a sermon on Luke 24:13-35
preached on May 4, 2014, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
It started out as a simple Sunday afternoon journey, a way to ease back into a routine after a devastating week, a step toward finding a new normal after the death of a cherished friend and beloved teacher. But when those two disciples set out from Jerusalem to Emmaus on that first Easter afternoon, they had no idea that they would encounter such a companion along the way. By then they had heard the rumblings of resurrection from a couple women who had visited the tomb, but they clearly didn’t trust that news—it was pretty unbelievable in the first place, and on top of that, it came from unreliable sources—women!
Their conversation along the road surely started out with some sadness and pity, though I suspect that it quickly turned to discussion of what was next for them now that Jesus, the man who had brought them together, was dead. In the meantime, though, it had to be good for them to have each other as companions along the way, to be with even one other person who had known Jesus and his teaching, who had been a part of the joyous procession just a week before, who had watched as he was led away to be crucified, who had witnessed his execution at the hands of the religious and political authorities of the day. So they talked and walked together, sharing their grief and sorrow and confusion and hurt, airing their feelings with each other, lifting up all the things that had happened in those days.
Then a strange man overheard their conversation and joined in. “What are you talking about?” he inquired. They were stunned. He had clearly overheard part of their conversation, but he didn’t know what had been going on? How could he not have heard about what happened to Jesus? How could anyone in Jerusalem not have been aware of this injustice? They “stood still” and stopped in their tracks, overcome with even more grief. But soon they found the words to explain to this stranger everything that had happened to Jesus—the proclamation of the kingdom of God that he offered, his strange arrest and conviction, his crucifixion and death, and now the empty tomb.
Having heard all this that was making them sad, the stranger offered a surprising word. Rather than just moving along beyond the grieving friends on the road or comforting them with simple platitudes, he explained everything that had happened. Even though he had not heard about the events of the past week, he took their few details and put them into the bigger story of God’s work. So as they walked on toward Emmaus from Jerusalem, these three found themselves as new companions along the way as this stranger opened the scriptures to the two disciples, explained how all that had happened was in fulfillment of the prophets, and described how the Messiah had to suffer in order to be glorified.
After an enlightening afternoon of conversation among new friends, the time came to stop again. The two disciples had reached Emmaus, their destination, and the stranger who had joined them was prepared to go on, but they encouraged him to stop a little longer: “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” It was a different day and age, with little or no light to guide and protect those who traveled at night, so it was certainly time to bring the day’s journeys to an end, and the stranger agreed to stick around with his new companions on the way.
As they sat down together for dinner, the stranger offered the blessing over the bread, then he broke it and gave it to them to eat. Suddenly they realized that this stranger they had met on the road was no stranger at all: he was Jesus. The man who had eased their minds about everything that had happened was none other than the crucified and risen Lord. The new companion along the way who broke bread with them that night had done the same thing just three nights before. Before they could really say anything more, the stranger disappeared from their sight, but they knew exactly what had happened: Jesus was alive! The rumors of resurrection were realities, and they had spent the afternoon with him without even knowing it.
Even though it was evening and time to settle in for the night, they got up and ran back to Jerusalem. They found the disciples gathered together, already celebrating because Peter had seen the risen Lord, and all of them together rejoiced because Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Following after these disciples, we too now expect to find Jesus made known to us in the breaking of the bread. This is why we gather at this table each and every Sunday during the season of Easter, for we trust that just as the risen Christ met his disciples at the table on that first Easter evening, we too will meet him in this holy meal here. But I think this story also reminds us that we will meet Jesus at other times, too—in those who walk a little way with us on the journey, in those who open the scriptures to us, in those who make our hearts burn with love along the way, in those who show us the mercy and grace and peace of our risen Lord in their words and actions each and every day, in such varied companions along whatever way is before us in these days.
I had several of these encounters in my life over the past week. On Thursday, as I drove back from a meeting in Philadelphia, my heart sank as I learned from Beth and Bill of the water damage in the office that has occupied my life pretty well over the last several days. I spent almost the entire trip back on the phone, dealing with insurance companies and the water damage remediation firm to address the mess. In the midst of it all, though, there were strange companions on the way: first Beth and Bill who worked to address the immediate problem and then stayed at the church with me through the evening as the remediation crew worked, then two close friends who listened to my complaints and uncertainties as I made my way along the New Jersey Turnpike back to Queens, also the gentle and secure presence of our insurance broker, the representative from the water damage firm who called me before I could call him, and even one of the cleanup crew who offered us a blessing after spending two hours cleaning up the mess. In these and others, I had companions for the journey, reminders of God’s presence who made it clear that the frustrations and complications of those moments were not the end of the story, glimpses of the risen Christ in everyone who walked even a little way with us.
There are innumerable such companions who join with us along the way. Those who have walked these past few days with me are only a few of the many saints who have shown me glimpses of the risen Christ over the years, and I trust that you too have had similar encounters along the journeys of your lives. As we make our way to share this feast this morning, I invite you to think of those who have journeyed with you along the way, women and men who have shown you a little glimpse of the risen Christ in our world, and then to lift them up by name or by action as we gather our prayers together at the table so that we might give thanks for the presence of the risen Christ in our midst all the more.
So as this Easter season continues, may we too be strengthened by the companions along the way so that we might walk in faith, hope, and love all our days and see and show the presence of the risen and living Christ everywhere we go until he comes again. Lord, come quickly! Amen.