Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
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On The Way to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

One of the details of this story that jumps out to me is that these two disciples of Jesus left the city of Jerusalem, on the day of the resurrection, AFTER they heard about the empty tomb. It makes us wonder what they thought of the empty tomb. I guess, it means that they did not believe the message of the resurrection that came with the story of an empty grave.

They were going to Emmaus. We don’t actually know exactly where Emmaus was. It’s complicated by the fact that there may have been more than one town by that name in the land of 1st century land of Palestine. The best evidence is that Emmaus was somewhere west of Jerusalem, in the foothills of the Judean Highlands.

There were two disciples, which is significant in that Judaism recognized the validity of testimony only when it was corroborated by a second witness. One of them was Cleopas; the other is unnamed. We don’t know who Cleopas was, except that there is a tradition that he was Jesus’ uncle, the brother of Joseph. But apparently the readers of Luke’s Gospel knew who he was, or he probably wouldn’t be named.

They are talking about what has happened, and Jesus comes and joins them, but they don’t recognize him. Perhaps they don’t recognize him because they simply don’t expect to see him alive. Some have wondered if perhaps it shows that there is something different about the resurrection body. But we also know that Jesus’ disciples did recognize him after the resurrection on some occasions. So perhaps it was just their own bias that prevented them from recognizing him.

Jesus asks what they’re talking about, and they are surprised by his question. On this first day after the Sabbath and the Passover, the roads leading out of Jerusalem would be crowded with pilgrims, on their way home. An event like Jesus’ crucifixion would most certainly be among the most discussed topics. After all, he was a popular teacher, a miracle worker, and some thought he was the Messiah! His execution would certainly be talked about.

So they explain to Jesus what they thought of him. They thought he was a prophet and a great teacher. They thought he was the Messiah. But then he was killed. And apparently, that meant that he could not have been the Messiah. Like so many others, they were still hung up on the idea of a conquering Messiah, a warrior who

would establish a new Kingdom of Israel on earth. If he died, he couldn’t be the Messiah.

Now the empty tomb was certainly an odd curiosity. They didn’t know what it meant, exactly. But it was not enough to overcome the obvious fact that Jesus was dead, and therefore Jesus could not be the Messiah.

So Jesus sets out to correct their assumptions. He explains to them what ALL the Scriptures had to say about Messiah. When we read the Bible selectively, we tend to come away with a reading of Scripture that confirms what we want to believe. As somebody said to me recently, “If you want to, you can make the Bible say anything.” And that’s true.

There were Scriptures, like Isaiah 53, that spoke of a suffering and dying and rising again Messiah. But in the first century, most Hebrews either ignored the Suffering Servant passages, or explained them away by saying that they referred to someone other than the Messiah.

By this time they are coming to Emmaus. Jesus acts as if he is going to continue his journey, which was the polite thing to do. It was rude to come right out and ask for hospitality. But at the same time, people were to insist on offering it. And the host was always to provide food for a guest, and at the least, that would be bread.

Then Jesus takes the bread, assumes the role of host. He blesses the bread, and breaks the bread, and gives it to them. And only then do they recognize him! Many have wondered if perhaps for the first time they notice that there are scars from nails in his wrists.

And suddenly he’s gone! “Did not our hearts feel strangely warm when he spoke to us?” I guess that means that these two must have been good Methodists! But it’s very often the nature of sacred moments that they are fleeting and temporary. We can often only really appreciate them in hindsight. By the time we know God is at work among us, the moment is often past.

Many people want to see communion in this story. It might be a bit of a stretch to say that the Lord’s Supper is what is going on here. But it certainly does point to it. We are always invited to see Jesus’ death and resurrection in the breaking of bread.

I read an observation about this story that I want to share with you. The author that I read noted that while the location of Emmaus will forever be unknown to us, we all have our own “Emmaus” that we go to in the face of the crushing moments of life: Death, divorce, loss, disappointment. When we simply can’t bear to face the heartache or struggle of our lives, we all have places that we go to. For some it might be a bar, a place to drink and forget. Or it might be a shopping mall for some “retail therapy.” For others it might a favorite television show or movie. For still others, it might be our church or the home of a good friend.

Wherever “Emmaus” is for us, Jesus can still meet us there. Jesus can meet us anywhere. The story of Emmaus begs us to ponder: Can we still believe in hope and good news in the face of crushing disappointment? These two disciples left Jerusalem because they just couldn’t believe that there was still any hope. And even in Emmaus, Jesus met them. When we are faced with crushing circumstances that make us want to give up on life and escape from it all, do we still believe that there can be good news?

A parting thought: If we have truly been touched by the good news of the resurrection, then we are eager to share it. Not we should be eager, but we are eager, if we have truly experienced the resurrection.

For these two disciples, it meant a 7 mile journey, uphill, by night back to Jerusalem to share the good news. But they were excited to go!

Has the resurrection touched you? How far would you go to share that good news?

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