Sunday’s Sermon: Fellow Travelers

  • Everyone likes a good “journey” story.
    • All sorts of great books about people’s journeys
      • Classic fiction: Journey to the Center of the Earth[1]
      • Epic quest stories: The Lord of the Rings[2]
      • Real-life stories: Wild[3] → true story of woman who hiked Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to find herself after her life sort of fell apart
        • Pacific Crest Trail = similar to Appalachian Trail but tougher according to most hikers
          • Rougher terrain
          • More extreme temperatures
          • Almost 500 miles longer
        • No experience or training
        • 1000+ miles from Mojave Desert in southern California to Cascade Mountains in Washington State
      • We love to hear about where people have come from. We love to hear about the twists and turns their paths have taken, about how they’ve ended up where they are today. And our Scripture reading for today is certainly one of the best.
        • Catch up with 2 disciples as they embark from Jerusalem
        • Journey with them on the road to Emmaus à journey with twists and turns if ever there was one
  • Doesn’t exactly start out as a happy journey
    • Placement in Luke’s narrative – directly follow’s resurrection account
      • Women find tomb empty → “men in dazzling clothes” (presumed angels): “He is not here, but has risen.” → women run to tell other 11 disciples → Peter returns to see discarded grave clothes and empty tomb[4]
        • In what leads up to today’s text, we hear the good news of the resurrection from the angels, and with the women and Peter, we see the empty tomb. But we do not see the risen Christ himself … yet.
    • Today’s text: Now on that same day two of [the disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. → Can you imagine the conversation that these two were having?
      • Witnessed Christ’s crucifixion
      • Saw him laid to rest in the tomb
      • Heard this crazy story of an empty tomb and 2 guys in sparkly clothes from the women
      • Heard Peter’s account of the tomb being empty and Jesus’ grave clothes being tossed aside
      • But … they have yet to see anything miraculous for themselves. Right now, all they know for sure is that Jesus died and his body was gone. We may not know why they were headed to Emmaus, but they were leaving Jerusalem behind because all it contained for them now was a whole lot of sadness and disappointment and hopelessness. They had lost their reason for staying in the city, and so they walked on …
  • Along the way – encounter “stranger” who seems to have been living under a rock!
    • Text: While they were talking and discussion, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept 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 of the things that have taken place here in these days?” He asked them, “What things?”[5]
      • Jesus’ question evokes physical reaction – stops disciples in their tracks
      • Can’t you just hear Cleopas’ voice as he questions this stranger? “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place here in these days? Where have you been? How could you possibly have missed this? It’s all everyone’s been talking about for days.”
        • Jesus reaction = actually pretty humorous
          • Text: “What things?”
          • Even better in Gr. – one word: “What?”
    • Surely, though, the disciples did not see the humor in this. They launched into a long explanation of what had happened in Jerusalem over the past few days.
      • Described Jesus as a prophet
      • Described his arrest, condemnation, and death
      • Described the account of the empty tomb
      • And while we certainly could read these verses in any number of different ways, it doesn’t seem to me like the disciples’ story ended on a hopeful note.  get the impression they were unsure about the resurrection at best – end of their recitation: 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.[6]
        • Hear apprehension in this
        • Hear uncertainty in this
        • Hear skepticism in this
        • And who can blame them? People don’t just come back from the dead. They don’t toss aside their grave clothes and walk out of their own tombs. These disciples hadn’t even seen the empty tomb for themselves, let alone the once-again-alive Jesus (at least, not that they know of).
          • Feeling that resonates with us, isn’t it? → We wonder. We question. We doubt. Like these two disciples, we haven’t seen the risen Christ … at least, not that we know of.
            • Remember Scripture: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[7] → And so we hope. And so we have faith. And so we walk on …
  • Jesus’ reaction to their story: “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?”[8] → At first, this may seem like a harsh reaction to us. But I don’t think this was meant that way. I don’t think Jesus was berating them or belittling them for any perceived lack of belief. I don’t hear a harsh, reprimanding voice coming from Jesus here. This isn’t the voice that he used to drive the merchants and money changers out of the temple. No. Instead, I hear a tender voice. I hear the voice that invited children into his lap and gave Peter the confidence to step out of his boat onto the surface of the Sea of Galilee. He isn’t trying to make the disciples feel bad about their misunderstanding. He’s inviting them to understand.
    • Text: Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.[9]
      • Gr. “interpreted” = opened → opened their eyes, minds, hearts
        • Think of our own lives. Lots of things close our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to God’s message and God’s guidance.
          • Anxiety, fear, misunderstanding, pride, anger → These are all things that get in the way of our relationships with other people, and sometimes, they get in the way of our relationship with God. The important question we have to ask ourselves is what we do when we encounter them.
            • Let them overpower us and damage our relationships?
            • Let God help us find a way through them to the hope and grace waiting for us on the other side?
    • The disciples eyes and hearts and minds were opened. With the risen Christ, they walked on …
  • But this was just the beginning of the disciples’ eye-opening evening. – text: As they came near the village to which they were going, [Jesus] 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.[10]
    • Interest cultural context woven into this simple-sounding scene → scholar: [This “walking ahead as if he were going on”] implies that Jesus was not really going further but that he would not impose on the disciples to offer him hospitality. In Near Eastern customs, the guest was obligated to turn down such an invitation until it was vigorously repeated.[11] → Jesus was just following cultural protocol
      • See this back-and-forth in Gr. – “walked on ahead as if he were going on” = pretended to be going far
      • Not a phenomenon exclusive to Near Eastern customs à Howard Mohr (former Prairie Home Companion writer), “How to Talk Minnesotan” – A Minnesotan never accepts food until the third offer, and then reluctantly. And if it’s not offered three times, it’s not serious.[12]
    • But eventually, Jesus accepts the disciples’ offer. And once again, the disciples find their eyes opened. – text: 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.[13]
      • Scholar captures wonder in this: [The disciples] discovered at the table that their traveling companion was the Lord himself. They had not planned it as a sacred moment, but in the act of sharing their bread with a stranger they recognized the risen Lord in the fellow traveler.[14] → “They had not planned it as a sacred moment.” The disciples weren’t looking for something miraculous to happen that evening. All they were doing was sitting down for a simple meal. But Jesus knew they needed something special, something exceptional, something sacred. And so he opened their eyes. They may not have seen the risen Christ in Jerusalem, but here they were, sitting and eating and drinking with him again.
    • Account becomes a bit jarring because of what happens right after they recognize Jesus – text: Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.[15] → Jesus was there one minute and gone the next. But this is true to life, isn’t it? Along our own walks of life, our God-moments are most often just glimpses – flashes of the divine in the midst of our most common, ordinary moments.
      • Our experience is not so different from the disciples – response: 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 scripture to us?”[16] → We may not see God, but we feel God’s presence. We may not hear God, but we feel God’s presence. We feel God’s love, patience, peace, comfort, challenge, strength. We understand in looking back at our experiences that God was with us, guiding us, protecting us, teaching us, sustaining us. And so, like the disciples, we walk on …
  • Final part of the story is crucial – disciples take the message out: That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord is 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.[17]
    • That same hour → Let’s think about this for a minute. This story starts by telling us the disciples didn’t leave Jerusalem until midday. And they were walking 7 miles to Emmaus. The average walking speed of a human being is roughly 3 miles per hour, but we know they walked slower than that because the story also tells us that when Jesus and the disciples finally reached Emmaus, it was almost evening. That’s at least 6 hrs. for a 7 mile walk. So Jesus and the disciples sat down together, and Jesus revealed himself to them. By this time, it was getting late, and most roads in and around ancient Jerusalem weren’t exactly safe for nighttime travel. And yet these disciples were so inspired that they jumped up from the table and immediately traveled the 7 miles back to Jerusalem to share the news of their encounter with the risen Christ.
      • Scholar: The weary travelers feel alive; their hearts are renewed. … Their burning hearts illumine their blind eyes and quicken their weary souls for a seven-mile nighttime run. Their sacred city is made holy again, and their pilgrimage of faith has just begun.[18]
        • How often do we let the burning of our hearts spur our actions like this?
          • Refuse to let the “maybes” and the “buts” and the “what ifs” of life squash that spark that God has lit within us
        • Like those disciples, the pilgrimage of our faith has just begun. Each and every day, God is walking with us, a fellow traveler along this path of life, waiting to reveal to us that presence that will inspire us to holy action. And so we walk on … Amen.

 

[1] Jules Verne. Journey to the Center of the Earth. (London, England: Ward, Lock, & Co), 1877.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. (© 1954, 1954, and 1955, respectively).

[3] Cheryl Strayed. Wild. (New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group), 2013.

[4] Lk 24:1-12 (direct quote: v. 5).

[5] Lk 24:15-19a.

[6] Lk 24:24 (emphasis added).

[7] Heb 11:1.

[8] Lk 24:25-26.

[9] Lk 24:27.

[10] Lk 24:28-30.

[11] Culpepper, 479.

[12] Howard Mohr. “How to Talk Minnesotan – Lesson Six: Accepting on the Third Offer,” http://www.mnvideovault.org/index.php?id=15512&select_index=0&popup=yes.

[13] Lk 24:30-31a.

[14] Culpepper, 482.

[15] Lk 24:31 (emphasis added.)

[16] Lk 32.

[17] Lk 24:33-35.

[18] Shannon Michael Pater. “Third Sunday of Easter – Luke 24:13-35 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 422.

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