STAY WITH US
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Easter morning is over. The joy. The wonder. The questions. The amazement. The unbelief. All the things that make up a typical Easter morning. Luke presents a story about two of them going along a road to a village called Emmaus. No one is really sure where this village was. The geographic location is unclear and debated. Unlike a place like Jerusalem or Jericho, you can’t go to Israel today and visit Emmaus.
This is fitting and proper though I think. Two of them means two followers of Jesus. It’s very easy to put ourselves in this story. We came back, after all. It’s encouraging to see people come back after Easter Sunday. I always take it to mean you have some degree of interest in knowing what it means to follow Christ. These are two followers of Christ going along a road, just like we as followers of Christ are travelling along a figurative road. They’re doing it together, just as we are travelling along a road together. They’re talking and discussing all these things that had happened.
Jesus came near went with them. Jesus comes near and goes with us.
In the midst of uncertainty. In the midst of dejection. In the midst of unfulfilled expectations. Jesus comes near and goes with us.
Their eyes are kept from recognizing him. This is a reminder to us of the role that we play in faith and the role that God plays in faith. Faith is a decision that we make. Yes. Faith is a gift from God. Yes. We hold these two things together lest we give ourselves too much credit for having faith, or lest we give God too much credit or blame for our faith, or the lack thereof.
We hold these things together in tension, like so much of what he hold together as we go down this road with one another and in the presence of Christ.
They are kept from recognising him. This brings about a lot of irony in this story. We’ve seen throughout these weeks that Luke is a master storyteller. I look forward to letting him know how much I enjoy his writing. The reader knows who this man is who’s walking alongside these two. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” comes the exasperated question and it’s directed at the very man who has been in the centre of the events that have happened in Jerusalem! How does one define irony? “A state of affairs or event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects.” God working in unexpected ways.
Cleopas is exasperated. These two followers of Christ stand there looking sad. This is no fast moving purposeful journey that they’re taking. You can picture the two trudging along. Stopping. Downcast. They did not expect things to turn out the way they had.
I didn’t expect this. Have you ever felt this? Do you know anyone who is feeling this? “We had hoped…” are surely some of the saddest words in the language. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. We had hoped to grow old together. We had hoped that the baby would be healthy. We had hoped to one day go to our child’s wedding. I had hoped that this was the job that would see me through to retirement.
If you haven’t felt such a thing there is little doubt you will one day. There is absolutely no doubt that there are people all around us who are feeling the same way. They stood still, looking sad. We’re talking about the human condition and we not called to look away from it and we’re not called to anesthetize ourselves to it.
There is good news here in our story. Jesus himself came near and went with them. The risen Christ goes along with. The risen Christ goes along with us. We who are called to be Christ’s ambassadors/representatives/living letters are called to walk alongside others and sometimes the road that people are treading on is a very rough road indeed.
Look at what Jesus does here. He listens. Tell me what it was you were hoping for. “What things?” asks Jesus. What things have you so downcast and weary? We had thought that he was the one to redeem Israel. We had thought that he was the one who would save us. Our leader handed him over to be condemned to death they killed him. Some of the women who were in our group that followed him told us that they went to the tomb on the third day and his body was gone. They saw a vision of angels who told them that he was alive. Some others in our group went to the tomb and found it empty. But they did not see him.
You see what’s going on here. You get the irony. The one that they are talking about is walking along beside them. God is working in unexpected ways. This is what God has always done. God calls a man who would have been up on a manslaughter charge (at least) if he had hung around Egypt to go back and lead his people to freedom. “But sir, how can I deliver Israel?” asks another leader whose clan is the least in Manasseh and who is the least in his family (youngest children take heart). Speaking of which, wow is it that the one who is chosen to be king is the youngest of 5 boys who has spent his time looking after sheep and learning to play the harp? And trusting God.
Trusting God. “How can this be?” asked the mother of Christ. “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” asks her relative Elizabeth. The irony of it all.
How could these things be? Do you ever wonder? How could this group of people be called by Christ to be his hands and feet in the world? How are these truths revealed to us can be so foolish and slow of heart?
Here’s one way they can be. We look to the scriptures. This is why we do this week after week. This is why we do this day after day. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. Jesus listens. Jesus then tells these two about God’s story. About God promising a man that he would be blessed to be a blessing to the nations. About how his offspring would outnumber the stars. About how God would work out God’s plan through this nation. About how prophets were sent by God to remind this nation of their purpose. Of how prophets would be rejected and killed because we like to do our own thing. Of the promise of the Spirit that would be poured out, a promise that was for everyone – sons and daughters, the old, the young. Of the promise of a new heart and a new spirit and the removal of the heart of stone and the gift of a heart of flesh.
Life. We’re talking about life. We’re talking about being reminded of how God works in ways that are ironic – unexpected. Who would have thought that it was through self-giving self-sacrificing love – love that seeks nothing but the good of the other – that the world would be saved? Who would have thought that God, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit would enable the same kind of love in us of all people?
To follow Christ is to have our own stories caught up in this story. Jesus who comes near and goes with us. Jesus, the Word who is revealed in the Word. This is why we keep coming back to it. To be reminded. To remind one another. Particularly when things don’t go the way we expected. Particularly when it is evening and the day is now nearly over. (Like the opening line of“St Louis Blues” – I hate to see the evening sun go down.)
We’ve talked through this series of Jesus being a guest. He’s never a coercive guest. As they came near to the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. Jesus is never one to presume. He’s never a presumptive guest. What do we do with this Jesus? Look at what Levi did. Got up from his tax-collecting table and followed him. Then threw a party. Look at what Zaccheus did. Came down from the tree and was happy to welcome him. Come and stay with me! Look at what these two followers do.
“Stay with us.” Jesus the guest becomes Jesus the host. Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Their eyes were opened. Jesus is revealed while sitting around a table. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him. God grant that our eyes would be opened – that we would recognize Jesus in his word and when we gather around a table. John Calvin spoke of two marks of the church. Preaching and sacraments. We see in this story Jesus being revealed in the word and at the table.
He vanished from their sight. Take heart though. They’re not dismayed at all. This line puts these two followers of Christ in the exact same position we’re in. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. He’s gone from our sight. We are inhabited by his Spirit. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” God grant that the Spirit would burn brightly in our hearts. Someone has put it like this – “… the living Christ is both the key to our understanding the Scriptures and the very present Lord who is revealed to us in the breaking of bread. His presence at the table makes all believers first-generation Christians and every meeting place Emmaus.”
An encounter with the living Christ gives these two a whole new purpose. We’ll be talking a lot about this over the coming weeks as we go through Luke’s second volume – the Acts of the Apostles. Despite the late hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem and 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 of what happened on the road, and how he had been made known in the breaking of the bread.
The church is called to continue to experience the living Christ in the word and in the breaking of the bread as we wait for the time that Christ will eat of it again in his kingdom. Someone has said that the church “goes on its pilgrim way, instructed, nourished, companioned by its Lord. At the same time, the Church learns from him who walked with the two disciples, how to walk with the disillusioned and suffering of the world, hearing out their story, accepting their broken hopes.” Showing and telling of the one in whom all our fears and hopes are met. The one in whom is met everything from our noblest inclinations to our deepest fears and doubts. Even though it may be almost evening and the day nearly over, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift.