Reading: Luke 24.13-35 The Walk to Emmaus
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Dear folks, in the absence of Sunday worship, will you again accept a rather enlarged homily? Please just dip in to what you will, when you will over the coming week.
Yesterday was ANZAC Day, the anniversary of the disastrous landing of Australian and Commonwealth troops in the Dardanelles in 1915. On the evening of 19 December, that same year, defeated ANZACS withdrew from enemy-occupied Turkey. The departing troops desponded “We had hoped to take the peninsula to open up a Third Front up the soft underbelly of Europe through to ease the fighting on the Eastern and Western Fronts. But, now our hopes are utterly dashed. I hope to God that our 8,500 Aussie Digger mates, whom we are leaving behind, do not hear us go.”
On the evening of Easter Day, 33 CE, two disillusioned disciples withdrew defeated from enemy-occupied Jerusalem, a city that had put their leader to a cruel, degrading death. The pair may have seen him marred beyond human recognition, before he was gathered to God. The crucifixion was State religion saying “No” to its Messiah. His promised resurrection would be God saying “Yes” to the Saviour of the world. Bewildered, Cleopas and Mary, his wife-disciple, were still looking through a Good Friday filter: “We had hoped that Jesus would take up the liberating sword of vengeance to redeem Israel as its deliverer. But now, our hopes are dashed, buried in the humiliating death of our leader. His death is the tragic end to the dearest hopes we had for our nation.” Now, the two downhearted disciples were travelling in the wrong direction; they were walking away from Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s presence in the Scriptures. They want to leave the place of pain and failure, but they cannot leave it behind completely; they are still trying to make sense of all that happened there.
As Good Friday evening closed the tragedy on Calvary, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary of Magdala, had remained to succour Mary, Jesus’ mother, in her distress. In Rubens’ “The Descent from the Cross,” the two Marys actually received the body from the Cross, and began the burial rites with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus [John 19.25]. With the other disciples in hiding, trusting in a prophecy of resurrection, Cleopas and Mary had waited through Friday evening, all Saturday and Sunday for news of Jesus’ promised resurrection. On Sunday morning, women ran to report with delirious babblings an unbelievable tale of an empty tomb. The men surmised that they were psychologically disturbed [Luke 24.11]. It was not the women who were delirious. By Sunday evening, Cleopas and Mary became dismayed. There was nothing much to do but to walk home along the Emmaus Road, defeated. There was never an Uber in sight.
The walk to Emmaus was a walk of despair, with hopes and dreams gone. It was a walk back to the couple’s former, dull, all-too-routine life before they had met Jesus. Have we been here? “We had hoped that the stress in life would lessen…we had hoped that the load we carry would be lifted…we had hoped that my headaches would diminish with age…we had hoped that these years would be the good years we dreamed about…we had hoped that the Easter Bunny would have delivered a larger nest egg for our retirement.” Cleopas and his wife had pinned their hopes on a young prophet called Jesus, but, now he was dead.
Both ANZACS and Cleopas and his wife trudged the sunset road. Both ANZACS and the pair suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The ANZACS crept silently to the boats by night. The pair took to the Emmaus Road at sunset. This latter pair were not to know that God-in-Jesus had to redeem Israel spiritually, not from suffering, but, through his personal suffering as the long-awaited Messiah, God’s representative on Earth. Jesus would have to take all sin unto himself to die a horrid death under its weight. But, to the two disciples, all still seemed lost. The one who could still a storm on the sea, who walked on troubled waters, who sought the lost sheep at risk to his life and limb, who healed the sick, and, finally raised the dead, was now dead, and laid in a tomb. The couple walked, confused, dismayed. Who will comfort them? How will their hearts be stilled?
Are we St. Philippians ever one with the couple on Emmaus Road? Are we ever with the retreating ANZACS? Our parish church has been closed. Our normal sedate Anglican religious life has been nobbled by COVID-19 disease. Now, we are left with fragmentary connection with the parish community which we hold so dear. The live-stream Sunday services from other parishes seem to lack the personal togetherness of our usual worship. And, they don’t have any jokes! And, when we will be allowed back, we may have still to keep our distance from one another.
In the fading light of 1915, gentle medical officers and nurses on the boats to the waiting ships were a comforting presence to the vanquished Australians whose nerves were strung to breaking. In the fading light of 33 CE, a gentle, comforting third person, just like the medical and nursing personnel, drew alongside and joined the pair on Emmaus Road. But, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Were the pair numbed by the grief of their experience, or, was it the setting sun in their eyes? Perhaps it was the confused belief about resurrection in the Hebrew Scriptures that caused the pair to no longer expect to see Jesus again. The last time the pair had seen Him, his face was bloodied and misshapen, he was a ghastly contorted figure nailed to a cross and gasping for breath; the experience was horrible beyond belief. In last Sunday’s Gospel, this incomer gave Thomas a five minute “show and tell” of his wounds. Today, he gave Cleopas and his companion three whole hours of pastoral care on the road.
When the stranger asked what had the pair been discussing so intently as they walked, they were incredulous, responding with a hint of sarcasm as if to say “Where have you been, you Dummy? Who didn’t know what had happened in Jerusalem? It had been the main topic on Twitter.” And then came irony. Cleopas innocently addressed the main player in the redemption of the world “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Cleopas continued “Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death. Some women of our group astounded us. They were at his tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they told us they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.” Alas! Cleopas concluded “these words seemed to the apostles an idle tale, and they did not believe them” [Luke 24.11].The alpha males trumpeted that the saintly Mary Magdalen was “rattled.”
There was real excitement in Cleopas’ words as he recalled to the Emmaus Road stranger the fond memories he had of Jesus. The Messiah was like one no one he had ever met or seen. Listening to him, was like living in the days of the Old Testament prophets, but, even better. His powerful preaching! His amazing miracles!” It was here that Cleopas showed he was still stuck in the “might have beens” of life. He listed the marvellous deeds that Jesus had done while alive, but the irreversible tragedy of his death had put paid to it all. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. It is now the third day.” For Cleopas and his wife, this was a moment of confounding disappointment, a dream that had created energy and enthusiasm, which has not materialized, a promise that boosted faith but had proved to be wanting, a future that was now closed off, irrelevant and dead. There are few things more tragic than a future that will never be. When I recently buried a stillborn, a plaque on the next grave read “Born Sleeping.” Challenged to write a short story in six words, an author wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.” It is not just the tragedy of what happens in life that hurts, but the gaping hole left by what could have happened, but didn’t and won’t.
What did Cleopas mean by “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel?” The Jews were a conquered people. Detested Roman legions were stationed throughout Judea in the south and Galilee in the north, ready to suppress any kind of revolt. There was the everyday cadence of soldiery on the city cobble stones. Revolting Roman bullies would have a Jew carry his loaded pack a mile at a time. Under the enforcers were such as the corrupt tax collectors, appointed by Roman officials, who drained much of the common people’s wealth into the gaping coffers of the oppressive occupying power and into their own pockets. In the people’s mind, quite erroneously, the physical dream of redeeming, of redemption, was for gentle Jesus somehow to morph into a martial leader, who would release by oratory the pent-up anger of the people, organize guerrilla operations, foment popular uprisings and, with legions of heavenly warrior angels engage in open warfare to drive the Roman tyranny and the pompous priestly establishment into the sea. As a valorous victor, Jesus would re-establish the Throne of David as a kingdom of peace and prosperity for all God’s oppressed people. Thus, he would rescue God’s Chosen people from a life of poverty and struggle as the heroic Judas Maccabaeus had done from the Greeks in 164 BCE. (Would you believe it? Judas’ major battle-field was at this same site called Emmaus!) Perhaps Cleopas continued “How can we have hope when the One in whom we placed our hope is dead at the scheming hands of the corrupt religious authorities?” He may have continued to blame “If only we had realized that we had in our group a two-faced Judean, never a Galilean like us, a real snake in the grass, called Judas. Simon the Zealot would have despatched him with his trusty knife. But, would he? In the garden capture of Jesus, the Master told us to “put away our swords”…if only someone , like Nicodemus, in the Jewish council, had put in a word of truth for him…If only someone had spoken up for him at his trial…if only, he had not claimed to be a king…”
Have we been here? At times, we have all become downhearted, filled with a spirit of hopelessness. How often do we pass our former lifestyle or our past behaviour in searching review? ”If only I had spent time in my marriage being more understanding?…If only I had not over-reacted when I felt that I was mis-treated in my first job?…If only I had quit smoking earlier? …If only I had that bowel cancer check-up?…If only I did not saw asbestos sheets unprotected?…”
Twenty-one years before the Emmaus Road event, as pilgrims to Jerusalem, a Nazarene couple, Mary and Joseph, were utterly heart-sick, nearly driven mental, having lost their not-quite teenage son for three days’ agony in the city. At wits’ end, they found him, where we may seldom find our children, in the temple church. The naughty little twelve-year-old had decided that, if, as mother Mary had dinned into him, he was probably the long-awaited Messiah, then he should remain with the Temple scholars to further the apprenticeship of his mission. Twenty-one years later, a second couple on Emmaus Road, heart-sick at having lost their very human Saviour, beat themselves up that their fellow disciples had failed to stop his shameful death. They may have found some peace if only they could have been privy to the dialogue between the stricken parents and their son from years before: “Mother, did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business, my way” [Luke 2.49].
On the Emmaus Road, in the evening light, the couple failed even to notice the body of the stranger. Jesus was living in the present, while they were still living in the past. The pair were stuck at the might-have-been stage. Using past-tense, Cleopas described Jesus to the stranger: “He was a prophet, who did powerful miracles and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people in word and deed. But, the religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and they crucified him. We had hoped that he was the Messiah who had come to redeem Israel” [Luke 24 19-21].To these two disciples the signs and wonders that Jesus had done in his public ministry were all over, Red Rover.
On Emmaus Road, the Stranger suddenly laughed. “Bless your broken hearts. You just don’t get it, do you? How can you have missed the clues? Can’t you see that all the Messiah went through was pre-ordained? The story doesn’t end with a permanently sealed tomb. Nothing is impossible to God who had to show that not only Jesus was, he is, and wonderfully so. The stranger seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. He seemed to have a gift for insight into God’s story so that the words became new to the pair. He spoke of the Bible as the tool that God had left us to give us encouragement. Later, Paul will underscore this: “Whatever was written in former days was written to teach us. The scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” [Romans 15.4]. As the trio walked, the stranger pointed to scroll after scroll in an intensive explosion of the jigsaw of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and his eventual fate. The stranger connected the dots between what Scripture had foretold about the Messiah and what, alas, would happen and what did happen. Now, the pair could see, that, far from a Gallipoli-like disaster, the self-chosen, self-sacrificing death of the Messiah, and his conquering death by rising, was the anticipated outcome and blessed fulfilment, of Jesus’ heaven-sent mission. The hearts of the pair “burned” within them as he spoke. The stranger may have indicated a possibly veiled reference to himself as early as Genesis 3.15: “the Lord said to the serpent. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” This reading foreshadowed the ultimate defeat of evil that really began when Christ rose from the dead at the first Easter; a strike to the heel was not deadly, but a blow to the head was deadly to sin. Again, while walking, the stranger may have explained Genesis 22, which described Abraham placing his own beloved son on the sacrificial altar stone. It was God’s test to deepen his capacity and, after him, his son, Isaac, to trust God, just as the beloved Son of God will do on Calvary.
On Emmaus Road, stranger Jesus may have explained that Abraham actually travelled three days from homeland Beersheba to the Temple Mount Moriah in what would one day be Jerusalem, in obedience to perform there the child sacrifice of his son. This was God’s test to see if Abraham could sacrifice Isaac beforehand, in faith in his head, to show that he trusted God more than his love for his son, for whom Sarah and he had waited years and years to conceive. Quite possibly, the stranger may have omitted to mention a connection between Gallipoli and Beersheba. After the Light Horse remnants were withdrawn from the Dardanelles, some were sent to the Middle East, and in 1917, captured the water wells from the Turks which had been dug by Abraham and re-dug by his son after enemies filled them in so very long ago [Genesis 21.22-34, 26.25].
On Emmaus Road, the stranger may have dipped in to Isaiah 7.14, where a baby born of a young maid, became a type of Jesus born of the young maid, Mary, seven hundred years later. The stranger would surely have quoted a later chapter of Isaiah 53, which, with pin-point accuracy and given the hundreds of years in between prophetic word and action, foreshadowed the agonies of a Suffering Servant. Isaiah sketched the gory, excruciating suffering of Jesus, as the means to deliver the nations as yet unborn from the slavery of sin. As the trio neared Emmaus, the stranger may have quoted from Psalm 22, the very psalm Jesus would recite from memory as he died on Calvary’s Cross. This blue-print was written one thousand years before the Cross, yet describes with amazing prescience and accuracy the method of torture that had still to be invented by cruel Rome, long before Rome ever was. The psalm began “My God, why have you forsaken me?” but ended with a cry of confident trust “Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts of deliverance will be told to a people yet unborn,” yes, to the pair of disciples on Emmaus Road and much later, to the parishioners of St. Philip’s. The promised Messiah would deliver the Chosen first through his personal suffering, not deliverance from suffering.
By the time the trio reached Emmaus, the stranger had cited so many shadowy mentions of Jesus from the scriptures, that the hearts of the hearers were nearly fit to burst. The pair pleaded with the stranger to stay to sup with them. Jesus was never pushy. He will always wait to be invited into our hearts. He knew Revelation 3.20 “I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we shall share a meal together as friends.” And Hebrews 13.2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels unawares?” Why a meal? In Luke’s Gospel, eating was a radical act of breaking down cultural boundaries.
Jesus was most Jesus at an ordinary meal. He seemed to prefer the worst people. He ate with Pharisees [Luke 7.36]. He was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” [Luke 7.34]. Luke included the Parable of the Great Dinner [Luke 14.15] and in Luke 15.23, the prodigal father shouted “Let us eat and celebrate. My son was dead and is alive again.” Jesus is always willing to join us in everyday, ordinary things if we invite him in. Cleopas or his wife asked the incomer to bless the scrappy piece-meal of cold cuts, bread and wine. The pair were not expecting anything more than new-found friendship as the stranger took up the everyday bread. Suddenly, the pair’s eyes popped and their jaws dropped at the nail-scarred hands. In an instant tantalizing “ah! ha!” moment, they gasped “It is the Lord!” Their eyes opened to the realization: Jesus had been with then the whole time. Their lost, failed friend was no longer dead. He was right next to them at table. At once, he had led the two from their Gallipoli-like trench of disappointment to full revelation, and from utter confusion and failed hope to full clarity.
But the guest had left the building. Jesus must have had every moment planned. Had he revealed himself to the couple three hours earlier, at the beginning of the walk to Emmaus, the pair would not have heard the wonderful biblical tapestry that Jesus had stitched for them. They would certainly have become so wrapped up in the emotional experience of seeing him alive again that they would have wanted to know HOW he came to be raised and might still have missed the WHY of the resurrection.
At the very first meal in the creation story, (remember, the first eleven chapters of Genesis is, in part, an attempt to explain by story how sin and suffering came into God’s perfectly created world),“the woman saw the tree was beautiful and wanted the wisdom it would give her, so she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband and he ate it too” and the first couple ate themselves out of house and home [Genesis 3.6-7]. They ate the apple, and we have had the stomach ache ever since. This first meal made the couple want to shrink from God and hide. The second meal at Emmaus undid the damage done at the first recorded meal in Eden, and made the couple want to race back to the upper room to spread the Good News of our redemption by the Saviour on Calvary. The Emmaus couple realized now that the long held curse caused by the first couple had been quashed. On the road to Emmaus, the stranger gave the pair knowledge of the Word. At the first meal of the new creation after Easter, he gave them the Eucharistic bread. They must get back to the upper room to break the news.
The third day since Jesus died was drawing to a close when the pair again reached Jerusalem. Was the prophecy of resurrection yet unrealized? No, the Emmaus pair found to their joy that the other disciples had already shared the experience of Risen Jesus’ return to life. The prophecies from centuries before had not been wrong.
If we were to really have a joy-filled Emmaus experience, if we had a personal experience of the Risen Christ, what would we do with it? Would we use it as a means of mission to tell others incarcerated about Jesus Risen, to move from being disconnected to be re-connected to him, to move from loneliness that freezes us to joy abounding in us? Where are we St. Philippians, as we remember ANZAC Day? Do we still feel that we are left alone in our everyday lives, to scramble down the gullies to Anzac Cove, under the shrapnel shower of the overweening strength of an enemy power such as COVID-19? Such negative thoughts may so fog our minds that we fail to recognize our Risen triumphant Saviour, the stranger who rose with unconquerable power over life and death, is here, with us on our Emmaus Road. By choosing to pay the price of his own death, he bought us a redemption far greater than any freedom we could win. Do we continue to fail to turn to him for helpful direction and so we are one with the disappointment that Cleopas expressed “We had hoped…” and, conclude, that left severely alone, there is little else to do but to seek a wrong-kind of redeemer in fighting for toilet rolls and hand sanitiser and wilfully breaking the social distancing by partying? Or, do we take comfort in hearing that those disciples closest to Jesus faced challenges in sustaining belief just as we may do in this time, and, because of the triumph of Easter day, with the veterans of the Gallipoli campaign, sing “Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag and smile, smile, smile. What’s the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile.” For the pair, the sunset road to Emmaus led to a glorious dawn. And, it will for us, too.
But, what of the enemies? Once news of the Resurrection was noised abroad, what fear and mental distraction did it cause Caiphas and his cronies? It must have been so scary to them that the King of Kings whom they had unjustly executed in a terrible passion and death was now back in circulation with proven power over life and death itself. Perhaps, they retreated to their villas for a stint of self-isolation long before it became our way of life. They had the Psalms and knew such phrases as “Smoke went up from God’s nostrils and devouring fire from his mouth” [Psalm 18.8] and “On the wicked God will rain coals of fire and sulphur, and a scorching wind will be the portion of his cup” [Psalm 11.6]. How nervously would they have fingered their prayer-shawl phylacteries to count the tassles!
May I make an observation: At Gallipoli, but, moreso in the endless trench warfare on the Western Front that followed, Anglican chaplains tried to give the consolation of holy religion as Sunday morning Matins. At home, the beautiful quintessential BCP English of Archbishop Cranmer fitted village life perfectly. But Matins did not speak to the many unchurched mud and blood covered Diggers in the shell-pocked wasteland, where sudden death had the upper hand. Matins just did not speak to the ghastly scene of horrendous slaughter, suppurating wounds, disabling dysentery, the stench of trench feet, the nauseous smell of unburied dead between the lines, and the tasteless unrelieved diet of cold bully-beef and biscuit. But, the chaplains found that Holy Communion brought the comfort of a presence of a holy Someone, who was, somehow, a battler with them in the Front Line. Here, was Someone real who had already faced the horror situation of daily death and plumbed the depth of the very situation of life and death that they were in. Here, was Someone who was beside them, who was received into them as Communion, to strengthen them never to give in to defeat themselves, saying “We had hoped…”
The setting for coming to faith is our parish worship. Usually, St.Philip’s is the holy place, like the Emmaus room, where Jesus reveals himself in word and sacrament. The Christian faith is born and nurtured where people share in worship, through the Word, wafer and wine, through gesture, especially the tactile expression of mutual care, the hand-shake and friendship. Given our present home isolation, we cannot physically repeat the joy of the Emmaus table, but, can strive to receive the Lord in a devotional manner. In spirit, we can take the bread of Heaven to become com-panions one to another: “com” means “with,” and “panis,” is “bread.” Companions can be translated as “bread sharers.” Energized by the devotional holy Eucharist, we are to be bread sharers with our community. In our minds, we are to seek out for loving those who may be carrying pain as a snail carries its shell; it is grafted onto it. These may be the contemporary Cleopas and his wife in our area, whose lips, early on, mouthed “We had hoped…” These may be the folk carrying the weight of the cancer that has returned, the beloved who has died, the child who has left the family, the money that has not materialized. With the divine assistance of our devotional Communion what can we do to try to let needy folk hear and receive the future that our good God has prepared for them, and wills to give it through us, when they are ready to hear and receive it, and, as they are able to hear it? May we church people never gloss over the Black Friday Cross-like experience of another with glib promises of a certain resurrection. May it never be that someone may share news of a death in their family, and we sympathize for a moment before changing the subject. A shop assistant shares her disappointment at not getting a promotion, and we remind her, that in this pandemic, she at least has a job. We may not mean to be callous or insensitive, we are just at such a loss with loss. We church people must be heralds of the Resurrection, whose hearts are always “burning within us while he was talking to us on the road” [Luke 24.32]. We must remember before there is a resurrection, there must be a cross, and before there are burning hearts, there are broken ones.
Emmaus was a missioning event. Cleopas and his wife sprinted back to Jerusalem to spread their Good News. Their personal Emmaus revelation must become the journey of every one of us. We will do this by phone, by email to anyone whose heart may be downcast, who may be frustrated that there seems no quick fix with the virus to date, no glib solution to this pressing imponderable problem. May I join with John the Divine to borrow his words “These things are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that, by believing in him, you will have life by the power of his name” [John 20.31]. Unto him, who walks with us into the gloaming, who can turn our sorrowful sunsets into a joy-filled sunrise, be all honour and glory forever and ever. Alleluia. Amen.