NT Wright says the journey on the Emmaus road is the finest scene Luke ever sketched… On the dramatic level, he says, it has everything… "Sorrow, suspense , puzzlement, gradual dawning of light, unexpected actions, astonished recognition, a flurry of excitement and activity". I think when you throw in elements of mystery and irony and you have a memorable and amazing story. He also says in "this encounter with the risen Jesus you have a model for what being a Christian, from that day to this, is all about…"
“the slow sad dismay at the failure of human hope; the turning to someone who might or might not help; the discovery that in scripture, all unexpected, there lay keys, which might unlock the central mysteries and enable us to find the truth; the sudden recognition of Jesus himself, present with us, warming our hearts with his truth, showing us himself as bread is broken.”
That may seem a bit of an academic way of starting off, but my hope this morning is that we like the two on the road to Emmaus will come to recognise the risen Christ, through scripture and his very real presence with us. We might walk our own Emmaus road.
Luke starts this narrative with a temporal link to what has gone before… on the same day… it is later in the day after the women had been to the tomb and discovered it empty. It is the same day the angels had told them he is not here. It is the same day that Peter had gone and seen that it was true. It is on the same day and we have an empty tomb and people are wrestling with what that means.
Luke starts by putting in a geographical setting, saying that this is on the road from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus. Two of them, that is followers of Jesus, are leaving Jerusalem, are walking and as they walk are discussing what has gone on. We are introduced to one of the two as Cleopas, the other one we are not introduced to by name. Traditionally it was thought to be another of the male disciples, but some biblical scholars wonder if it wasn’t Cleopas’ wife. It could explain why they are not named, it also explains why this is only mentioned in Luke’s gospel, of all the gospel writers Luke is the one who because of his Greek background uses women as sources for his writing, he does not have the Jewish bias against women as witnesses.
We are told someone else joins them and it is Jesus and they do not recognise him.
How can this be? Well we are told that their faces were down cast. Here are two people, lost in grief and confusion, unwilling to look up at another person, Unwilling to make eye contact, perhaps suffering from deep depression. Also as they answer Jesus question “what are you discussing together?’ We see that they have no expectation of meeting Jesus raised from the dead. Their understanding of Jesus is that he was a prophet, mighty in word and deed. They talk of their hope that Jesus was the messiah being destroyed when Jesus was nailed to the cross. They talk of the fact that it was the third day after this had happened. Yes…there is some expectation because Jesus had talked about being raised to life again on the third day, but they seem confused by what the women who had gone to the tomb were saying …that the body was not there. There is reluctance for them to believe what the women had seen and been told in an angelic vision.
AS modern people we find it hard to comprehend how a dead person could be raised to life again. We might be surprised to find that those first disciples were in the same boat as we are. The fact that these two were leaving Jerusalem maybe a sign that they were leaving the group, walking away, that the group of followers round Jesus were at odds as to what to make of what had happened. We may be like them we may believe that Jesus was a great teacher, a prophet, we may believe that the tomb is empty, I mean even Matthew’s gospel tells us that the authorities couldn’t deny the tomb was empty, they had to spin a yarn to explain it… they said his disciples stole the body. For us and the disciples to recognise the risen Jesus they had to understand and know who Jesus is. The Emmaus road acts as that link in Luke’s gospel.
I love the irony in the interchange between Cleopas and Jesus. Cleopas says ‘you must be the only one in Jerusalem who does not know what has been going on.’ Yet as the conversation goes on, it seems that Jesus is the only one who really knows what had been going on. Not only had he experienced it, it had happened to him. He is the only one who understands what his life and death means in the plans and purposes of God. While Cleopas is amazed that Jesus didn’t know what was going on...Jesus is equally amazed that Cleopas and his complain don’t understand and believe.
Jesus begins to open up the scriptures to the two of them. He shows them how the messiah had to come and suffer and die. That his death was not the end of the hope that Jesus would save his people, but rather the means by which he would save them. I’d love to have a full transcript of Jesus teaching here, you wonder what scriptures and texts he would have used. We know a lot of them because as the gospel writers and Luke himself had written in their accounts how what Jesus said and did was a fulfilment of scripture. He starts will Moses, maybe because that is where Cleopas had started, Moses was called a prophet great in deed and word. That was Cleopas’ understanding of Jesus. And the expectation of the messiah was they would be a prophet like Moses. But it also means that Jesus starts by looking back at the Torah the first five books of the Old Testament and shows how right from the beginning God’s purposes and plans were to redeem his people through Christ’s suffering and death. We could imagine him moving on to the passages that speak of the son of David, Israel’s true king. At our Good Friday service we started by reading out together the servant song in Isaiah 53, about the righteous man suffering for the sins of many, from an early time Christians have seen that fulfilled in Christ.
It is only through the witness of scripture can we realise who Jesus is. It’s interesting when I reflected on Jesus opening the scriptures to the two on the road, I couldn’t help but think of the word become flesh that John uses to explain Jesus in his prologue. I couldn’t help but see how starting with Moses and creation wouldn’t lead to the possibility of new creation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Joel Green puts it like this ‘What has happened with Jesus can only be understood in light of the scriptures,” he goes on to say, “the scriptures themselves can be understood only in light of what has happened to Jesus.” Here on the road to Emmaus Jesus ties the two together.
It is only when we understand who Jesus Christ is, that we can make sense of the resurrection: That we see Christ through the scriptural lens. It moves the resurrection from the realm of the impossible to the reality of the person. It’s only when we understand Jesus is the son of God, totally human and totally divine, It is only when we understand in Christ God was not simply wanting to save Israel from roman occupation, but all of humanity from slavery to sin and death, do we understand the resurrection. It is only when we see the cross as God’s plan for our redemption are we ready to see the risen Jesus.
They reach their destination, they still don’t recognise Jesus, I don’t know about you but maybe they are now have so much to think on and wonder at that they are focusing on that not on the one who is with them, but they invite Jesus to come and stay with them. They sit down for a meal, and Jesus breaks bread with them. And it tells us their eyes were open and they recognised him. Maybe it was something in the familiar way Jesus broke the bread that made them recognise him. There words their eyes were open, speaks of the fact that the spirit had something to do with it. They now had a framework from scripture to comprehend and recognise the risen Jesus. There is also the fact that they were now sharing that most intimate of Middle Eastern rituals, eating together, sharing a meal. There is a sense of hospitality, and it is in that willingness to welcome Jesus and to sit down with him and have him sit down with them that they and we are able to recognise the risen Jesus.
At that stage the two on the Emmaus road were willing to be open to the reality of Jesus being present with them. Scripture had given them the frame work to understand that. Jesus had literally opened their eyes through the scriptures and now they can see who he is. But also because the risen Jesus Christ can present himself with his people: He was there with them in a way they knew his presence, he is here with us. When we celebrate communion together, it is not just a meal of remembrance, a meal to remind us of Christ’s death on the cross, it is like it was for the two on the road to Emmaus, a way we can recognise Christ’s presence with us on our journey through life. It is the way we can recognise the risen Jesus with us: That we can recognise how as we’ve been led by the spirit of Christ he has opened up the scriptures to us and shown himself to us through them. It causes us to want to go back excited to join other believers like the two at Emmaus did and tell what we know to be true Christ is alive. He is with us.
Modern people find Jesus disappearance hard to comprehend. Maybe the two at the table did as well… While Luke grounds his narrative very much in time and space, we see that the risen Jesus somehow is different and transcends those things that hold us prisoner. The resurrection is not just a reanimation of a dead body, Jesus isn’t some super zombie. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about the resurrection body no longer being subject to death and decay, about it being an incorruptible immortal body. This is the body of the risen Jesus, he is not a ghost; he breaks bread and walks with them. But is no longer limited as we are. AS we move on in Luke we see he suddenly appears again with the disciples, yet as in John’s gospel he Is able to be touched and felt. The gospel finishes with and Luke starts his story of what Jesus Christ does through the church with the narrative of Jesus ascent into heaven. So while he is bodily not with us, the risen Jesus is still able to presence himself with his people, to share table fellowship with us: No longer constrained by time or place, but present by his spirit with us.
We can know his presence; we can know his forgiveness and new life through his death and resurrection.
This morning I want to finish by asking a question… Where are you on the Emmaus Road? My prayer is where ever you are you may meet and recognise the risen Jesus.
Maybe you are about to walk away... May you meet the risen Jesus.
May be you don't know about what has been going in in Jerusalem over that Easter weekend... May you know the risen Jesus drawing you to know himself.
Maybe you are wrestling to comprehend what all means... may you know the presence of the risen Jesus opening the scriptures to you open your eyes to the truth of who he is and what he has dome for us.
Maybe you have got to the point where you are wanting to welcome in the risen Jesus... I know he will stay with you if he is asked and you will know his presence in intimate fellowship.
Maybe you have recognised and come to know the risen Jesus and I invite you again this Easter to join with his followers in knowing recognising his presence with us and witnessing in our words and deeds that 'He is risen.'