Psalm 4:1-8, Luke 24:13-35
April 30, 2006
We have another Easter story today from Luke. We can’t seem to get away from Easter, can we? Not yet at least! Actually, we can never get away from Easter. In the days of the early Church they celebrated Easter every Sunday. And then eventually, they moved to a once a year celebration. (Perhaps they were running out of eggs or something!)
At any rate, according to Luke, this story we read today, the Road to Emmaus, took place that very day. I want us to remember that as the backdrop for this story. From the way the events happened, it probably happened later in the afternoon.
If I were writing my Gospel, “The Gospel According to St. George” (or St. Skip) this story would begin, “Later that same day… I’d say it that way because it would remind me of the time I was in high School. We used to use those words as a kind of sarcastic comment when something was taking too long. If someone was having difficulty doing some simple task, like opening a package, or getting a drink from the water fountain, we’d say, “Later that same day…” Sometimes someone would say if when a teacher was writing something on the board that was taking a long time. After a while you’d hear someone say from the back of the room, “Later that same day…” Yeah, we were annoying kids!
So, “Later that same day…” we find these two men walking back from Jerusalem to their homes in Emmaus. (which is just south of Allentown, I believe!) Who are these guys? They’re unfamiliar to us, aren’t they? In this story, we’re only given one of their names – Cleopas. And this is the only place in the Bible that name ever appears. But that really doesn’t seem to matter for this story, does it? In fact, that’s one of the things that makes this such a great story. Because it happens to un-noteworthy people. They could be anybody. They could be us. In fact, this is sometimes the way God works in our lives, we realize later on that God was with us in a special way!
So here we have these two unfamiliar men who meet the resurrected Jesus on the Emmaus road. Only they don’t know it’s him. And the “incognito” Jesus explains to these men the whole story about himself as foretold throughout the scriptures. Then, as they approach Emmaus, he appears to be going further. They compel him to stay with them. He does. They sit down to dinner. He breaks the bread and “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” And then he vanishes before their eyes. Who would ever read this story and not know that God has a wonderful flair for the dramatic.
One time I heard someone trying to make a case that the reason these men didn’t recognize Jesus was that they were so grief stricken. That’s nonsense. Look how Luke describes these men. He tells us that these men were “Talking and discussing” as they traveled. Certainly they were saddened by the events of the past week, and Luke describes them as such. But there is nothing here that indicates a state of extreme emotion that would cause someone not to recognize the very person they were talking about – for this entire journey!
It seems there is a desire on some people’s part to remove the miraculous from these stories. They say they want to make Jesus “more human,” – as though that makes him better for us in some way. But when I hear that kind of thing, it is often apparent to me that the attempt to make Jesus “more human” really comes from some people’s desire to make him “only human.” I thank God he is not! And I hope you to see that in this story.
The other thing I want you to see in this story is the affect this encounter with Jesus had on these men. Because this is a story about the affect Jesus has on all of our lives. It might be easy to see what happened on that road as merely instructional. We might think this was just a matter of “clearing up some things about Jesus.” And that would be great! Because there was a lot of confusion that first Easter. People didn’t know what to think. Yes, there was sadness on these men’s faces. But it was more. When Jesus asked them why they were sad, what they told him about was the confusion they were having over what had happened.
Along had come this man Jesus, who had touched people’s lives and had taught and done many great things. He made people think he might be the “one to redeem Israel.” But it ended up tragically. His enemies – including their own religious leaders – managed to get him executed, which was the last thing they would have expected to happen to the Messiah. But then, that morning some of the women of the company came and said they had seen a vision of angels, and they began saying that he was alive again.
This is a story of confusion. This was a time when these men, like so many in those days, couldn’t grasp what was happening. None of this made any sense! And so Jesus says, “Oh foolish men and slow to believe…”, and he then explained to them very carefully and completely what it all meant.
So this might appear to be a time of teaching and of learning. This might be seen as a time where their intellectual understanding of history and theology was raised. They finally got to see the big picture, and now it all made sense. But is that how they reacted to it?
I want you to notice what it did to these men. And this is very important! When their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, when the big picture finally came into focus, did they say, “Wow, didn’t he teach us wonderful things?” Did they say, “Wasn’t it great how he helped us to understand?” “Doesn’t it all make sense now?” No. They said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road?!”
That is so important! That’s how God established his Church. That’s how he got things going in the early days of Christianity. He touched people’s hearts. That’s what God wants for us. He wants to touch our hearts!
You know that cliché expression when something really affects someone, they touch their closed hand to their chest and say, “That gets you right here.” You know what that means! Things “gets us” in our hearts! That’s different than pointing to the head and saying, “Oh I get it!” “I understand!” The difference is what affect it has on our hearts and therefore our lives.
Sometimes people think it’s’ enough to simply believe intellectually that Jesus was who he said he was and did what it was said he did. Some people think it’s enough just to open their minds to understand Jesus. But that’s not it. We need to open our hearts(!), or all the learning in the world won’t make any difference!
Now let me tell you. We men need to pay special attention to this. Men have a tendency, either by the way we’re wired, or by the expectations of society, to be more head-based. We’re expected to be oriented more toward reason and logic. Women are often expected to be more heart-based.
I don’t want to get into actual the psychological make up of men and women. That would be a long discussion. But those are tendencies and expectations. And please understand, I’m not saying any of that’s wrong. And I’m not talking only about emotional things here, though that may appear to be the case as well! What I’m talking about here is the heart. I’m talking about the soul. I’m talking about that place in us where things really matter. And if anything, men, we are losing out on something very important if we consign that place just to women! The heart is where things really matter to us!
That is so important in God’s kingdom. Throughout the Bible we are told that God looks on the heart! When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they continually tried to deal with him on a head level. They tried to make him look uninformed, unintelligent, and ignorant. And when he responded, it was about heart things. He spoke to them about the spirit of the law. He answered them saying the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” He even challenged the basis of their questioning, saying “you ask because you do not know what really matters in this life.” And what really matters is the heart!
Think about it. We might be willing to follow Christ if we are convinced in our minds. But we will respond much more fervently and much more joyously, we will be more excited about our faith and much more eager to follow Christ if our hearts are reached. Paul tells us that we are followers of Christ, “If we confess with our lips and believe (where?) in our hearts…”
Look at the reaction of these men. When their hearts were “burning within them,” what did they do? They rose that very same hour, and walked all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others. They were that excited!! It was that important!
Sometimes I think we forget all this. Or we’ve never heard it put this way. We think the early church leaders lived a kind of dour, monastic life that was all “discipline” and not much “life.” We forget they were men of passion, men like Saint Augustine, and Saint Irenaeus who I’ve quoted before. He’s the one who said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” We forget the heart of people like Martin Luther’s who was willing to risk his life for the re-forming of the faith. We forget those risks by people in our tradition, people like Calvin and Knox.
We forget the great figures of our own history, men like William Tennant, who taught his students about the personal relationship with God and the joyous life in Jesus Christ, when the “established” clergy of the day seemed to be enamored only of academics and doctrine. We forget the other preachers of that period, men like George Whitfield of whom it was said when he preached thousands were brought to tears and wept openly. It was when hearts were reached for Christ in that era that the course of society was changed in that time in American history known as “The Great Awakening.”
As we think about this story, we need to ask ourselves, “How is my heart?” Is my life of faith based only on knowledge? Or is it in my heart? Is my intellect and understanding of the story of Jesus the driving force in my life? Or has my heart been touched by the living Christ. These men rose that very hour and went back to Jerusalem. What will we do in our faith?
Eternal God, too often we concern ourselves only with what makes sense to our minds about our faith. Help us to transfer that knowledge to our hearts. May our love for you grow within us. May our passion for others and for your kingdom be the driving force in our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.