late, the road dark, and their bodies tired. By the time they got back, reports were streaming in from near and far of encounters with Jesus—not only had the women seen an empty tomb, not only had they talked with Jesus all afternoon along the road, Peter had seen him too! Their return to Jerusalem was no ordinary journey—even though it was the same road they had walked just a few hours before, their sorrow had turned to joy. They were ready to celebrate the resurrection and figure out what was next for them as they kept following Jesus along this new road together.
And so as we too go our way on the roads of life, as we walk the Emmaus roads of our world with friends and strangers and even on our own, as we gather and go forth from this table of joy where we trust that we will meet our risen Lord, God calls us to trust that all these are no ordinary journeys. All our lives are holy encounters with God, where anyone we meet might show us the face of God, where any meal we share might help us to see our dining companions in a new light, where every step we take helps us to see God’s new creation a little more clearly and shows us how we can join in, where we are called to proclaim the wonder of resurrection to our world that is so afraid of death.
And so as we gather at this table today, may God open our eyes to see the risen Christ present among us so that we might rise to serve and show his risen life to others and prepare to meet him on the extraordinary journey ahead. Thanks be to God. Amen.