Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes kept them from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to the, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” That same hour they got up and return to Jerusalem; and they 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 what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember.
I was baptized at 19 days old and church has been there for me my entire life. As a child I loved hearing the incredible stories from scripture: Jesus walking on water, David defeating Goliath, Moses moving through the Red Sea. Church was an exciting place that was unlike anything else I did. In worship I learned how to listen, I learned what it meant to sing my faith, and I found tremendous joy in receiving communion.
Of course, as I grew older, the perfect glow of church began to fade away. We would learn about the importance of love and forgiveness during church, and then I would see a man screaming at his wife in the parking lot after worship. We learned about God’s kingdom as a rich and diverse new reality, but I only saw privileged white people in church. We heard about how important it was to keep the faith, but I started to have doubts about what scripture revealed.
Like most Christians, I have had my doubts. I have been kept awake late at night wondering about the divine, praying for God’s presence to be made known in my life and in the lives of others, and hoping for something to cleanse my unease.
Yet, it is almost always in the midst of a question, at the precise moment that I feel most lost, that God shows up and finds me.
The two disciples on the road were filled with doubt. We don’t know anything about the two who were walking to Emmaus; they weren’t famous, and they weren’t part of the 12 – they were just common, ordinary disciples like you and me.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have felt like to be walking on that road on that day so long ago. They had followed Jesus throughout Galilee and heard him proclaim the Good News, they had seen him heal the sick and feed the hungry, but just days previous they saw him betrayed, arrested, and murdered.
They might have known where they we walking, but I bet they felt lost. They had put all their hope and faith in a man who was buried in a tomb and now his body was missing. They thought the world was going to change, but the dirt under their feet felt even worse than before.
Suddenly, Jesus found them on the road and he went with them. Yet, they did not recognize the Lord in their midst. “What are you two talking about?” he asked. To which one of them replied, “Have you been living under a rock? How could you not have heard about the things that have taken place in Jerusalem?”
Jesus asked, “What things?”
Immediately they began to explain all that they had seen and heard. “Jesus of Nazareth, a mighty prophet, was betrayed and sent to his death. We had hoped that he was the one who would save us. And now three days have passed and some of the women from our group went to his tomb and they say his body was missing and angels appeared, but no one has seen him.”
Jesus then began interpreting the scriptures to the men on the road, from Moses through the prophets, he showed how what had come to pass was part of God’s great cosmic plan. And yet, they still did not recognize him.
Later, as they came near Emmaus, Jesus kept walking on but the men invited him to stay. When they sat down at a table to eat, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. With the bread in their hands their eyes were opened and they finally understood who had been with them the whole time and he vanished.
All of the sudden everything started to make sense, the encounter on the road, the strange question, the interpretation of scripture, and even the holy meal. “Were not our hearts burning within us while we were together with the Lord?” Immediately they went back to Jerusalem to declare the good news: “The Lord has risen indeed!”
On Friday at noon I took the cross from our sanctuary, placed it on my shoulders and started walking around Staunton. When I did the same thing last year and I was largely ignored. For hours I walked through our community and most people averted their gaze, they tried to pretend that there was no cross for them to see.
This year, the opposite happened. People would honk their horns as they passed, they would roll their windows down and give me a thumbs-up. I saw familiar faces throughout my journey and felt glad for the sense of community that I experienced.
I carried the cross around because I want to bring the Lord to people outside of church. If we continue to falsely assume that we can only experience God’s grace in a place such as this, it will never grow and give life to other people.
Anyway, I was bearing my cross through Staunton and I was walking along the sidewalk on Beverly Street when I was stopped. In front of me stood an older woman with a large shawl draped around her shoulders and she kept staring at the cross. For a period of time that felt uncomfortably long we just stared at one another without saying anything until I saw her lip quiver and she asked a question that I was not expecting: “What will happen to me when I die?”
I stood there with the cross digging into my shoulder and I felt the spirit of God fall upon us in that holy moment. Instead of giving some densely theological answer, and instead of evading the depth of her question I told her what I believed: “When we die God will take care of us. I don’t know what it will feel like or what we’ll experience, but the God that has been revealed to me will take care of us.”
“What kind of faith do you have?” she asked.
I explained that I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church, but above all I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.
“Tell me about him,” she said.
So I did. I started with Christmas and the story of God coming in the form of flesh as a baby to be in the world with us. Jesus grew and called people to know that they were loved regardless of their life circumstances. This Messiah went out and found the people who were ignored by the rest of the world and he gave them value. He preached, healed, and he loved. And then Jesus was betrayed, arrested and killed on a cross for everyone to see, and three days later he was raised from the dead. The beauty of what Jesus did is that he died so that we might live. Jesus died for you, and for me, so that we might live.
Tears began to well up in her eyes, she reached forward to hug me, thank me, and before I knew it she was gone.
I can’t tell you anything about her other than our brief interaction, but to me it felt like she was lost and then Jesus found her in the cross and in the story. Whatever she had going on in her life suddenly fell away and she felt valued and loved by the one who came to live and die for us.
Jesus came to the disciples on the road, and not the other way around. They were lost in their thoughts and doubts and were incapable of recognizing Jesus in their midst. Only through the scriptures, and through the bread and wine did Jesus reveal himself to them, he demonstrated what his life had been all about: his resurrection means our resurrection.
Those of us here in church on Easter Sunday are in the same position as those two disciples on the road. Jesus has come to us here in this place through the reading of scripture, and in a few moments we will encounter the risen Christ through the bread and cup at the table.
I don’t know what you’ve got going on in your life. Most of us are pretty good about shielding away and hiding our doubts and insufficiencies. We turn on the smiles when we need to, and we know what we have to do to keep afloat. I don’t know what you might be wrestling with right now, or even if you’re wrestling with anything at all. But I do know this: If you took the time to come to a church on Easter, you believe in something more than yourself, even if its very faint.
My faith is not perfect, and there are days that I struggle. I’ll be driving in my car on the way home from the hospital after praying with a family before a desperate surgery, or I’ll be standing above a casket with dirt still clinging to my fingers after saying goodbye to a faithful friend, or I’ll be reading the news online and be bombarded with never-ending negativity. There are many days that feel as if I’m walking to Emmaus all on my own with questions in my head just like those two disciples so long ago. But that’s when Jesus shows up.
Jesus isn’t looking for people with perfect faith and blind trust. God does not want puppets that he can string along. If Jesus is looking for anyone, it’s the people who are walking toward their own Emmaus. He’s looking for people like you and me who have questions.
Faith is an exciting thing not because it provides all the answers to our questions, but because it encourages us to ask questions in the first place.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not something that can be explained from a pulpit or from a book, it defies all logic and rationality, it exceeds our expectations, and often leaves us scratching our heads. But that’s the point. It is beyond anything we could ever imagine. Only the Lord who gives us life could have come up with something so incredible to change the world.
The resurrection is real, Christ appeared to the two on the road and revealed himself through the wonders of God’s word and holy table. God died in Christ on a cross and defeated death so that we might live with him in the kingdom; Christ died so that we might live.
The Lord is risen. God is on the move in the world seeking out those who are lost. God loves showing up in the words of scripture, in the bread and wine of communion, in chance encounters on the road, and in a variety of places to help find those of us who are lost.
Do we feel our hearts burning within us while we praise the living God? Do we feel the blessed holiness that comes with receiving this meal broken and shed for us? Are we ready to be found by the living God while we make our way to Emmaus?
The good news of Easter is that Christ’s resurrection has made our resurrection possible. But until that day when we feast with him at his heavenly banquet, I think the good news can be found when we feel lost on the old roads of life and Jesus finds us. Amen.