A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Easter 3 ~ Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of (Jesus’ followers) were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” [Lk 24:13-14]
That makes perfect sense. Two days earlier they watched the leader of their radical revolutionary renewal movement die a horrendous death on a Roman cross. Crucified as an enemy of the empire. Then just a few hours before this scene starts, the story starts to circulate among their group – the followers of this Jesus of Nazareth guy – that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb as expected and that people were having visions of him.
But nothing really seemed to come of it because these two travellers – Cleopas (not one of the 12 disciples, but obviously a follower of Jesus) and his companion (possibly his wife) – were on their way home to Emmaus – trying to sort out what it all meant, but clearly heading away from Jerusalem and returning to their regular lives.
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” [Lk 24:15-16]
Again, that makes sense. Why would they recognize him? As far as they were concerned Jesus was dead. They had no reason to expect to encounter him on their walk. Just because we’re so familiar with the story and it seems so obvious to us doesn’t mean it should’ve been obvious to them. If someone dies you simply don’t expect to meet them on the road a couple of days later.
So these followers – who are more like abandoners, or giver-uppers at this point – are closed to the idea that there’s another chapter in the story.
They think it’s over. They’ve closed the book on Jesus, turned their back on Jerusalem, and are heading home.
They are closed. But Jesus is looking for an opening.
He knows they’re closed, but his mission is to find an opening. So he says to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” [Lk 24:17]
Ok, obviously he didn’t really say that. I mean, nobody actually talks like that. [stiffly] ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ No, he probably said something like, “Hey, you two seem like you’re talking about something big. What’s it about?” Or maybe, “Yo, yo, yo homies, what up?”
And here these followers had an opportunity to do something really great, but they blew it. They give this stranger the CNN version of what happened over the last while.
“There was a prophet who we followed but he got in trouble and was handed over to the Romans and was crucified. We had hoped that he was the one to set Israel free – that he was the Messiah – but now he’s dead, although some of our group saw visions of him, but it’s all over now.”
What a wasted opportunity. Two fervent followers of Jesus are talking about Jesus and a stranger comes up to them and asks what they’re talking about and instead of telling him something real about how their lives have been transformed they give the guy the CNN treatment.
And yet, to be fair that’s all they could do at that point – because they were still closed. It was still just a series of events to them. It wasn’t personal, or real, or spiritual yet. They couldn’t speak of their transformation because they hadn’t experienced one.
But Jesus sees an opening and takes them right to task for their story. He says, “Oh how foolish you are.”
Or in other words, “what a couple of dummies you are – you really are duh-sciples!” (Sometimes you need to use pointed words to get through to thick people.)
Then Jesus proceeds to explain to them the meaning of their own scriptures. He starts at Moses and the prophets and lays it all out for them. So these two get quite an earful and quite a theology lesson. Sadly, their CNN reporting didn’t kick in at that point because that would’ve been a really helpful thing to have written down!
Then, having said his piece, Jesus is ready to walk away. He encountered a couple of closed people, tried to look for an opening, didn’t appear to be making any headway, so he was shaking the dust off his sandals and moving on.
And then it happened.
The shift – the change – the opening. They invited him to stay.
In fact it says they urged him strongly. The Greek word there is the same word used for forcing or compelling someone to do something. Something inside them had changed, and they knew that they wanted this stranger to stay. They went from being closed and confused to offering a stranger some hospitality. Hospitality, by definition, means to open yourself to another’s presence and welcome them into your personal space.
So what opened them? You’ll find out in a minute.
But in their opening, as they invited Jesus in and began to share a meal with him, their entire world changed.
They went from closed to open.
They went from dead to alive.
They went from lost to found.
They went from end to beginning.
They experienced new life.
They were resurrected.
Jesus saw the opening of their minds, and sat with them at table, and broke the bread and blessed it, and gave it to them. And in that instant their eyes were opened, they saw it was Jesus, and he vanished. Ok, lots of good stuff to talk about there.
First, I’m suggesting that it wasn’t in the breaking of the bread necessarily that they opened themselves to Jesus – it was in their hospitality – in their invitation. In the breaking of the bread their minds caught up to what was already going on in their hearts. Again, I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
I love that in the moment they saw that it was Jesus he vanished.
“Hey, wait a minute, you’re Jesus!”
Why didn’t Jesus hang around and talk more now that they knew it was him?
Why didn’t they get to be with him more?
I think the reason is the entire point of this story.
I think this story represents the moment that we shift from being led to being inspired – from following a physical or literal Jesus to following a spiritual or metaphorical Jesus.
It’s the death of your ‘childlike’ understanding of God being reborn as a more ‘mature’ understanding. Their eyes were opened. They saw the world anew.
They didn’t need Jesus anymore because they had Jesus.
Do you get it?
They didn’t need Jesus anymore because they had Jesus.
We don’t need Jesus ‘out here’ anymore because we have Jesus ‘in here’ [heart] now.
That’s the new way to see.
That’s the transformation.
That’s what makes all the difference.
Then we come to my favourite verse in the story – and one of my favourite verses of scripture in the whole bible.
“They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’”
Were not our hearts burning as he was opening the scriptures to us.
Their hearts were burning on the road but they didn’t have words for it yet – they couldn’t yet ‘see’ what it meant – and then they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. But it was the opening of the scriptures that made their hearts burn.
I worry that scripture gives too few people burning hearts and too many people heartburn!
The problem is that we’re all pretty much duh-sciples. We need the scriptures opened up to us to help us to see what they might really mean – because what they’re supposed to be about is a way to encounter God – or Jesus – or the Spirit. The scriptures aren’t about information, they’re about formation.
The duh-sciples in the story were walking down the road debating information – the CNN version of the story. The rest of the story is their encounter with Jesus – the opening of the scriptures that gave them burning hearts and changed their lives – from information about Jesus to transformation in Jesus.
And how did they respond after they realized their hearts were burning? They immediately got up and returned to Jerusalem. Their first thought was to get up, go out, and share their experience.
You see, now they had something to talk about.
Now they had burning hearts.
It wouldn’t be a CNN story this time – it would be a first person account of how through the opening of the scriptures and the sharing of communion that Christ came alive in their hearts.
Their story isn’t about knowing information anymore, now it’s about knowing Spirit – knowing Jesus – knowing resurrection.
They experienced Easter for themselves.
And that’s exactly why we’re here today! Why do you think it’s a guy named Cleopas and his partner and not one of the main disciples? It’s because this isn’t primarily an historical story that happened 2000 years ago, it’s a story about all of Jesus’ followers throughout history.
It’s a story about right now! It’s a story about you experiencing Easter for yourself!
We all begin like these followers began – closed. We come to the story of Jesus with doubts, and criticisms, and confusion, and wonder, and we think about how to make sense of it all. And by coming we create an opening. This story is a whole grab bag of openings.
They open themselves through hospitality. They open themselves to a new way to see and understand the world. Their eyes are opened and they recognize the Christ in their midst. And their hearts burn as the scriptures are opened to them.
It’s that last opening that I’d like to say a couple of things about before I close. Opening the scriptures is what preachers try to do every week in these 18 minutes we get to stand here. It’s what I hopefully did a bit of today with you. I hope that as I spoke and you started to contemplate these scriptures that they opened up for you and your hearts started to burn a little bit. That’s the goal.
The scriptures are not easy. If you just pick up the bible and start reading you’re going to run into all sorts of trouble.
Now, I’m not saying that without a preacher you’re lost. But I am saying that since the very beginning scripture has needed to be heard, shared, and interpreted. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes openness.
Reading scripture alone is, paradoxically, one of the chief reasons I think people are closed to spiritual things. They get into the stories and get overwhelmed by a lack of context, or history, or by simply misunderstanding. Scriptures that seem to plainly say one thing might actually mean the exact opposite. Or not.
This is one of my most important functions. I am called to be the resident theologian for this place. I’m the one who’s had the privilege to go and study and come back and share what’s made my own heart burn. (and I even get to share some of my heartburn!) But here’s one of the frustrating things for me. I can’t do it in 18 minutes. It’s an impossible task.
I emphatically believe we need a place where someone can answer our questions, and learn about some of the context, and history, and varieties of interpretive ways to look at these scriptures.
At Faith United we have The Porch! Every Monday morning a group of us gets together and does exactly that. We look at the scriptures for the next Sunday and we try to open them up. It’s wonderful! We call it The Porch after a place in the Jewish temple called Solomon’s Porch where people used to gather to hear a person stand up and offer interpretations of scripture and everyone would discuss and debate the ideas. (And if you can’t come in person you could read the questions on our Facebook page and do some reflecting on your own.)
I cannot emphasize enough to you how important, how fundamental, how foundational coming to something like The Porch is to your faith journey.
Maybe you’re closed to the idea of scripture discussions right now.
Maybe you think you don’t know enough (you do), or you think it’s intimidating (it’s not), or you worry you’ll ask dumb questions. Remember, we’re all duh-sciples in some ways. The only dumb questions are the ones you never ask.
I promise you that if you open yourself to scripture and allow it to be opened for you, you will find your heart burning with the presence of God.
A burning heart is what new life feels like. It’s the joy of going beyond ‘knowing with your head’ to ‘knowing with your soul’.
It’s the delight of having your eyes opened and recognizing the Christ in everything you see and in everyone you meet.
It’s the thrill of finally taking off your training wheels and riding free as a follower of the Way of Jesus.
It’s the ultimate opening.
It’s what resurrection is all about.