On the Road
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 24:13–24:35
The Third Sunday of Easter
Mary 3-4, 2014
“On the Road”
Recently, I was out on the road driving around our area and passed by a pharmacy with one of those electronic signboards out front. The message read: “Easter - 75% off.” I sort of did a double-take when I saw that. I’m sure they were referring to items like Easter candy and cards – that sort of thing. But that message got me thinking: after all the pageantry, pomp and circumstance of Easter Sunday has come and gone, does it feel like Easter is “75% off”? Does the good news of Jesus’ resurrection seem reduced in value to us? If so, then today’s message is for you! Today’s Gospel lesson takes place on a road – the road to Emmaus, and it’s on that road that two discouraged and despondent disciples are met by the risen Savior. He walks with them, listens to them, interprets the Scriptures to them so they understand, and finally reveals himself to them in the breaking of the bread, and as a result their hearts burn within them! We join those disciples on that road to Emmaus. Like them, maybe we’re feeling discouraged and despondent like Easter is 75% off and reduced in value for our lives today. But it is there on the road, and often when we least expect it, that the risen Savior comes alongside us and makes himself known to us. The message for this Third Sunday of Easter, based on the Gospel lesson, is entitled “On the Road.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
“There was nothing left to do that afternoon but get out of town. And where did they go? They went to Emmaus. And where was Emmaus and why did they go there? It was no place in particular really, and the only reason that they went there was that it some seven miles distant from a situation that had become unbearable… Emmaus is where we go, where these two went, to try to forget about Jesus…” (The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner. New York: Harper & Row, 1966). The two disciples – Cleopas and the other unnamed individual – believed that the great Jesus movement was over. Now they were trudging back to life as it was before Jesus. Listen to what they tell the One who joined them on the road: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Had hoped – past tense. It was over. We can identify with those two disciples because in different ways we’ve all been on that road. It’s not unusual, maybe even normal, for Christians, in their dark nights of the soul, to question the existence of a good and loving God. But as Luther points out: “In Jesus Christ, the true God breaks into even the most utter despair. In the one who cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ God joins those whom darkness has swallowed. In so doing, Christ unhelled hell” (as quoted by William H. Willimon in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 42, No. 2, May 4, 2014, p. 26). In his dying, Christ descended to hell, not as victim, but as victor. Jesus’ descent into hell was actually a victory parade in enemy territory. And in so doing, Jesus revealed that there is no place – even hell itself – where the Lord would not be for us.
The risen Christ comes to us! This is the good news of Easter! The risen Christ does not wait for his disillusioned and disheartened disciples to come to him; no, he comes to them wherever they are and seeks them out: weeping at the cemetery like Mary, hiding behind locked doors like the eleven disciples, refusing to believe like Thomas, getting out of town on the road to Emmaus like the two in today’s Gospel. Jesus is the center of this story! He is the listening companion who enters into dialogue with a question: “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). He is the interpretive dynamo who decodes the Scriptures, reminding those two on the road: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). He is the self-revelation of God, revealed in the meal: “When he was at table with them he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31a). When the meal was prepared, the guest became the host. This is the same risen Christ whom we encounter in the broken bread of the Eucharist, who opens our eyes to see him as he comes to us in his Word and Supper, not to condemn but to save.
Why in this Easter story on the road to Emmaus is the one disciple identified and the other not? Perhaps it was Luke’s intention for each one of us to see ourselves in that unnamed disciple. We are Cleopas’ companion on the road. This entire episode happens on a journey, and so are we. We are people en route. We haven’t yet arrived. We keep putting one foot in front of the other. Christ meets us on the road, where the going is tough no matter who you are. Christ meets us in his Word as he interprets to us all the things concerning himself. Christ meets us in the breaking of the bread. The point is, Christ meets us and he meets us to strengthen, encourage, and bless us in our journey. Hanging in my office is a Michael Podesta print of Luther’s words: “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished but it is going on, this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified” (Martin Luther – “Defense of All the Articles,” Lazareth translation., as found in Grace Brame, Receptive Prayer [Chalice Press, 1985] p.119).
This weekend, our Confirmands will reaffirm their Baptismal vows and make public profession of their faith in the Rite of Confirmation. This is a significant milestone in their journey of faith. They have been on the road of learning and discipleship for the past two years. We’ve talked frequently that Confirmation does not equal graduation, and once today has passed doesn’t mean that learning and discipleship are over. Far from it! The road continues to stretch out before them – and each one of us as well. At times, these young people may may feel like giving up on their faith, and giving in to the pressure of this world that seeks to drive them away from their risen Savior. That’s where we come in. We are on this Easter road together, called by our risen Savior to strengthen, encourage and bless one another. And as we do this, we live out what Peter tells us in today’s Epistle lesson: “… love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22b-23). Amen.