Text: Luke 24:13-35
Date: Easter III + 5/8/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Even though this is now the third Sunday of Easter, the third week of the seven, the fifteenth day of the fifty, today we are still hearing what happened on that first Easter Day. Interesting, isn’t it, that we have not one but four accounts of Easter. We began with Matthew. Matthew told us of an earthquake and an angel and the women and Jesus appearing to them on their way back to the disciples with the news of resurrection. I suppose that should have or could have been enough for us. But then last Sunday we heard St. John’s account of “the evening of that day” when Jesus appeared to His disciples behind locked doors—“peace be with you;” the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, first without Thomas, then, eight days later, with Thomas, “Peace be with you,” “My Lord and my God!” Today we return and who greets us at the door but the good Dr. Luke with his well researched, “orderly account” (Lk 1:3). And he tells us of yet another happening we didn’t hear of from Matthew, Mark or John. We thank God for providing the world with not just one but four accounts, four witnesses (and actually five if you count St. Paul) of the most important thing that has ever happened in the history of the world, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Matthew was there. So was John. They were eyewitnesses. But Luke was not. He himself relied upon “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of” the word-delivered-to-us (Lk 1:2). So already we are asked today to rely on the witness of the witnesses once removed! And so through the centuries the historic fact and truth of the resurrection has been handed on by the Church on the basis of the first eyewitnesses. I would like to think that everyone has experienced in some, one way or another what I myself have experienced and that is the gift of faith that is simply convinced and overwhelmed by the evidence that what we are told in the Gospels and, indeed, in the entire Bible, is true.
Maybe it is this fact, that St. Luke himself was already a second-generation believer, that he includes this incident of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. For this account, more than the others, seems to point us in the direction of the Sacramental presence of the risen Christ, alive and with us today even though we don’t see Him with our eyes.
That was the point (or at least one important point) of His repeated appearing and disappearing to and from His disciples for forty days after His resurrection, to convince them that He is truly there with them, within arms reach, whether they could see Him or not. As we heard Him say to Thomas last Sunday, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). I remember preaching on this text once and pointing to the center of the chancel below and to the left of the raised pulpit and asking, “Could not Jesus, if He wanted to, simply appear right here before our eyes?” And almost all the people looked expectantly to where I was pointing! That look said, “yes.” But, of course, we with all the first disciples have learned that the risen and ascended Jesus, though He could (!), has not promised to appear to our eyes. What He has promised, however, are the following:
To His preachers, pastors and apostolic ministers He says, “The one who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16); and, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (Jn 20:23).
To His believers He says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (Jn 10:16). But in a very special way He says to us of the sacrament, “Take, eat; this is my body; Take, drink; this is my blood.”
So it was for two of the disciples that first Easter Day. One was named Cleopas, each of the larger group of believers surrounding the then eleven apostles. Like us they had heard the witness of the resurrection of Jesus. But did they really believe it? Do you really believe it? After all, Luke’s story has it that they decided “church was over” and it was time to go home, a seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus. Not that they weren’t impressed with the news! For, on the way, “they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened,” when, suddenly, a guy came up from behind and began walking with them.
When the guy asked them what they were talking about, they thought it rather odd that there would be anyone from around there who had not heard about the things that happened there. The guy didn’t say He hadn’t heard but just asked them to recite, “What things?”
It was a sad account. They told of how they had hoped Jesus was the redeemer; but He was killed. Even though they heard the rumor that He had come back to life again, the bottom line, the last word for them was that, when some checked out His tomb, “Him they did not see.”
Is it not like that with us? Is the account of your faith a sad story? We’ve heard the story, the whole story, maybe twenty, thirty, forty times over or more. We’ve heard the witnesses: “We have seen the Lord.” We even know that when someone says, “The Lord is risen,” we are to respond, “He is risen indeed,” maybe even with a little volume so that it at least sounds joyful. But we have not seen Him. We are not surprised but identify rather easily with all the disciples gathered “behind locked doors for fear,” and Thomas who spent the whole first week saying, “Unless I see…I will never believe” (Jn 20:25), or these two sad sacks shuffling their feet on the road to Emmaus.
“Then He said to them….” The Word of the Lord. First the Law, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” Then the question, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer…and enter into his glory?” Answer: why, yes! Then the teaching. And beginning not just with a few passages but “with Moses and all the Prophets,” this stranger interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. But they did not yet know it was “himself.” He just said:
God said to Eve, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
God said to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).
God said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you…. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Dt 18:18).
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…on the throne of David…from this time forth and forevermore” (Is 9:6-7).
“But you, O Bethlehem…from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:1-2).
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Is 61:1-2).
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…. Behold, your king is coming to you…humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9).
“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Is 53:5).
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …they have pierced my hands and feet…they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps 22:1, 16-18).
“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:19).
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).
Got heartburn yet? “Stay with us,” they said. So he went in to stay with them. But at dinner time this guy, this stranger, this guest suddenly acted like the host. And “he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” “Took, blessed, broke, gave.” They remembered that Jesus said, “Do this.” “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us….?’” They returned to Jerusalem and told everyone, “The Lord has risen indeed,” “and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
So the holy Church throughout the world hears and knows Christ in His Word and in the breaking of the bread, the Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. Isn’t it interesting that this sacrament should have so many names? names that describe various aspects of the one important meal by which Jesus makes Himself known to us, comforts us, forgives us, and gives us life and salvation. It is a holy fellowship. The Lord Himself is both host and victim. It is a thanksgiving. And we are very careful to “do this,” what Jesus did—taking bread and wine, blessing them with His words of institution, breaking and giving His body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink. And he is known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Well, thank you Dr. Luke for helping us to understand that faith is based on the facts of the Gospel preached and the dynamic meeting with the risen Lord in the new testament of His body and blood sacramentally present for us, for all our days as we wait for His final return. God strengthen and preserve us in body and soul in the true faith to life everlasting.