Thy Kingdom Come: Enlightening Word

Text: Luke 24:13-35
Date: Easter III + 4/30/17

This Third Sunday of Easter carries on the theme of the promise of the risen Jesus, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.” There was a lot of disbelief on that first Easter Day. Oh, the disciples may not have completely forgotten Jesus’ words when He told them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). Maybe their minds were so shocked and overwhelmed at the words “be killed” that they either didn’t remember or just didn’t believe Him when He said, “on the third day be raised.” That first Easter evening when the disciples told the absent Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he insisted that he would not believe it. I particularly like the short ending of St. Mark’s Gospel that just leaves you hanging with the words, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for there were afraid” (Mk 16:8). Period. The End. Today in St. Luke’s wonderful account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we are to learn that, after the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection, we must be taught what it means in order that saving faith may arise in our hearts. That teaching comes through the enlightening Word of the Gospel and the blessed meal-fellowship with Jesus in the sacrament of the altar.

“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus.” We’re back on that first Easter day that began in the darkness before sunrise and was now coming to an end as the darkness of evening approached. These two disciples were not among the (now) Eleven who remained in Jerusalem, you will remember, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. These were two of the seventy other disciples. The fact that they decided to leave the scene that very day and return to their home in Emmaus, “about seven miles from Jerusalem,” suggests that they did not believe the rumor they heard that Jesus had been raised and is alive again. You know, we’re sort of like that. Oh not that we would ever say we do not believe but our lack of joy, enthusiasm and excitement about the resurrection suggests that we’ve heard this Easter Gospel so often that it gets clouded and lost amid the realities and increasing confusion of daily life, our daily life that doesn’t seem to be changed much by this Gospel.

I always wonder to what extent a confirmation student or a new member truly believes. I mean, we can’t read someone’s heart. All we can do is take their word it when they say, “Yes, I believe.” But maybe you have also questioned even yourself. “Do I really believe?” For that doubt there is only one solution: Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit operating in our minds and hearts through the word of the Gospel and the promise of Jesus pledged and sealed by His body and blood touching our lips and our heart.

He wasn’t playing a trick or being cruel when Jesus approached these two on the road that He kept their eyes from recognizing him. Remember Thomas? Not the seeing but the hearing and believing. They were about to hear the Gospel. He got a reluctant confession from their sad faces when they said the thing is “concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.” So far so good. Then their little confession of sin, “but we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” “Had hoped” means unbelief, hope no longer, hopes dashed. But then one more thing, “besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” So what? Were they remembering Jesus’ prediction of being raised in three days? They related the report of the women, the report not yet of faith but only of the evidence, “they did not find his body,” and when others checked it out “him they did not see.”

“Blessed are they who have not seen.” Blessed? How? Why?

Catechism class time. First, confession of sin. “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe.” Believe what? “All that the prophets have spoken” of Christ’s suffering and rising again. After not a little review beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, they were drawn by the Word. “Stay with us,” they said to Him, “for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” They still didn’t recognize Him. But they were drawn to Him.

Bo Giertz, a Swedish Lutheran Bishop, wrote a little book called “Liturgy and Awakening” wherein he described that what many of our so-called “evangelical” friends call conversion, revival, or baptism with the Holy Spirit is actually but moment of awakening. It’s when the significance of something you thought you knew before suddenly takes on a new importance, a new reality. Faith is the gift of God. Faith grows. St. Paul described it, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

Spiritual awakening happens through God’s Word and especially the sacraments. Jesus took over at the meal they provided that evening, that is, he repeated familiar actions. He took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Then were their eyes opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. The sacrament of the altar has always been the central feature of the Mass, the Divine Service, though many of us have endured, shall we call it, a time of ignorance in the past when the sacrament was reserved only for designated Sundays. But it remains as we say in our Lutheran Confessions, “we hold the sacrament every Lord’s day and more often whenever it is requested.” My optometrist is a Roman Catholic. Last Monday at my annual checkup he asked me, “Do Lutherans have communion every Sunday?” I was pleased to acknowledge it.

I can’t read anyone’s mind but must take a person’s word for it when they say, “I believe.” I also can’t know when or how the Holy Spirit is working in your hearts through the Gospel, the sermon, the liturgy or the sacrament. But we have God’s promise. As the hearts of those disciples burned within them while Jesus opened to them the Scriptures, and as He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread, so may God Himself awaken you anew, strengthen your faith and rule in your hearts by His grace to keep you alive, in lively faith.