SermonSt. Paul Lutheran Church, Havelock, NC
The Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus. One of those Bible stories that captures our imagination. It actually happened ON Easter Sunday – the same day of the resurrection. Precious few of those accounts are recorded for us. Like in the other accounts, Jesus appears, alive, but does some mysterious things. They don't recognize him at first. He's going incognito. And for that matter, we don't know much about who these 2 Emmaus disciples were, either (one is named Clopas, and a pastor friend of mine believes the other was actually St. Peter). I am particularly intrigued by Jesus interpreting the Old Testament to these men, “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”. Oh to be a fly on that wall, well, buzzing somewhere down the road with them, at least.
But as a Lutheran, I love this text most because already on day ONE of the resurrection, we have sacramental theology. Jesus took bread, blessed it, and gave it to them... and their eyes were opened. Later it tells us, “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”. The Lord again presides at the Lord's Supper, their eyes are open, and they see him. This is so incredibly profound.
Doesn't it seem that some interesting things happen to God's people “on the road”? You have this, the Road to Emmaus. You have Saul's conversion to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Phillip met and baptized an Ethiopian Eunuch along a road. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on the road. The woman with the flow of blood was healed on the road, while Jesus was going to raise Jairus' daughter. And the crowd spread their cloaks on the road on Palm Sunday.
Perhaps all this action on the road isn't really about the road, itself, but that God acts in ways and at times we least expect, even “along the way”.
Who knows what any of Jesus disciples thought in the bewildering blur of events on that first Easter. They were certainly talking, rehearsing, “all that had happened”. But they didn't understand, especially from the Scriptures, that this had to happen. This was the plan all along. They still couldn't get their brains wrapped around this: that the Messiah had to suffer and die, and rise on the third day.
And my friends, my baptized and and believing Christian friends, I suggest you and I are no different. What Jesus said to them, he could surely say to us, even to us pastors:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
So often we like to think we have it all together and we can look at those foolish disciples with the benefit of hindsight and, let's face it, far greater wisdom and faith. They were bumbling idiots, but after all, we are LCMS Lutherans! And Pastor Daub, you even went to seminary! A lot of good that does you. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The Old Adam in us, the sinful nature in all of us is foolish and unbelieving. Our new nature in Christ, of course, sees and believes. But we are, in this life, both Old and New. We are both sinner and saint. Righteous and scoundrel. And we struggle, even to believe what the Word of God says about Jesus the Christ.
Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. Oh it sounds so simple. We all say we believe it. But we certainly act as if we don't. And how little trouble it takes to make us doubt the love of God in Jesus Christ. Some suffering in life comes, and we're convinced he's forgotten us. Some plan of ours falls to shambles, and we think he's punishing us. Or maybe you harbor some guilt for some sin that you know he died to forgive, but even though Christ's blood was shed for it – YOU can't let it go.
No, we are foolish and slow to believe. We could go even further, and admit we have false beliefs at times, and we are ignorant of much. Which of us knows the scriptures as we should? Even lifelong study can't bring us to the depth of appreciation for God's word we ought to show. “But, pastor, I learned all that in Confirmation class 50 years ago.”
To all of this, all I can say is, repent. Repent of your slowness to believe. Repent of your foolishness and carelessness with God's holy word. Repent of thinking you know better than what God actually says. Repent of hanging on to your guilt when Christ has come to set you free.
And Christ does. For even though he chides his disciples for their foolishness, he doesn't desert them on the road, nor will he desert us. Even though they are slow to believe, he is patient and kind, and lovingly teaches them, opening the Scriptures to them. Just as he gives us pastors and teachers even today to continue opening his word, and opening our eyes to it. Thanks be to God for the gifts of his word, and the testimony of that word to his Son, Jesus Christ!
For Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, from Moses – through all the prophets. He is the Lamb of the passover. He is the pillar of cloud and fire that leads and protects us through the wilderness. He is the rock from which they drank, and we drink. He is the captain of the heavenly host, who for us fights, the valiant one. He is David's son and David's Lord. He is the wiser king than Solomon, the more prophetic prophet than Elijah, and the more priestly priest than Aaron or Melchizidek. He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. He is the temple of God – the dwelling of God with man. He is the Son of Man, whose own new life will bring life to all the valleys of dry bones there ever were or will be. He is the one of whom the Psalmist writes, “My God, why have you forsaken me... they have pierced my hands and feet.... dogs surround me.... they divide my garments among them.... my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth”. But he is the Holy One who would not be abandoned to the grave. Nor will he abandon you.
And yes, he continues to teach us in his word, even today, who he is and what he has done for us, and what he still promises to do. But even more. He feeds us. He is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Why did Jesus only flip the switch when they had broken bread? Why was he only known to them at the table? Surely, as a sign also to us – to seek him where he promises to be. For you can go to Jerusalem today and see the places where he walked, the roads are mostly buried or lost, and I don't think Emmaus is around any more either. Or you could try to find Jesus in your heart, but good luck sifting through all the other garbage there to find him. Or you could even try to find Jesus in your neighbor, but remember the sheep were surprised, themselves to hear he was present in the least of these. No, instead, Jesus promises to be found where he has made himself available and accessible to us. Where he says he will be. In the bread and wine. This is my body. This is my blood. For the forgiveness of your sins.
You see, Jesus does nothing by accident. And the Holy Spirit doesn't inspire the Gospels to record these events for his own amusement. These things are written that you may believe, and believing have life in Jesus Christ. We are meant to see Jesus with these Emmaus disciples. We, too, are meant to meet him in the breaking of bread. We see him made known to us there, through the eyes of faith, by the power of the Spirit.
And faith gets it right. For faith is not of ourselves. Of ourselves, we are foolish and slow. Of ourselves, we are wandering the roads of life aimlessly. Of ourselves, we are alone, confused, guilty and struggling. But Jesus comes along, and in his mysterious ways, teaches and feeds us. And it is enough. He assures us of his grace and mercy. He sets our hearts on fire with a yearning for his gifts: a love of his word, and a deep appreciation for the sacraments. It's not a pious, feel-good burning of hearts, a but a deep desire born of repentance and faith – a work of the Spirit.
His disciples would carry the word and sacraments of Christ down many more roads. They would share the Gospel in Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. I don't think any of the apostles made it to Singapore, though tradition holds Thomas preached the gospel in India. And so the church, as she goes, brings Christ with her. Or maybe it's Christ, as he goes, brings his body along. Brings his word, brings his meal.
I have no special expertise in starting churches, my friends, but that's not what is needed for Jesus to be made known. He opens eyes and hearts through the preaching of his word, in the water of baptism, and the breaking of bread. The same as your faithful pastor does here in Havelock, your missionary to Singapore will do, by God's grace and with your prayers and support.
May the joy of Easter enliven our hearts, here and now, and down whatever road we go. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, amen.