“While We Were Walking”
Text: Luke 24: 13-25
By: David D. McDonald
April 26, 2020
NRSV Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4Then I called on the name of the LORD:
"O LORD, I pray, save my life!"
12What shall I return to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
13I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
14I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
15Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
16O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.
17I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.
18I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
19in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!
(Luke 24:13-35) NRSV
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel we encounter the one who opened the eyes of the blind and closes the eyes of the disciples. They do not recognize the Lord until they are seated at the table breaking bread.
Only Luke tells us about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Note some of the special features of this story. We know that the location of this story is some 7 miles from Jerusalem. No less then four different sites have been suggested as possibilities, but there has been no certain evidence to point definitively to any one of them. Next, consider that two disciples are mentioned, one of them is Cleopas. His name appears only here in the New Testament. The name is similar to Clopas (only the letter e distinguishes the two in our English translations) mentioned in John 19: 25 as husband of Mary, the aunt of Jesus. She was standing near the cross at the time of our Lord’s crucifixion. Yet, Cleopas is a Greek name and Clopas is a Jewish name so a link seems unlikely. Jesus disappears immediately after the disciples recognize him, so there is no other collaboration of the event. Thus, we have the story of little known disciples, in a little known community that took place in a brief moment in time. Such a story may seem an unlikely candidate to be included in a document of as much importance as a Gospel. Yet, here it is.
We might notice that the disciples, as the story begins, do not appear to have any particular destination in mind. They are walking and talking. In the light of all the stress they were under, that makes perfect sense. “On this road of broken dreams, the incognito Jesus joins their journey.” In light of the intensity of the Roman surveillance as well as that of the Sanhedrin, it made sense to leave town to talk – is 7 miles too close? While the Romans had no surveillance drones, they paid informants handsomely. Rumors were everywhere. The tomb was reported empty. Angels were said to proclaim he was alive. Who could make sense of such things? Maybe it is not important to make sense of such things, but rather, to live the experience. It is a mysterious encounter with the visitor who is present, seen, but unrecognizable until dinner time. Rather like Elijah that O.T. figure who just appears and then disappears in a chariot of fire.
T.S. Elliot paints such a picture in his work, “The Waste Land”
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
But who is that on the other side of you?”
The Emmaus Road experience is about living after the unthinkable. The disciples were focused upon the death and crucifixion of Jesus. They were not focused on the living. This passage makes the reader wonder long before the master’s full epiphany, “Who is this third companion? Who is it on the other side of them? They were concerned about the death of the hopes of the people. They were concerned about the death of their own hopes. This stranger, who later is revealed as the Christ, walked with Cleopas and the other disciple and interpreted the scriptures not in light of the death of Jesus, but in the light of His life. He speaks of the events with a future and not as a dismal failure of the past as they did, listen to their words again “21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.”
The Resurrected Christ would show them the art of living into the future. The way he lived His life while He was with them would continue to guide them now that he was resurrected. The greatest shift in the quotation and use of scriptures by Jesus after his resurrection is this shift in emphasis from death to life. The glory of God is present and revealed. The disciples needed to hear that! The great cultural, social, and moral upheaval that engulfed the early church and its believers and for whom Luke wrote his gospel is a catalogue of horrors:
The people were plagued by disease and medical care was scarce.
The violence of unbridled Roman troops could be seen throughout the land.
The heavy hand of a Jewish king bent on retaining his power lay heavy on the people.
Ethnic feuds between Samaritans, Judeans, Egyptians, and others made every street corner dangerous.
Domestic violence between husbands and wives was rampant.
Construction accidents in the building of Roman infrastructures were common.
The people needed Good News in these long dark days that turned even the greatest optimist into a pessimist.
Luke writes in some sense to audiences of every age who face death and tragedy daily and dare to proclaim that God wills us to live with joy and hope in spite of evil’s perpetual presence. To the point, Jesus lives and because he lives we shall live, too! Surely, this is a much needed message for the present time.
Rosamunde Pilcher, in her book Winter Solstice, writes about a church organist named Oscar who has lost his little daughter in an automobile accident and also about Lucy; one of his students, whose home has fallen apart. Her family life is in shambles. The two find themselves talking one day, sitting together on a bench, about what Oscar’s daughter, who was killed in the car accident, liked to do:
“What did your daughter like to do?” queries an inquisitive Lucy.
"Everything. She had a little pony, and an old bicycle,
and a guinea pig in a hutch, and a bedroom full of books. On
wet days, she used to go into the kitchen and make biscuits.
They were always either burned or raw, and I used to have to
eat them and swear they were delicious. And we listened to
music together, and played duets on the piano...."
"Was she good at the piano?" asked Lucy.
"Was she good at lessons?"
"What was she really good at?"
"That's important, isn't it?"
Their eyes met, and they gazed at each other, both silenced by the enormity of what Oscar had just said.”
Often the great lessons of life are learned on the way to do something else. In running away from the bitterness of life we may just encounter Christ. That’s what happened to the two disciples in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. Suddenly, the words of Jesus take on a fuller meaning! Let tomorrow take care of itself, let the dead bury the dead, sit at table with me – that’s the way Jesus makes himself known. We are living and we are dwelling in such a grand moment!
Come and rest awhile. Breathe deeply and absorb the aura of the Lord’s presence for all of us collectively and each of us individually! When we worship, do we not long to find Jesus? Yet, isn’t it Jesus who finds us, who will be with you on the road? While breaking bread two disciples on the road to Emmaus, headed no where in particular, were found by Jesus. Let us pray for our eyes and ears to be open, our tongue freed that the Lord may find and speak to us that we may proclaim “Good News” to a world besieged by a pandemic, fractured by violence, with so many of us isolated, alone and afraid of what the future holds. Jesus opened the eyes of His disciples to a world that was created by God, abused by humanity and redeemed by grace and that not of their own doing and shaped by the Lord of all time. Into the hands of our loving, compassionate, Lord let us entrust ourselves and in His name let us pray:
Lord Jesus, just as you walked beside your friends on the Emmaus road and revealed yourself to them, help us to recognize your presence day by day. We remember, how in our past, you have walked with us even when we only knew it in retrospect seeing signs of your presence and hearing you call our name just when we needed you most though we may have failed to recognize you at the time. As we gather in worship in our homes; open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you speaking, our minds to receive the truth in Scripture, and our hearts to love you more deeply.
God of all hope and all healing, hear our prayers for those who have been wrestling with afflictions this week, recuperating from illness or injury, and those in treatment or anticipating treatment. Be a source of strength and hope during periods of illness and distress. Relieve our anxiety for those who are ill, as we trust them into your care. Abide with them in all things and at all times.
We pray for the families of those who have lost loved ones in this pandemic. Our nation is in a health crisis as are other countries around the world. We pray for all those who grieve. Help us to console one another by the ministry of the Spirit’s presence that will help us to find the words to speak and acts of kindness to undertake.
O gracious God, we commend into your care the nations of the world who are awash in violence. Bitterness, anger, desperation, and fear make these volatile times. We pray that wisdom will prevail and peace will take root and flourish. These things we pray in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!