John Michael Gutierrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
The Gospel of the Lord
Our Gospel lesson from Luke describes two disciples leaving Jerusalem struggling with the death of Jesus even after getting a report that very morning something remarkable had happened. In Luke, people on journeys have been an organic part of the Gospel from its beginning. And he uses it one last time to join the Emmaus travellers with the interplay of Jesus’ two dramatic appearances to his disciples. Luke shows Jesus turning the tide of resistance to his resurrection first with these two disciples (vss. 13-35) before meeting with the larger group (vs. 36-48) and before springing on readers a meeting with Peter not dramatized in this Gospel (vs. 34).
So here we are, the 3rd Sunday of the Easter octave, and the lectionary sages have put us back into the turmoil surrounding the resurrection. How? Well this isn’t a stroll through the countryside. Luke makes no attempt to whitewash their confusion, anguish. They’re arguing, complaining. They’re wrestling with their dashed hopes (vs. 14). Although we’ll be told their vision was blurred (vs. 16) when it came to recognizing Jesus. May I suggest to you their eyes were very wide open looking every which way for either the religious authorities or the roman military. But why are we back here? It is an important reminder that the death and resurrection of Jesus, while a standard belief today, might have been a difficult sell in the first century. This lesson is a reminder, then, that Easter faith comes at a great cost. So after the resurrection, this scene is intended to present us with that reality and, may I add, a hope-filled way out.
Allow me to explain with some background. Imagine what it was like for the disciples to experience the brutality of the arrest, the harshness of the trial, the horrors of the cross and the burial. Exhausted the disciples are now into voluntary lockdown. Think about what they gave up, their occupations, their family ties. For a number of years they placed their hope in Jesus that he was the messiah who was going to establish the rule of YHWH in Israel. Let’s not be naive.They hoped to be sitting beside him, that is, until this last week. It all fell apart. All that imagined social, political, religious authority – poof! No longer talk of a kingdom – Jesus the liberator had been crushed like a bug. How could they get this so wrong?
Back to our Gospel, Luke has two disciples drift away from the community. Any idea the disciples were standing by the windows waiting to see a risen Jesus is a non-starter. These two leaving hints there is a “flee” infestation in the community. It’s collapsing because of hopelessness, disappointment, and confusion. These two turn their backs on the community and Jerusalem and leave for – Ok, Emmaus – sure, whatever. But this 7 mi round trip journey to the Emmaus village is not as straightforward as it might seem. It’s a labyrinth of emotions, a maze of confusing ideas.
In vs 14, they’re not simply talking as they hightail it out of Jerusalem. They’re involved in an argumentative conversation. They’re throwing words back and forth at each other (also vs. 17). In their confusion, their mourning, the shattering of their world had become an all consuming reality. They’re lost.
As we watch the disciples walking to Emmaus, their shoulders slumped, their faces downcast, their low-pitched voices, we could sit here and think “how can they be so dense”? But have you ever been lost? – really lost. If you’ve ever struggled with depression, disillusionment, loss then I hope you can empathize with these very human emotions. They’re powerful. When you’re in the middle of confusing anxiety everything it seems has gone missing. As we read in vss. 18-24, these two disciples speak of doubt, despair and disappointment. They express it frankly. And as we will hear soon (vss. 30-32) something familiar will become an overwhelming relief for them.
Notice how unassuming, how ordinary when Jesus makes his appearance into the scene. Luke tells us they didn’t recognize him. It seems to me this is due to their panic, their haste “to get out of Dodge”. But I also suppose they were suspicious about the person who approached them. Could this be someone intending to arrest them? Jesus asks them “Why the heated tossing words back and forth?” (vs.14, 17). They clam up momentarily, striking a sullen, long-faced expression rivalling that of my most favorite stuffed grey donkey in the whole world – Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
At the center of our Lesson, vss. 19-27, Luke writes a lengthy dialog of the recent events told by the two disciples ending with the perplexing events of that very morning. Perhaps we can hear a bit of layered comedy here. “Are you the only pilgrim visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there, these last few days?” (vs. 18). The first identification of Jesus within the story is as a “Passover pilgrim”. They then begin telling Jesus about what happened to him from their perspective. Can’t you hear him responding to their story with: Is that so….You don’t say….Oh my…. Goodness. Eventually Jesus will take over the direction of the conversation “Well, perhaps, you might consider thinking about the events this way.”(vs. 25). They speak to him from the fog of hopelessness. He speaks to them from the clarity of the resurrection.
Now a closer look. It begins with a second identification of Jesus. They believed he was widely recognized as a mighty, powerful prophet. So that vs. 21 “we had hoped that he was the messiah who was going to redeem Israel”. But the religious and political leaders had other plans – they crucified him as a messianic pretender (vs. 20). Oh well, another failed messiah whose promises of deliverance fell victim to the authorities. Again vs. 21 “And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place”. Luke uses “third day” to ring bells for the reader that don’t ring for the disciples Luke turns us back to chs. 9.22; 18.33 where Jesus said he would be killed and then raised on the third day. But for these disciples “the third day” extinguished the last ray of hope. We’re done here. They leave the city of death. The scandal of the cross has tripped them up.
And what’s more, curiously, there was a glimmer. Earlier that morning in saturated, dark shadows, three Mary’s, Johanna plus others returned to the tomb fully expecting to find Jesus’ body. They found an empty tomb and angels who declared “he’s alive”. Other disciples went and found no one. The empty tomb generated astonishment among the disciples, notice what their last sighing words focus on in vs. 24 “they did not see Jesus”. Insult to injury, They’re thinking: no body, therefore, hopelessly lost.
In a very real sense, Luke’s characters intend to encourage us to realize despair, confusion, hopelessness are not alien to human experience or Easter faith. He writes their experience of despair and loss as very, very real. The events before, during and after the resurrection were weighed down with the kind of confusion, disappointment and loss that turned their world upside down, their souls inside out. By the Lord’s mercies, we’re not that different from these disciples. What do I do with losses? That’s the first question that faces me. Do I hide them? Am I going to live as if confusion/disappointments weren’t real? And here’s something for us, the community of faith. Are we going to keep these thoughts/feelings away from fellow travelers? Or more pointedly, should we keep them from the “pilgrim” who walks with us? Many of us may be strong enough to keep going through a daily routine, perhaps, even with a smile on our faces, giving no hint that our hearts have been ransacked and our confidence shaken. Still, the reality is I hurt. I grieve. I struggle.
And this is where the “pilgrim” comes back into the story with something familiar, something reassuring. Notice the supposed, clueless “pilgrim” doesn’t rush in, saying “you can stop fussing now, it’s all ok, I have everything under control, please believe me” but, instead, walking, listening, he turns “informed teacher” filling in blanks about resurrection (vs. 25-27). He doesn’t deny the deep realities of their emotions but begins to give them a sense the hope-deflating events are alive with connections between Israel’s scripture and the messiah’s destiny. What vs. 25 means: they have failed to orient themselves fully to the mosaic of Israel’s scriptures. They’re coming up short of the conclusion of resurrection faith. Jesus, talking about himself in the third person, proposes the messiah’s death was YHWH’s intention all along. The messiah’s resurrection is divine vindication restoring honor and authority (vs. 26).
The “pilgrim’s” bible lesson doesn’t take them that far along the road. There’s another part. Luke will show us this journey has a destination just not the one we might have thought (vs. 28). The village comes into view. Wrapping up his teaching, the “pilgrim” indicates he will be moving on but the two disciples grab him under his arms, and hustle him into the roadhouse where they sit him at a table (vs. 28-29). This is the ninth of ten meals in the Gospel. And as the food arrives, Jesus takes up a role they might have seen a few hundred times. He takes a loaf of bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives pieces to them (vs.30). Then poof! He vanishes (vs.31). The confusion clouding the two disciples evaporates.The familiar was an overwhelming relief. The “clueless, teaching Passover pilgrim” has now become the “risen Jesus”. They might not have fully grasped the bible study but the emotional transformation that resulted from it “our hearts burned within us” was unmistakable (vs. 32). It was a hope-filled way out.
Whatever the initial reason(s) for their leaving, they hightail it back to Jerusalem, to the gathered disciples to report their experience but before they can spill their story an emphatic announcement is made to them “the Lord is risen, indeed”. And what’s more “Simon has talked to him!” (vs. 33-35).
And now more about that hope-filled way out. This Emmaus journey has a likeness to the prayer book. So may I ask you to walk with me. It’s not a long walk. It’s a prayer book journey to a table with Jesus. And like these two disciples we will be in conversation (aka prayer) with each other and Jesus. Now this walk requires at least three things. First, you have to decide. It is not going to just happen. Second, walking requires direction. The prayer book is heading in a particular direction and will not be going your way. So you will need to reorient yourself. Third, prayer book walking is not something you do one day and then check it off your list. It is a consistent commitment of faithfulness and obedience. Oh, by the way, I have assurances from those who are well above my pay grade that when we get to this table Jesus will be on his best behavior, minding his manners and not vanishing. His presence will be real. And he will be deeply, profoundly available.
Like the Emmaus experience, the Liturgy of the Word begins the conversation looking inward: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid….” Beginning the journey of coming to the Lord’s table so openly is hard. Honestly like the disciples going to the village we are a bundle of thoughts and emotions any given week as we walk to the Lord’s table. Yet like the disciples, we are people of the book. Lectionary Bible lessons intend to transform us, rearrange our thinking and forge connections to Jesus: his life, his death, his burial, his resurrection and ascension. May I push a little further down the road to the Nicene Creed: “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day inaccordance with the Scriptures.” This line is the most widely-used and recognized statement of Christian faith. Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection is central to the Gospel message. Keeping in mind what the Lord has done for us in Jesus, the Bible lessons present to us the very real world in which we all live, a world that can be full of hardship and calamity that often comes unbidden and unmerited. This gives us insight why the psalms are embedded into the Bible lessons. The psalmists express for us the pains, the heartaches that settle themselves into our lives, disturbing us. But they also tune our ears to gifts of observation, insight, to hear praise, gratitude and reverence. With prayer and wisdom that comes only from lived experience, prayer book liturgy guides us through and out of losses and setbacks of all kinds.
Just as in the Emmaus action, the Liturgy of the Eucharist depicts for us an ordinary, yet most revealing divine gesture: giving thanks for bread and giving it to others. The eucharist table liturgy voices for us the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the formation of community. When we gather at the table, we remember and celebrate in memorial what he has done for us. At the table, Jesus lovingly intrudes into our everyday life teaching us, challenging us, bringing comfort and peace. Being at the table with Jesus, being part of a community, doesn’t dismiss, remove confusion, loss or pain completely. It does, however, give us a place to be in prayer with others who have these experiences in their lives. This is a table for the mortal, the earthbound where Jesus’ arms have been stretched out on a cross in obedience to the Lord’s purposes. This is a table for the weak, the lost, the disillusioned where we are invited to join our suffering to Jesus’ resurrection life. At Jesus’ table we can look directly into the eyes of confusion, loss and have something worthwhile to say. At Jesus’ table, those acknowledging their neediness and brokenness, can truly know resurrection healing. At Jesus’ table, we can be energized by his presence to go and share the good news. This table is a hope-filled way out. May we, like those disciples, have our hearts ignited, our eyes opened to recognize Jesus and one another.
May the Lord richly bless you my beloved