Sunday’s sermon: Walking in the Light

One of the lectionary passages for this past Sunday was a small portion of the Walk to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-49). But I feel like there are some Bible stories that just can’t be broken up into little pieces; they’re so much better and more impactful as a whole. So this Sunday, instead of reading just a snip-it of the Walk to Emmaus story, we read the whole story in chunks, stopping briefly in between to talk about how this ancient story still affects our daily lives and walks of faith.

Road to Emmaus“The Road to Emmaus #2” by Daniel Bonnell

Part I – That same day two of [the disciples] were walking to the village of Emmaus about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.[1]

  • How often does this happen to us – we become so immersed in something that everything around us seems to fade into the background. → immersed in …
    • Events in our lives (major or minor, doesn’t matter)
      • Whatever it is that tugs at our hearts
      • Whatever it is that occupies our minds
    • Concerns of the people we love – get wrapped up in the things that those we love are wrapped up in
      • Their lives intertwined with our lives
      • Their hearts intertwined with our hearts
      • Their concerns intertwined with our concerns
    • Current events – everyone remembers where they were …
      • When JFK and MLK, Jr. died
      • On 9/11
  • In this introduction to the Walk to Emmaus story, the two disciples who are walking along are immersed in a little bit of all three.
    • Events of Holy Week – Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion – were major events in their own lives → They had followed him. Listened to him. Sat at his feet. Eaten at his table. Loved him. And watched him suffer and die – this critical part of their lives suddenly and violently ripped away. They were understandably immersed in what had just gone on in their own lives.
    • Inextricably linked to that – what happened to Jesus → not just the loss in their own lives that they were immersed in but also in the pain, humiliation, and injustice Jesus suffered
      • Their pain intertwined with his pain
      • Their sorrow intertwined with his sorrow
      • Their rejection intertwined with his rejection
    • Immersed in current events of the day – not just what had happened to Jesus (though, obviously, that certainly was part of it) but also the danger that followed.
      • Anti-Christian policies passed throughout Roman empire
      • Public sentiment stacked against those who had followed Christ
        • Jews didn’t like them
        • Roman citizens didn’t like them either: “Much of the pagan populace maintained a sense that bad things would happen if the established pagan gods were not respected and worshiped properly.”[2] → Jesus’ followers certainly weren’t respecting or properly worshiping other gods/goddesses
      • The two disciples who were walking along that day were so focused on all of this that when they were joined by a significant stranger, they failed to recognize him for who he was: Jesus.

Part II – He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?” Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?” He said, “What has happened?” They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hope sup that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”[3]

  • Friends, we have become a society that is entirely addicted to answers. We have the internet and Google and our calendars and our entire contact lists and even our very lives at our fingertips with the technology that we carry today. We have questions? We have answers almost instantaneously. → come to a point where we don’t like
    • Not seeing
    • Not knowing
    • Not understanding
    • ^^ Makes us uncomfortable, jittery, irritated
      • E.g.s
        • How do you feel when you’re trying to remember someone’s name or the lyrics to a song, and even though they’re on the tip of your tongue, you can’t for the life of you remember? It drives us crazy, right?!
        • iPad crashed last weekend – 2-3 days without my calendar functioning was far more unsettling than I’d like to admit
      • This portion of disciples’ story hangs on a significant question – possibly the most significant question: Where is Jesus?
        • Explained to this “stranger” about who Jesus was
        • Told “stranger” about horrible events of the past few days
        • Story culminates in a mystery – an empty tomb, a missing body, and women reporting that Christ had risen … “But they didn’t see Jesus.” You can just hear the skepticism, the wariness, the doubt in their voices as they say this. “[The women] came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Part III – Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.[4]

  • I’m always torn when I read these verses – torn between two very different ways to interpret Jesus’ reaction. You see, no matter how you translate it, how you dress it up or dress it down, Jesus’ words to the disciples could sound harsh: “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”
    • First reaction = I want Jesus to be tender in his words
      • Want to hear patience
      • Want to hear encouragement
      • Want to hear temperance
      • “Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”
    • Second reaction = certain understanding with Jesus’ frustration
      • He tried telling the disciples time and time again throughout the Gospels about the fate that awaited him → now they were actually living those predictions … and they still didn’t get it.
        • World we live in right now – explaining to the boys time and time again
          • Yeses and no’s/whys and why nots
          • Pointing out the same puppy in the same book over and over and over again
          • Not an angry frustration … just a weary one → “Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said?”

Part IV – They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. And that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.[5]

  • On the night before he died, Jesus gathered with those he loved. And he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you. Whenever you do this, remember me.” And they did. Jesus blessed and broke the bread, and they remembered.
    • Echoes of the recent past reverberated in their hearts and souls
      • Blessed … broken … “Remember me.”
      • Blessed … broken … “Remember me.”
      • Blessed … broken … “Remember me. Remember me. Remember.”
    • Imagine what the disciples must have been feeling in that moment, at that exact moment when realization dawned.
      • Did it begin as a gnawing familiarity like déjà vu? “This feels sort of familiar. Haven’t we been here before? Haven’t we done this before?”
      • Or did recognition explode like a firework in their consciousness?
        • One moment – talking to stranger they met on the road
        • Next moment – Jesus!
      • And then, in another instant, he was gone again.

Part V – Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?” They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! [Jesus] has been raised up – Simon saw him!” Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.[6]

  • Just in case we’d been left with any doubt about what kind of impact this encounter had on the disciples, we hear their powerful words in this verse: “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road?”
    • Fire = light
    • Fire = heat
    • Fire = consuming
    • Fire = always moving and changing and sparking
    • This is the reaction that they had as Jesus, veiled though his identity may have been, walked along with them and spoke with them about Scripture and about his role in salvation as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One who came to set all people free. “Didn’t we feel on fire?”
  • Thing about fire = it also spreads → disciples “didn’t waste a minute”
    • Got up and made the roughly 7-mile trek back to Jerusalem
      • Back into the danger
      • Back into the fear
      • Back into the place that contained so many fresh, painful, horrible memories
    • Remember, it was already late in the evening, so the road was dark.
      • Dark road was a dangerous road – shadowy corners, open stretches where robbers and other evildoers could hide and pounce
    • But then again, maybe the road wasn’t as dark as we would expect. – text from 1 Jn: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in [God]. … If we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another[7]
      • Light of God lighted their way just as it lighted their hearts
      • Experience God’s light in community with one another – companionship with one another in faith lighted their way as well → Think about times when this community has provided that light for you.
        • Guiding, teaching light
        • Light of welcome
        • Light of celebration and joy
        • Light of vigil and compassion
        • Light of grace in the face of our differences
      • This is why we walk together – to share the light with each other and take the Good News out into a world with shadowy corners and empty stretches of road. → see this when the two disciples finally reach their destination
        • Bursting to share story of their encounter with Risen Christ → find themselves in the midst of a retelling of Simon Peter’s own encounter with the same Risen Christ
          • Hear this kind of wonder and excitement in 1 Jn reading, too: From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen![8]But it wasn’t over yet.

Part VI – While they were saying all this, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He continued with them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look at my hands; look at my feet – it’s really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true. They gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked. He took it and ate it right before their eyes.[9]

  • Yes, a few of the disciples had already seen the Risen Christ. But listen to the wording again: Jesus appeared to them. – Gr. = “Jesus in the middle” → implies suddenness, unexpectedness
    • It’s no wonder Luke tells us the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost! But what are Jesus’ first words to this beloved group of followers and friends? “Peace be with you.” He knew their hearts and minds like no one else could have. He’d been living and eating and teaching and ministering with them for 3 years. He’d seen them at their best. He’d seen them at their worst. And he knew exactly what they would need in that moment of upheaval and incredulity.
      • First: PEACE
      • Second: proof – “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. Touch me. Feel my flesh and bone. Give me a piece of fish and watch me eat. It’s really me.”
    • Also what God gives us
      • First: PEACE
      • Second: glimpses of the Risen Christ in the world around us
        • People – acts of kindness and compassion, acts justice and mercy and inclusion, acts of peace
        • Creation – beauty, baffling intricacies of the universe, interconnectedness of it all

Part VII – Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.” He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read [the Scriptures] this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations – starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.”[10]

  • Again, Jesus teaches them, opening their hearts and minds and lives to God’s Word in the Scriptures. Again, he blesses them with a knowledge and an understanding that will equip them for the work ahead. And again, he reminds them that their work is not yet finished. “You’re the first to hear and see it.”
    • Doesn’t say “you’re the only ones”
    • Doesn’t say “I’m giving you all the answers, the only answers”
    • Jesus simply tells the disciples that they’re the first to hear these words – the fullness of the message of the Gospel.
      • Implies expectation to help Gospel grow
      • Implies expectation to share
      • But it also implies a willingness to share. The powerful love and forgiveness and grace that we find in the gospel cannot do the Great Good that God intends for the world if it isn’t shared over and over again.
        • Spark that was ignited in the hearts of those disciples along the road …
          • Cannot grow into a warming fire if it isn’t fed
          • Cannot spread its light and love unless it is shared
    • And Scripture tells us the disciples did share it.
      • Story after story after story in book of Acts
      • All the various letters that follow – those written by Paul as well as those written by others
      • Evidence in other NT reading today: We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of community with [God] and with [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy![11] → That, friends, is why we continue to share the Good News … why we continue to gather together to worship and pray and praise … why we continue to work through this church … why we continue to call ourselves “Christians,” not because we have to or because society expects us to but because we know that joy – that resurrected, fire-burning-within-us, Christ-is-alive! joy – and we cannot help but share it with the world. Amen.

[1] Lk 24:13-16.

[2] “Anti-Christian policies in the Roman Empire,”

[3] Lk 24:17-24.

[4] Lk 24:25-27.

[5] Lk 24:28-31.

[6] Lk 24:32-35.

[7] 1 Jn 1:5, 7.

[8] 1 Jn 1:1-2a.

[9] Lk 24:36-43.

[10] Lk 24:44-49.

[11] 1 Jn 1:3-4.

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