13-16 That same day two of them were walking to the village 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.
17-18 He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. 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?”
19-24 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 hopes up 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.”
25-27 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.
28-31 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. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.
32 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?”
33-34 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! The Master has been raised up—Simon saw him!”
35 Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.
36-41 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.
The Lectionary passage today begins with “that same day”… What day was Luke referring to? If you just go back up a few verses, you’ll realize this was the very same day when the women woke up at the crack of dawn wanting to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. They had made their way to the tomb wondering throughout the way, “Who will move the stone away for us?” Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to preach about this on Easter Sunday two weeks ago, so this feels a little like a continuation of a drama series. J
It was the very same day as the resurrection and now we hear that two of the disciples were leaving Jerusalem and walking towards Emmaus. You may have heard this story many times but let’s slow down a little and take a fresh look at some of the facts together.
Firstly, let’s start with this question. Who are these two disciples who are heading for Emmaus? The answer to this question is not as certain as most people are likely to assume. For one thing, people often assume the two disciples are men. How many of you have always assumed it was two male disciples? I did. But if we investigate more carefully, the account in Luke gives the name of one of them. In Luke 24:18, we see that one of the disciples was called Cleopas. We take it one step further and if we use a concordance of the words occurring in the New Testament and look up the name “Cleopas,” you will find a second mention of his name in another account of the Resurrection. This is in John 19:25. There we read, “ But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
It is true that John spells the name a bit differently. But the spelling of names often varied in antiquity, and here the two names undoubtedly refer to the same person. Thus, we learn that the wife of Cleopas was also present in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion. And we may, therefore, assume that she was the one returning to Emmaus with him on the morning of the Resurrection.
So why am I telling you all this? I tell you all this not so much to make the point that the two disciples that Jesus spoke with were one male and one female, although I find that a very interesting point. I tell you all this because it helps us appreciate the details of this story better. Let me take you through this. Can you imagine with me what was actually going on that day?
So let us recap what happened in the last episode. Before Cleopas and his wife Mary made their way to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the wife of Cleopas, and a number of other women had arrived at the tomb. They not only found that the stone in front of the tomb had been moved aside, Jesus was not there! What’s more, the angels appeared to the women and told them Jesus was alive! Jesus also appeared to Mary Magdalene that morning and spoke with her. Mary the wife of Cleopas would have witnessed some of it and even if she didn’t see what happened between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, she certainly would have heard from Mary Magdalene as they made their way to tell the other disciples what had happened.
So we know Mary, the wife of Cleopas, had been present at the foot of the cross. She was mentioned specifically in John 19:25. She had seen Jesus crucified, the nails driven into his hands and how he hung on the cross. She saw the blood. She heard him cry out. She experienced the darkness. Finally she saw the spear driven into his side. Mary would have had no doubt at all that Christ was dead. And neither would Cleopas, who may have witnessed many of these things as well.
When the Crucifixion was over, Mary went back. The Passover came, and Mary and Cleopas observed it like good Jews. They waited in sadness over the holidays — from the day of the Crucifixion until the day of the Resurrection. The morning after the Saturday Sabbath finally came. Mary went to the tomb to anoint the body with the other women, leaving Cleopas to get their things together. She saw the angels and the empty tomb, returned to tell Cleopas about it, and then — and now imagine how remarkable this is — joined him in preparing to leave. She witnessed all this and yet she was preparing to leave.
What is more, during the time that Cleopas and Mary were getting ready to leave for Emmaus, the women as a group told Peter and John what they had seen and been told by the angels as well as by Jesus. Peter and John set out for the garden tomb. They entered the tomb. John believed in some sense, although he may not have understood so early what the Resurrection actually was and meant. Peter and John returned, told Cleopas and Mary and the others what they had seen, and then — again it is most remarkable — Cleopas and Mary went right on packing. And, as soon as they were ready, they left Jerusalem for Emmaus.
Did this couple believe in Christ’s resurrection at that point? Probably not! They were still grappling with everything they had seen and heard. Here was a couple who were so sad at the loss of their friend and teacher Jesus, so miserable, so preoccupied with the reality of his death, that they could not even make sense of what this empty tomb and all the messages from the angels meant.
We know that they heard all the reports and even witnessed many extraordinary parts of the story. Because when Jesus eventually appeared to them on the road and asked why they were so sad, Cleopas answered by telling him first about the crucifixion and then adding, “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.”
How did Jesus respond? “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.
I want to pause here and ask, “Are we thick headed and slow hearted people?” The disciples on the road to Emmaus were still grappling with the news and events of that day. For some of us we may have seen God work in our lives, yet we remain thick headed and slow hearted. I know I am. I have seen God work in so many ways in my life but there are times I know I am thick headed and slow hearted. Perhaps what we all need is a dose of what the two of them received that evening with Jesus.
There were two things that the disciples encountered that was the turning point for them. One was Jesus, the Word of God, who explained everything in the Scriptures regarding him from the beginning right through the books of Moses and the Prophets –-meaning the whole Old Testament as we know it. The second was when Jesus sat with them and broke bread with them in their home.
At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.
32 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?”
Encountering Jesus in a personal way, allowing him to open their hearts and minds, and communing with him set their hearts on fire and their eyes were finally opened. In fact, their hearts were so on fire that they didn’t waste a minute. Even though it was already nightfall, they got up and immediately went back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what happened and how they recognized Jesus.
This story begins and ends with a journey on the road.
At first, they are leaving Jerusalem, confused, dejected and grieving. After meeting the risen Jesus in Word and Communion, they head back to Jerusalem with hearts on fire, excited, amazed, and they couldn’t wait to share their experience with the other disciples.
My question for you is: are you blind? This question sounds a little rude but did you know there are different kinds of blindness? In his book The Mind’s Eye (2010), Oliver Sacks explores how the plasticity of the human brain compensates for different types of blindness. Sacks explains how people can be blind in different ways and for different reasons, from birth defect, accident, injury, or disease. One of his patients, Lilian, developed “visual agnosia” late in life. She could recognize the tiniest letters on an eye doctor’s chart, but couldn’t read words or music, even though she was a famous pianist. People with “object agnosia” can’t recognize common objects like their own car, even though their visual acuity is normal. Sacks himself has “proso-pognosia,” the inability to recognize faces. People with “deep blindness” lose even their interior mental images.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus suffered from blindness. They talked about Jesus, recalling who he was and what he had done the preceding three years. They even talked to Jesus, who walked with them for seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. But they were not able to recognize who he was.
Do we talk a lot about Jesus and what we should do as disciples, and yet fail to recognize him if he was standing in front of us? This story is a disturbing reminder of how we remain oblivious to God’s presence even when God is right here beside us. The Emmaus disciples were blinded by their mistaken expectations about what God was doing amongst them in Jesus. What blinds us to God’s presence? Is it our own painful experiences? Is it our mistaken expectations?
Will we allow the Spirit of God to open our eyes to the Scriptures and set our hearts on fire with the transforming power of God’s presence in our lives?
“The friends of Jesus saw him and heard him only a few times after that Easter morning, but their lives were completely changed. What seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning, what seemed to be a cause for fear proved to be a cause for courage, what seemed to be defeat proved to be victory, and what seemed to be the basis for despair proved to be the basis for hope. Suddenly a wall becomes a gate, and although we are not able to say with much clarity or precision what lies beyond that gate, the tone of all that we do and say on our way to the gate changes dramatically.” -Henri Nouwen
I remember a time in my life when a wall in my heart was transformed into a gate. Some of you may have heard this before and if so, please just humour me. I became a Christian when I was a teenager but it was also around the same time when I realized I was gay. In my mind, I didn’t belive God could accept or love me so I ran away from God. It was my mistaken expectation of God that caused me to build up a wall in my heart against God. Even though I was the one pushing God away, at the back of my mind I knew God was always there with me. Just before I entered university, a friend invited me to a Christian concert. And I could sense God’s Spirit dissolving the wall I had put up. Halfway through the concert, I heard a small voice speaking into my heart, “I love you.” In that moment, I realized what it truly meant that God loves me. And I also realized what grace was. Why would God the Creator of the universe bother about someone like me? Someone who built a wall and pushed God away? Yet God reached down to make sure I understood that I was loved. In that moment, the wall in my heart became a gate. And as I walked through that gate, my life has been transformed in such an amazing and unexpected way!
What about you? Have you experienced a wall becoming a gate in your life?
What are the walls in your life right now? What difference would it make if we discover that these walls are becoming gates instead? How would it change the tone of all that you do and say? How would you approach things differently if the wall in your life becomes a gate? Will you open up the gates of your heart so that you can recognize God’s presence and power in your life? Will you walk through and allow God to lead you on a new and unexpected journey that may set your hearts on fire and transform your life? Perhaps that will send us out excited, amazed and we won’t be able to wait another moment to tell others about our experience of God. Perhaps that will send us out to be the people God created us to be.