Sunday, April 30, 2017

People of the Way


Luke 24:13-35
April 30, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

The Easter season continues with another post-resurrection story. This story comes from Luke’s gospel, and was probably written around the year 80, for the communities of faith that had formed around the stories of Jesus, the risen Lord. They are house churches, gatherings that meet on the first day of the week, to eat a meal together, to sing and pray and read the scriptures. Some are well-off, most are not; they are Jews and Gentiles, men and women. They did not see the risen Lord face to face, but Luke’s gospel, and this beautifully written story in particular, shows them – and us-- how they can encounter Jesus. Let’s listen for the good news of the gospel in Luke 24:13-35:

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.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


It’s such a simple, elegant story – fewer than 500 words.
A straightforward tale of two nobodies on the road to nowhere.
Two people, one unnamed, walking along the way,
leaving Jerusalem on the first day of the week,
three days after Jesus was crucified.

They knew who Jesus was; he was the source of their hope.
But their hope had died when he died.
What was there to do but leave Jerusalem and go to Emmaus?

Their voices were low as they talked, muted by grief.
As they walked along the road,
they were joined on the way by a third traveler, a stranger.
“What are you discussing?” he wanted to know.
What’s the subject of such intense conversation?
They stood still, looking sad.

You can almost feel the heartbreak in that silence.
You know what it’s like, that moment when your grief
is interrupted by a question – what is it? what’s wrong?
They must have been surprised – that’s how they sound –
“Are you the only one who doesn’t know?”

So they told the stranger what had happened, what had caused their sorrow.
We had hoped, they said…we had hoped.

“How foolish you are…how slow of heart!” And then, as they walked along the way, the three of them, Jesus opened the word to them, interpreting the scriptures.
Then Jesus was going on, but they prevailed on him to stay.
"Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over."
So he went in to stay with them.

You know the rest of the story, don’t you?

How 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. 

But they had seen him – they had seen him! 
The broken hearted, the slow of heart, 
the ones who could not see him, 
their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread. 
Of course they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

It’s such a simple, elegant story – fewer than 500 words.
A straightforward tale of two nobodies on the road to nowhere.
Two people, one Cleopas, the other – who knows?—
walking along the way on the first day of the week.

To have heard this story for the first time – back in the first century –
what an experience that must have been!

There must have been some in the community who actually had seen him –
who had met Jesus, and talked to him, heard him preach.
Maybe there was someone who had been healed by him, blessed by him.
Perhaps there was someone there whose mother had carried them to Jesus,
who’d been taken in the savior’s arms, and held on his lap.
So they gathered with the others, on the first day of the week,
like Cleopas and his companion,
to share in the breaking of the bread, the prayers, and scripture.
They gathered with the expectation of meeting the risen Lord.

They were called “the People of the Way,” –
the way of Jesus, the crucified one, who rose from the dead.
It’s what we were, before we began to be called Christians –
people of the way – people who have hope.
See, that’s how it happens, when people meet Jesus on the road.

You know the story.

They had hoped, but they had not seen him,
so they walked along the road, their steps heavy with sadness.
They had hoped – they had hoped for things to be different –
for the promotion that was promised,
for the marriage to work,
for the addiction to be conquered,
for the diagnosis to be wrong,
for the prognosis to be better,
for the promise to be kept,
for the love to be returned.

They were broken hearted, and they stopped, looking sad,
when he came alongside them and asked them what was on their minds.

They were searching, fleeing that city of empire and death,
trying to go back home again,
thinking they’d be safe if they could just get away,
thinking things might make sense if they could only have some distance.
But home would never be the same,
and only Jesus could make sense of things for them.

It was the first day of the week,
and they were together, and they asked the stranger to stay,
to eat with them, and the scriptures were read and interpreted,
and then the table was set, and the bread was there,
and he took it and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them
and their eyes were opened,
and their hearts were broken open.

In their small act of hospitality, they opened the door to grace.
In their willingness to welcome the stranger, they met the Risen Lord.
In the simple gift of bread, they received the hope of new life.
And in the moment of recognition, they knew – they knew –
that they had to hurry back to the city –
to tell the others,
to share the good news:
our eyes have been opened!

It’s such a simple, elegant story – fewer than 500 words.
A straightforward tale of two nobodies on the road to nowhere.
Two people, one Cleopas, the other – maybe you?
Because now you know the way.

It’s a door we open by sharing in the prayers and the fellowship.
It’s a recognition that comes in the breaking of the bread.
We encounter the Risen Lord, and walk in his way.
It’s a way we make by walking,
walking together.
Not away from the trouble, away from the mess,
but into city, back to the struggle, back to the community.
All along that way our eyes are opened,
and when our eyes are opened we realize
that our work has new meaning,
that Jesus is present even in our pain,
that our relationships can be transformed,
that healing involves something more than a cure,
that God’s promises are certain,
and God’s love never fails.
We are people of the way – following in the way of Christ,
a bunch of nobodies on the way to nowhere.
It looks like a dusty road away from the city,
but it turns out that it takes you right back
to the heart of everything.

Amen.

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