Text: Luke 24:13-35
Date: Easter III + 5/4/14
Last Sunday we heard St. John conclude his Gospel account beginning with the words, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book.” Today St. Luke tells us of one. One of the “other signs” was this appearance to the two disciples on their journey to Emmaus. What is most interesting and important to this resurrection appearance is the identity of these two disciples. For neither are one of the apostles as Luke tells us the name of one of them, Cleopas, and also tells us that these two “returned to the eleven.”
So today, the Third Sunday of Easter, we’re still hearing and talking about that first Easter Day. This is what the two disciples were doing as they were walking along. Why did they leave the others behind in Jerusalem, especially after hearing that the tomb was empty and the angelic rumor that Jesus had risen from the dead? I suppose they were confused, tired and confused. It was, after all the day after the Sabbath so it was time to return home. They were confused. They were actually “throwing” the raw facts of what they had seen and heard back and forth between them as they walked sort of like they were grasping to find some meaning in it all. But they couldn’t.
So now we’re told that “Jesus himself” drew near and walked along with them. “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” And this is key to this text. According to the fallen, sinful, spiritually blind nature of all people, no one can see, recognize or know God, even if He is standing right in front of you. Notice Jesus didn’t “prove” it was Him as He would later that evening to the apostles by showing the wounds in His hands and side. He just let them remain blind and confused for the moment.
Even a little Bible study didn’t open their eyes! After drawing out what they were talking about Jesus proceeded, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, to show how all these things that happened were predicted and according to God’s will. But it still didn’t work. I remember in my first year as a junior at Minneapolis Lutheran High School. I knew little of the Bible. I was asked to read the scripture in chapel one morning. It was the Revised Standard Version of Matthew 23:23 where Jesus says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (I knew what a hypocrite is but not necessarily scribes and Pharisees). It continues, “for you tithe” (whatever that is) “you tithe mint and dill and cummin” (whatever they are), “and have neglected the weightier matters of the law.” I had no idea what the words I just read meant! And how many people who have never read much less studied or been taught the Bible have any idea what it’s all about? When it comes to religion the most popular creed is in the words, “Well, I don’t know what the Bible says, but I think….”
Luke is outlining how God the Holy Spirit creates saving faith and knowledge through catechesis or teaching by means of God’s Word and Sacraments. And the fact that the means of grace are Word AND Sacrament is understood from the fact that they didn’t yet recognize the mysterious traveler to be Jesus until He shared a meal, table fellowship with them. That’s a main theme especially in Luke’s Gospel. “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.”
Is it a fair question, then, to ask whether those fellow Christians in denominations that misunderstand or even reject the sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and Holy Communion have, after all, an inadequate or incomplete weak faith in Jesus? Is our faith “stronger” than theirs? While many want to argue about the reality of the presence of the Lord’s body and blood “in, with and under” the elements of bread and wine, are they not missing the greater significance of the very real and deep fellowship with Christ He is there providing? And are we possibly missing that also?
The Word of God alone can make one’s heart “burn” as the Holy Spirit creates this living, active thing called faith. These days we might refer to such times as “mountain top experiences.” It is more accurately called “spiritual awakening.” Faith feeds on the inspired, inerrant scriptural Word of God. As it does, as St. Peter wrote, we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). For saving faith is faith in Jesus. Sure Jesus was “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” But He is more than merely a prophet. Sure everyone knows that the “chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.” Certainly it seemed even to His disciples that that was the end of it all. Listen to the discouragement as these two said, “we had hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.” And maybe you’ve had times thinking that the Christian faith isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.
They didn’t see that God’s plan of redemption was through a suffering servant as the prophet Isaiah wrote of Him. In His earthly mission Christ the redeemer, the savior, “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Yet, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5). The Law and the Gospel from the Old Testament! All this makes sense only as you are given new eyes and ears to see and hear, to understand and believe the Word of God through Moses and all the Prophets that “it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory.” Then Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave them bread at table.
Well that did it. They returned to Jerusalem and told the eleven what had happened on the road, and how Jesus “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” So, this Easter, has all this “done it” for you? Only faith in a living Lord gives new life, new joy, new love, and new conviction. So hang in there. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest God’s Holy Word. Remember your baptism. Receive the Lord’s body and blood. For through all these we live and learn to live in the forgiveness of our sins with the certain hope of salvation. For I know—I know that my Redeemer lives; What comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, He lives, who once was dead; He lives, my ever-living head.