Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It had been an overwhelming week, from Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city, to the rather unusual celebration of the Passover, to Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, and finally culminating in His crucifixion and burial. All of this was too much for anyone to try and sort out.
It had become even more complicated just that morning, with the women’s strange news of the empty tomb and the angelic message that Jesus was alive. Now, two of Jesus’ followers are heading to the village of Emmaus about 7 miles from Jerusalem, later on the day of the Lord’s resurrection.
So they walked and talked, filled with a mixture of sadness, grief, and confusion, trying to make some kind of sense out of the seemingly mismatched pieces of the last several days.
It is at this point that the most important event in the story happened. St. Luke writes, “Jesus Himself came near and went with them” (Luke 24:15). Jesus goes to those He loves, and Jesus goes with those He loves.
It’s easy to get caught up in the remainder of that verse. It says their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus. We know these disciples were upset. Jesus Himself could see it in their faces and hear it in their voices, too. Yet, He kept them from recognizing Him? It seems cruel and even hard-hearted.
Of course there is also the reasoning that these disciples needed to be kept in this state so they could focus on gaining a better understanding of Jesus as He explained the Scriptures to them. Had He simply revealed His identity to them on the road, they would have been so overcome with excitement that paying attention to anything Jesus said would have been a struggle.
‘But still…’ we think. Jesus could see they were hurting. Why couldn’t He have done something to relieve their pain sooner?
We ask these kinds of questions because we can see ourselves in this story. Most of us have probably found ourselves—or perhaps still sometimes find ourselves—in situations where we have more questions than answers. In really rough times, sometimes we aren’t even sure what questions we should be asking.
At such times, very little seems to make sense. What little we do understand only seems to cause more hurt and confusion. We empathize with these travelers, then, because we too have journeyed long and talked for hours with others on our personal roads to Emmaus. All the while, we strive to wrestle some sense of order out of the seeming chaos of our lives. We feel bad for the individuals in today’s gospel, because we feel bad for ourselves. We wonder why Jesus didn’t relieve their pain sooner, because we wonder why He doesn’t relieve ours.
And as understandable as all these questions are, they overlook and fail to appreciate the central and unmistakable fact Jesus was there. Missing that key fact, we run the risk of thinking that because Jesus doesn’t act as we think He should, that then somehow is love and care for us is uncertain. What such thinking really means is that Jesus is not living up to our misguided and fallen expectations.
Thanks be to God that He does things His way, and not ours! He has done things as the Father wills, not as we will. He does it as the Son of God who so loved the world that He left the glory of heaven. He became man, to enact the plan of salvation complete with His death, burial, descent into hell, and now His resurrection. He has done this, as He does everything, all for love.
Jesus was with these disciples. He walked beside them. He talked with them. While He may not have immediately given them exactly what they might have wanted (or what we would have wanted), He provided them with all they needed. In this case, He gave them a fuller understanding of the Scriptures so they could begin to comprehend the fullness of the mystery of what had happened. He prepared them for what was to come.
And when He knew the time was right, and only then, He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened to recognize their Lord.
Our reaction to Jesus in this story, and to how we perceive Him to be acting (or not acting) in our lives, should give us pause for thought.
We say we trust in God. We say our hope is in Him, but is it really? Or perhaps is our hope placed in other things, things that supplant God, or are treated with similar importance alongside God? For example, when facing a difficultly in our lives, do we have maybe 30% of our trust in God, 25 % in having all the information we think we need, 20% in our own ability to manage the situation, 15% in having whatever resources may be needed, and 10% on luck? Perhaps the breakdown for everyone is a bit different, and differs from one situation to the next. The bottom line, though, is that when we don’t trust fully in God, we leave ourselves open to worry, fear and anxiety. Scripture is clear that the one who trusts fully in God has love, peace and grace.
Of course, none of us does this perfectly. But by considering the objects of our trust, it helps us to be aware that those negative emotions or stresses that come upon us in such situation are an indicator that our hope may not be as completely in our Lord as we might think. And this gives us a chance to take another look at the situation.
We are not just called to trust in God as if it some kind of authoritarian demand for unquestioning obedience. Rather, we are invited to trust Him. We are invited to turn to Him and rest in His grace and mercy. We are invited to trust that His steadfast love will provide for our every need, in every circumstance, in according to His good and gracious will.
And this is why the most important event of the story happens in verse 15: Jesus was with them. His presence and provision wasn’t dependent on their recognizing Him; He was with them, regardless.
In the same way, Jesus is with each one of us—just as He promised when we were baptized into His body, the Church, and into His death and resurrection.
We may not always recognize Jesus’ presence, but He is still with us. We may not understand all that is going on in our lives, but He is still with us. We may not have everything we want or think we need, but He is still with us, providing us with what we truly need.
Just as Jesus revealed Himself to His followers in the breaking of the bread—when He knew that they were ready—so, too, we trust that Christ will reveal Himself and His ways to us in the midst of our circumstances when He and we are ready.
Until then, we hold tightly to His promise to never leave us nor forsake us. We cling to the promise of His steadfast love and His promise to come to us with His very real presence in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion. There we have solid confirmation, visible and tangible to our faith, that Jesus is with us, and within us.
What’s more, when we gather here each week in our fear and confusion, He speaks to us through the words of the liturgy and prayers. It may be my voice, or Pastor Nuckols’ voice; it may be the choir or the congregation offering His Word in song, but it is Jesus’ words that reach you. You hear the pastors or the elders say, “the body of Christ, given for you” and “the blood of Christ, shed for you.” Each phrase carries the underlying message from Jesus: “I am with you always.”
This gospel story of these disciples’ journey to Emmaus and their encounter with the risen Savior reminds us of a simple yet profound truth: Jesus doesn’t promise us answers or solutions exactly when and how we want them. Instead, we are offered a much more blessed and certainly more needful gift: We are given our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Thanks be to God that He does this His way. Thanks be to God that the resurrected Lord comes to us. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.