A sermon by Pastor William Cwirla:
It was a long, slow seven miles from
Jerusalem to Emmaus for two disciples on that first day of the
resurrection. Cleopas, whom some believe to be the brother of Joseph,
Jesus’ uncle so to speak, and another disciple are walking back to
their homes. As they walked, they talked about all that had happened
the past week. The arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the burial, the
odd news from the women of the open, empty tomb, angels (were there one
or two?), the report of Peter and John. But no sight of Jesus.
had staked their lives on this Jesus from Nazareth. Everything they
had. They thought He was the one. A Prophet powerful in word and
deed. He made blind men see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He
raised the dead. They hoped He was the messiah, the promised One who
would redeem Israel. And then in one short week their hopes seemed to
come to ruin. Jesus was dead, buried, and now nowhere to be seen.
disillusion, grief, bewilderment, confusion, sadness. What words can
describe what goes through your mind as you walk that lonely Emmaus
Road? You trusted Jesus and now He seems to have disappeared without a
trace. You feel betrayed, used maybe, certainly sad. Rumors don’t
provide any comfort. Even reports of a vision of angels rings hollow.
It all seems to hang on that little sentence, “But Him they did not
They had to see Jesus. Unless they saw Him, they would
not believe. Unless they saw Him, there would be no point in going
on. Unless they say Him, all they could do is walk the seven miles
back from Jerusalem to Emmaus as the late afternoon sun was setting.
stranger caught up with them. It was Jesus, but their eyes were kept
from recognizing Him. Note that. It wasn’t that they were so caught
up in their grief that they didn’t recognize Him. It wasn’t a case of
the “eyes made blind by sin.” They were not permitted from recognizing
Him. Jesus concealed His identity.
Why? Why play this little
game with two grieving disciples? Why not just show yourself, as Jesus
did to Mary Magdalene? Jesus is still the Teacher. First, He wants to
hear from their own lips what they believe about Him. It’s something
like walking into a room where people are talking about you and don’t
know that you’re there. What they say to Jesus about Jesus betrays the
fact that they do not yet take Him at His word. He said He would die
and in three days rise. They’ve been counting the days. They knew it
was the third day, and getting late. Yet they did not believe the good
news from the women.
Jesus chides Cleopas and the other
disciple. “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the
prophets have spoken!” The reason they were sad and moping was that
they were being foolish, that is, faithless, with heart slow to
believe. It wasn’t their eyes, it was their hearts that were messed
up. Hearts weighed down by sin, alienated from God are slow to
believe, even when they beat in the chest of a near relative and
another close disciple. Our hearts are slow about the things of God,
alienated from God, turned away from God and turned inward on self.
Our hearts do not naturally believe the promises of God. They must be
made new, softened by the Word, enlivened by the Spirit.
with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the
scriptures the things concerning himself.” He taught them the proper
way to interpret the Scriptures. Not as a book of rules or an owner’s
manual for life. But as God’s revelation of His Son. It doesn’t say
exactly what Jesus talked about, but I imagine He talked about the
Passover, the Exodus, the sacrifices, Isaiah’s suffering servant, and
all the images behind which He had been hiding. It must have been
quite the Bible class on that Emmaus Road. The two disciples reported
that their hearts were burning, which means they were taking it all in
and everything was clicking at lightning speed.
Have you ever
had a case of Scripture heartburn? I call it “seeing in primary
colors,” everything is so crystal clear, all the pieces come together,
you think you’re head is about to explode for joy. That’s the power of
the Scriptures when they are read through the death and resurrection of
Christ. Jesus had said that the Scriptures were speaking about Him.
He speaks through the Scriptures. As the OT dots are connected, and
Jesus is revealed as the Lamb of God chosen from eternity to bear the
world’s sin in His dying and rising, slow hearts become believing
They still don’t recognize Jesus. Their eyes
are still kept from recognizing Him. He wants to teach them so they in
turn can teach others. He would not be seen for too much longer.
Forty days, to be exact, and then He would ascend in glory and be
hidden from their eyes until the Last Day. How would they hear from
Him? Where would they go when their hearts were slow and sad? To the
Scriptures. To the Word of God.
There’s a popular old Easter
hymn by C. Austin Miles back in 1912 that you don’t sing around here
for good reason. It’s called “In the Garden.” It has a refrain that
He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
I know this isn’t on the cutting edge of contemporary Christian music,
but the sentiment is still popular that Jesus walks with us and talks
with us as He did with Mary Magdalene in the garden. But the Emmaus
road teaches something different. He walks with us and talks with us
in the Scriptures. Do you want to have an Emmaus walk with Jesus?
Then take and read. Come to the church and hear. Take a stroll through
the Scriptures searching for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and your
slow, sad hearts will burn too. Save the garden for bird watching.
came a fork in the road, and Jesus pretended to go in the other
direction. Still hiding Himself, still more to give. The two
disciples urged Jesus, “Stay with us, it’s almost sundown.” So Jesus
went to their house. At supper, He seems to take over the house and
make it His own. He takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and
begins to distribute it to them. Sound familiar? It should! Echoes
of the upper room the week before, the Passover table, the breaking of
the bread. “This is my body.”
And then, at that very moment,
with the bread, their eyes were finally opened and they recognized
Jesus. Just as suddenly, Jesus disappeared from their sight. Poof!
He was gone. Curiously, they didn’t ask, “Where did He go?” They
didn’t have to ask. They knew where they could find Jesus. It was
where He promised to be for them – in the Scriptures and in the
Breaking of the Bread. Word and Sacrament, as we Lutherans like to say
I hope you can see how the Emmaus Road shaped Christian
worship from the earliest centuries. We hear from Christ in the
Scriptures; He reveals Himself to us in the Supper. And that’s the
point of the Emmaus Road. This in-between time, between Jesus’
resurrection and our resurrection, is not a time for seeing with our
eyes but of hearing with our ears the Word and receiving with our
mouths the Body and Blood. This is how Jesus walks with us and talks
with us and tells us we are his own. The liturgy is our Emmaus Road
from death to life, from sorrow to joy, beginning with our death and
burial in Baptism, walking the Scripture road with hearts aflame with
faith, leading to the table where Jesus is made known to us in the
Breaking of the Bread.
There is a beautiful prayer for Easter evening when our journey on the Emmaus Road comes to its ending:
Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.
Abide with us and with Your whole Church.
Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world.
Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing.
with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the
night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near.
Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever.
In the name of Jesus,