Today is a busy day in our Christian calendar. It is Native American Awareness Sunday. It is the third Sunday of Easter. For our congregation and many others, it is Communion Sunday where we share Holy Communion, welcoming each other at the table of Christ. Our scripture lesson from the book of Luke doesn’t seem to relate to any of these, and yet we can see some very distinct ties to all of these celebrations.
In this passage, Jesus meets up with 2 people making the 7-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus on Easter Sunday. There was much confusion and sadness in their hearts. All hope seemed to have been lost for them. The one they thought would rescue Israel was killed and buried, and now a strange story was circulating from women who went to anoint the body of Jesus which was missing. The story of resurrection was just too much to believe – hope was indeed lost. And yet Jesus met them on this dismal journey and provided just that – a sense of hope.
My daughter was on a basketball team one year which was an expansion team. The girls all had fairly limited skills compared to the other teams, and ended the season winning no games at all. One game in particular was extremely close. The teams were closely matched, and everything came down to a single shot thrown at the final buzzer. The pass was perfect. The receiver turned and took the shot. The buzzer sounded as the ball was coming down into the hoop – yet it rolled around and refused to go in. The disappointment for our team was extreme – this was the one game they had a chance to win and they lost by one point. The coach was pivotal to the tone of the response to this lost game – he was beaming. It was the best game they had played all season and from an outsider’s perspective, you would have thought they won this game. At the end of the season, the coach took the team out for pizza. At one point the waitress assumed this was a victory celebration and asked the girls how they did during season. The girls looked very awkward and weren’t sure how to respond. The coach chimed in and said, “Let’s just say we had a perfect season.” He gave them hope even when the obvious was facing them. The team regrouped the next year and managed to win a couple of games. I will always remember these 2 years and the tremendous effect of a little hope in the midst of despair.
As we noted that today is Native American Awareness Sunday, we see another message of hope within the Emmaus story. Throughout the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible, we see that God specifically focused on the people of Israel. While others converted to their faith, the message is for God’s people to worship the one true God. Yet the hopeful message embodied in the person of Jesus Christ brings a message of salvation and acceptance to all people. As the apostle Paul put it, “There is no Jew or Greek, male or female, servant or master.” We are all included in the message of hope that Christ died even for me.
Consider the Emmaus story and try to picture yourself in the scene. We have heard the story of Easter many times. We experienced it a little differently this year through Holy Week as we shared a covered dish supper on Thursday and reviewed the errors of Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting . On Good Friday we heard the message portrayed as we read through the accounts of the story of Jesus’ sentencing and death while extinguishing candles. We spent time in prayer lifting one another up on the darkest night of our Christian history, noting that it was Friday, but Sunday was coming.
This puts pictures and images in our minds of the events that transpired during Holy Week and into Easter Sunday. But also consider the continued confusion. Would anyone who had not seen Jesus alive dare hope that it was possible? Considering the fact that Jesus refused to pick up the sword and take Jerusalem by force, would we even want to hope in Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one of Israel?
The idea of Christ being resurrected was in fact predicted long before Jesus’ arrival. The prophets noted the suffering Jesus would need to endure in order to raise victorious in all the splendor and glory of God. There were numerous promises of the Messiah coming from the lineage of David, and the depiction of the suffering servant that would take on the sins of the world. There were no surprises here – Jesus himself predicted his death and resurrection to his disciples on no less than 3 occasions. Jesus reminds the two disciples of all of this while walking with them on the road to Emmaus.
It is interesting that at first, these two journeymen seem to be criticizing Jesus. They only see him as a stranger, and can’t imagine that he would not know about the events that had occurred in Jerusalem over the past few days. It would be like anyone living in England and not knowing about William and Kate. It seems the events in Jerusalem were creating the same kind of buzz. Everyone was talking about them, yet no one seemed to put the pieces together about God’s plan to save humanity. No one seemed to remember the prophets’ words about the Messiah being bruised for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities. No one seemed to remember Jesus saying that he would be destroyed yet resurrected on the third day. No one dared to hope.
But as the journey continued, something stirred inside the travelers as Jesus spoke to them. There was something special about this stranger, so much so that they beckoned Jesus to stay with them as the evening was upon them. Perhaps they found something hopeful in Jesus’ review of the Hebrew Scriptures. They wanted to hear more and invited Jesus to dinner. Once again Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke the bread and gave it to those gathered around the table. If we follow the communion liturgy, Jesus handed them his broken body, and their eyes were opened.
Notice the parallel here. The disciples only truly believed Jesus had risen when they touched his nail-scarred hands and his pierced side. The people at the table recognized Jesus when they held the bread that Jesus had broken for them – ‘this is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The scripture tells us that at that moment, their eyes were opened and they knew it was Jesus who was sharing a meal with them. Perhaps they saw the nail prints in his hands as he shared the bread and cup. They recognized Jesus as the resurrected son of God as Jesus vanished from their site.
But there is something else to notice here. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, there is no mention of him vanishing in thin air. There is one story of those in his own home town who did not like his sermon and tried to push him off a cliff, but the scripture tells us he vanished among them, possibly just blending in with the crowd and heading out of town rather quickly. After Jesus’ resurrection we find him passing through locked doors and vanishing as he is speaking with those around the table. Jesus had been changed in some way. Perhaps he was now truly human and truly divine. The miracles and wonders continued, but somehow there was a change in Jesus and in those around him who witnessed his resurrection. There was real hope manifest before their very eyes.
As we continue with the story, Cleopas and his companion wasted no time. In spite of the late hour and the 7-mile distance back to Jerusalem, they quickly set out to find the disciples and share their story. They were confirming the message of Mary Magdalene – “I have seen the Lord.” This is the ultimate message of hope. Even death could not hold Jesus prey. Nothing was going to keep Jesus from finishing his work here on earth. The sacrifice of Christ is only complete with the message of resurrection. Only then can we hope in God almighty. Only then can we know that there is hope for us in this life – we are saved from our sinful selves. Only with the resurrection of Jesus Christ can we truly hope in the promise of everlasting life. “There is victory in Jesus, my Savior forever.” Never stop celebrating the wonderful message of Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.