Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
And now what happens? What do you do next –after Easter Day is over?
After the Easter celebration here at St. Nathaniel’s, many of our brothers and sisters packed up the car after Easter and headed north. For us most of us the days after Easter mark the beginning of the summer season – time to get on with the usual summer routine. For me, I was tired after Holy Week and Easter Sunday – so I decided to take a couple days off.
What did the first followers of Jesus do after Easter? If you remember the story from last week a group of the disciples are huddling together in a room in Jerusalem on the evening of the first Easter. They are confused about what has happened, and they are afraid of what might happen to them next. They decide to stay put – hiding and hoping not to be found.
But for Cleopas and his friend in Luke’s gospel reading today, they decide to leave Jerusalem on the afternoon of the first Easter. We don’t know why they decide to leave – why they break away from the rest of the disciples and head on home to Emmaus. Maybe they’re looking for a safe escape from the trouble that may lie ahead in Jerusalem.
But mostly it seems they’re just tired – and they’re discouraged – they’ve had enough. They had been hoping that Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel,” but the events of the past days have brought an end to their hope.
In the first part of the story Cleopas and his friend have no idea who Jesus is when he approaches them on the road – when he interrupts their conversation. I wonder . . . how could these two disciples not recognize Jesus? Was it because of their despair and hopelessness, tremendous grief coming from being sure that Jesus was dead ? Was it despondency that left them blind to the very presence they thought they had lost? Or could there have been some kind of unrecognizable transformation in the Risen Body of Jesus? Here, again, we don’t know why – why they’re unaware that the stranger standing with them is actually Jesus himself . . .
But they do remember vividly what just happened in Jerusalem. And when Jesus asks them what they’re talking about, they get the chance to go through it all one more – they repeat for Jesus the story his earthly life as “a prophet mighty in word and deed”; they tell him about his horrible death; and they tell him the Easter story, as well – the story about the empty tomb and the angel’s message that Jesus is alive. But that’s where it stops – because they haven’t yet seen Jesus for themselves.
And this is where Jesus steps in to meet Cleopas and his friend. He doesn’t come to them in Jerusalem . . . he doesn’t go ahead and wait for them at home in Emmaus. . . he meets them right where they are – on the road, in the middle of the journey, in the middle of all their pain and frustration.
Now notice the pattern of what happens next:
• First Jesus opens up the Scriptures for them. He helps them make sense of what they just experienced in Jerusalem – this in light of the Scripture. He explains the whole story of God’s redemption in and through the cross.
• And then Jesus sits down at their table and shares a meal with them – he takes the Bread and lifts it up in blessing . . . he breaks the Bread and then gives it to them.
And in this simple, familiar setting they recognize him. Through the interpretation of Scripture and the sharing of the meal, the eyes of Cleopas and his friend are opened – they recognize the person of Jesus and they recognize the presence of the living God . . .
Then Jesus is gone – and the two disciples spontaneously know they need to be gone too. They get up – and go back to Jerusalem to tell Jesus’ followers there what they’ve seen.
They share the Good news! News too good to keep to themselves . . .
Can you find yourself in this story? Can you find us in this story?
The opening up of scripture and sharing food and drink? – actually that’s what we do every Sunday. We come together here to listen to the sacred Scriptures; we spend some time listening to a sermon that intends to interpret the Scriptures. And then we invite all the faithful to gather at the Table for the breaking of bread. For us, too, this is where we recognize Jesus, the one who meets us here where we are and goes with us from here – on our way.
Luke has a reason for including this post-resurrection appearance story in his gospel. It’s a response to the desire of later Christians like us to see the Risen Lord – to encounter Jesus Christ personally just like first believers did.
Remember John’s story last week about doubting Thomas? – where Jesus blesses all Christians who believe without seeing – That includes us! And again this week the message is for us – the real life encounter is for us and for everyone who is gathering this Sunday to interpret the Scriptures and share the bread.
And so we pray . . .
Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples . . . and be known to us in thebreaking of bread. . . Amen.