And now, a word from Luke.
We will be back to John next week and then return to Matthew on Trinity Sunday. But on this third Sunday of Easter, we jump into Luke for the encounter with the Risen Lord on the walk to Emmaus. I have come to see this 7-mile journey, in some ways, as a metaphor for an entire life of faith. There are doubts, despair, the inability to believe the experience of others no matter how much we wish we could, inklings that something bigger is happening, ignorance, revelation and the shock of divine presence in the midst of the ordinary. At any given time we are in any one of those places. Our faith is thankfully not static, nor is it always linear, progressing from one stage to the next, ever growing and getting stronger. Life events rock even the most stalwart of followers, even those closest to Jesus.
I found it interesting to look at the conjunctions in this text from Luke. There are a lot of buts, thens and ands, indicative of the twists and turns of life and faith. This reading feels like one of those drawn out plots of many a sitcom, play or movie – one of those “will they or won’t they get together?” kind of tales. They are so close, and yet unable to connect. All hope for the happy ending of the pair (in this case the pair and Jesus) is shattered. Jesus is, after all, dead. But those of us on this side of Easter want to shout at Cleopas and the other disciple, “No! He is alive!” Then Jesus comes right alongside them, but they are kept from recognizing him. (By whom? God?) Then one of them answers Jesus’ question in a rather saucy way, “What, are you the only person in town who doesn’t know?” Cleopas continues, “But we had hoped…” Then Jesus responds in an even more saucy way, “How foolish you are…” proceeding to give the most concise and yet most expansive Bible study ever. All the while we readers are thinking: “Jesus is right beside you! For the love of all things holy, it is Jesus, the one you are longing to see! You are foolish, just recognize him and let’s end this story in the way we all want it to end, with reunion, relationship and joy.” But, they don’t.
Jesus is about to keep walking, leaving them behind, but they urge him to stay and he does. Whew! Another possibility that they may get together. We’d thought they’d once again missed their chance to be reunited with the one they so love. And then they eat together and something happens. Their eyes that were made blind to his presence are now opened and they recognize that it is Jesus and he has been with them the whole time, their longing not doomed to be perpetual, their relationship restored, their love not unrequited, their hope not misplaced. A nice, Hallmark movie kind of ending, no?
Well, no. Because then Jesus does in fact vanish. Didn’t see that coming. Isn’t this the part of the plot where the scene fades to black as we are left to imagine the happy ending going on into perpetuity? Not in this twisted tale of a life of faith. Jesus doesn’t sit with us forever by the campfire as we sing kumbaya. Nor does he allow us to build booths on the top of the mountain so that we can comfortably worship him while the world teems with suffering just down the hill. The slow of heart, the ones whose hearts burn within them when Jesus unfolds the truth of Scripture, the ones who see him now very much alive as he breaks bread with them, can’t bask in the glow of hopes fulfilled. Once they know and their hearts and minds are illumined, then they have to go and tell. That’s what witnesses do. They go and tell the truth so that others who are on the if, ands and buts of life will come to recognize Jesus right beside them, too, in the Word and in the breaking of bread. Those two have to go tell the 11 and their companions because they are in that place of disbelieving despair. We must go and tell, too, because there are many who are saying, “But we had hoped…”
But… we had hoped that Jesus was the one to end our suffering, relieve our pain, give us purpose, offer us the peace that passes understanding. We had hoped that our mourning would turn to dancing. We had hoped that others would rejoice with us when we rejoice and weep with us when we weep. We had hoped that we were beloved children of God. We had hoped that death didn’t have the last word. We had hoped that our tears would be wiped away. We had hoped that we were not alone. We had hoped that all would be fed. We had hoped to be invited to the table. We had hoped that in Jesus Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We had hoped we were members of the same body, branches of the one vine, part of the household of God. But we had hoped…
Too many people are stuck on that part of the journey between faith and disbelief, hope and fear, peace and despair. But we had hoped… Haven’t we all uttered those words? But we had hoped the procedure would have cured the disease. But we had hoped this time in rehab would be the time he got clean. But we had hoped we could pay the rent. But we had hoped…
This journey of life and this journey of faith is filled with buts and thens and ands and ifs and if onlys. Often our eyes are kept from seeing Jesus right beside us as we walk along dejected and hopeless. Usually our dashed hopes are for things much smaller than God’s sure and certain plans. Did you notice? The two on the road say, “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” When, in fact, through Jesus Christ, God has redeemed the world. Perhaps that is a word for our day, too. Our dashed hopes pale in comparison to God’s promised plans. But, we often can’t even begin to imagine such divine visions when we are overwhelmed with grief and disappointment. Then, we need those whose eyes have been opened to come and share with us what they’ve seen.
William Placher, in his book “Jesus the Savior,” invites us to always ask when we read Scripture, “What can we learn from this story?” He says of this Luke narrative, “For one thing, we learn that in reading Scripture and sharing in the meal in which we remember him, we encounter Jesus. … Cleopas and his companion recognize Jesus only in his teaching and his sharing of the bread – both contexts through which readers of the story can themselves encounter Jesus in the church community.” Perhaps that is the place we should start, this very Sunday. No buts, ands or thens about it.
- Notice the use of “heart” in this text. The two are “slow of heart” and then they say that their “hearts burned within them.” What does the use of the word “heart” imply in our context? Do a word study of “heart” and see what the word encompasses in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
- Have you ever had an “ah-ha” experience as a result of a Bible study? How about during the Lord’s Supper? Worship? What was it?
- Where is the agency in this story? In other words, why is it that their eyes are kept from recognizing Jesus? What (who?) enables their eyes to be opened?
- Is it noteworthy that the two on the walk to Emmaus don’t believe the women’s testimony? Are there things we have to experience ourselves in order to believe?
- Cleopas says, “it is now the third day.” Have you ever been in a place of the “third day” when all hope is lost? What happened?
- Check out these prayers for the third Sunday of Easter from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
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