Genesis 45:4-15, Luke 24:13-35
April 15, 2012
When we were in High School this was a favorite fun phrase. If someone was taking too long to do something, we’d say these words as though we were the narrator to a story or a play that was happening. Usually there was just a hint of sarcasm. If someone was taking too much time, we’d say, “Later that same day…” Or sometimes we’d just say, “Meanwhile…” (Yeah, we were rotten kids!)
That’s what comes to mind for me when I read this story. Because this story, the Road to Emmaus, takes place “later that same day.” In other words, this happens later on Easter day! So as we think of this story, we have to remember what was happening that day. There was so much going on in the minds of these two men.
In Luke’s account, we hear some of their thoughts. They said that Jesus had been their hope and then he was put to death. So at the very least, there was an extreme sense of disappointment in these men – and in everybody else! But of course there were many other thoughts and emotions swirling around that day. There was intense sorrow and anger. And now there was confusion and skepticism over the various reports they had heard from different people. They were hearing that the tomb of Jesus was found to be empty that morning. And there were some who were saying that he had come back from the dead.
Now, we can hardly imagine what that was like. And keep in mind here, that we’re not necessarily done our “tweaking!” We’re now just tweaking our understanding of the emotions of the day! Try to imagine that. Try to imagine the feelings these men were having. They had lost someone dear to them, and also one in whom they had held great hopes and excitement. We can’t imagine what it was like for this man to have been taken tragically from them. And then, if these rumors and stories of a resurrection were not true, it would have seemed the cruelest of hoaxes!! You can even begin to imagine the anger at that!
So, here we are, “later that same day.” These men were walking along the road toward home when Jesus approached them. (If this were a play, we might say, “Enter Jesus, stage left!”) And it says, “they were kept from recognizing him.” Now, some have explained that by saying that they “couldn’t recognize” him because they were so “distraught.” But I don’t buy that! I believe this was intentional on Jesus’ part. There was a purpose in this drama! Remember, that all through the Gospel story, there was a sense of timing with Jesus. He didn’t want to reveal himself as messiah until the time was right!
So, Jesus listens to them. And then starts telling them what it all meant. And this whole story reads like an unfolding drama. And I love it! And one thing I’m convinced of as I read it of something I’ve said to you before. And that is that God has a great “flair for the dramatic!” (So maybe this is like a narrative, and these words are just right! “Later that same day…”)
And just in case you don’t think God has a “flair for the dramatic,” think for a moment about the other story we read this morning. This is another of my favorite passages in the Bible! The story in Genesis is the story of Joseph being reconciled to his brothers. Remember how they had sold him into slavery! And remember how he ended up in Egypt, and after interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams, he become the second most powerful man in all of Egypt! He was the one in charge of the food supplies during that seven year famine. So when his brothers came from Canaan seeking food, who did they have to come to?? Joseph! And they weren’t able to recognize him, either. And what we read today is the dramatic scene of Joseph revealing himself to them! (We can only imagine that scene, too!)
Well, what happened along the road to Emmaus and what happened when they got there, is equally dramatic, if not more so. Again, we cannot imagine the despair, the crushing defeat of everything they and the whole country had hoped for. We cannot imagine the shock shared by so many when the enemies of this Jesus had prevailed, and this wonderful prophetic man, this passionate teacher, he who they thought just might be the deliverer they had awaited for three or four centuries, was executed. When Luke tells us that “they stood still, looking sad,” I think that’s a huge understatement. I believe there was much more on their faces than just sadness. Remember – and I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record here – they didn’t know what we know!! As far as they were concerned, all this was done! It was over! Any hope they had in Jesus was crushed completely!!
So, when Jesus revealed himself, it was way more than just, “Hi, guys! I’m back!” We can’t begin to describe the astonishment! This is a moment, the images of which we can’t even begin to “tweak!” And then – he disappeared! He vanished from their sight!
I wonder if we have ever found our selves in such a place. I wonder if we have ever faced a time when all our hopes were crushed? And then we turned to God and beyond our hopes, we were restored? How do we react when that happens? How do we react when God’s power and glory are far more than we ever could have imagined? I suppose some of us may have had such a time in the very beginning days of our faith.
I want you to see something else here. When we think about this journey to Emmaus, notice that Jesus didn’t just e‘splain things! Whenever I read this story, I am always drawn to verse 32. Thinking back, the men said, “Did not our hearts burn within us when he talked to us on the road?” That’s something very important! And I believe this very strongly! God has a flair for the dramatic because he wants to touch our hearts!
That’s so important! God doesn’t just want our heads! He doesn’t want us just to have “head knowledge” of him. He doesn’t want us just to “know him” like we know George Washington was the first president or that Paris is the capital of France. He wants to reach that “deep down inside” part of us that feels, that loves, and that is passionate about things. He wants to reach our hearts, and he wants to make them “burn within us!”
God doesn’t want just “lip service.” He doesn’t just want us to speak our beliefs. In Romans 10:9, Paul said, “if you confess with your lips – and BTW that means more than just “if you say with your lips!” “If you confess with your lips, and believe in your hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead…” (“You will be saved.”)
That’s what this story is about. It’s about the heart! That is what is at the heart of the Gospel – the heart! Way back in Luke 4, where we started this journey, Jesus was in his home synagogue and he was given the scroll of Isaiah, and he read from chapter 61. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…”
That’s the Good News. He heals our broken hearts! I know he did mine! Maybe that’s what he did for you, too! Maybe that’s what he needs to do for you! We have a God who cares for us. He holds our hearts as precious.
The problem, the thing that gets in the way of that, is that sometimes we’re not comfortable opening our hearts to him. Maybe we don’t trust him. Maybe our hearts have been broken too many times and we don’t want to take a chance. Maybe we’ve never thought about it. Maybe faith has been all “head knowledge” to us. Whatever the reason, we’re missing out on a big part of our faith and the great joy we can have if we close our hearts to God.
David was described by God as “A man after my own heart.” That wasn’t because he always “did the right thing.” We know he didn’t! It was because David “poured his heart out before God.”
When we truly love someone we give our heart to them. That’s what it means to love God, too! Moses told the people, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your, (what?) heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) But “heart” is the first thing!
When these men in Emmaus spoke about what had happened to them on the road, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us?!” And they jumped up “that very hour,” and went back to Jerusalem. What they now knew, they had to tell! May we seek to know that same thing. May we pour our hearts out to God, that he may touch us the same way. As I like to say in our communion liturgy, “May our hearts be opened, and may we recognize him in our midst.”
Lord, touch our hearts as you did those men along the road so long ago. Help us to feel your spirit burning within us, that we may be inspired and empowered to seek your kingdom and to be your people where ever you call us. For this we pray in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.