13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
18 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?”
19 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, 20 and
how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
21 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 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. 24 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.”
25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Imagine meeting a stranger and, after the stranger left, learning that it was someone famous. It could happen. You could be shopping or sitting in an airplane or eating at a restaurant. The stranger is friendly and strikes up a conversation with you. You hang out for awhile and then you part company. Afterwards, somebody comes up to you and says, “Do you know who that was?” And you find out you’ve just had lunch with a famous senator or actor or athlete.
It could happen. It did happen to Cleopas and his companion.
Cleopas and his friend were on their way home after a stressful week in Jerusalem. I’m guessing that they had gone into Jerusalem for two reasons: to celebrate the Passover and to hang out with Jesus and the other disciples. The week had not gone as expected. On the plus side, they had several days to hear Jesus, who preached in the temple following his entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey. On the negative side, they had watched, first with dismay, then horror, as Jesus was arrested, shoved through a sham trial, and executed.
Because they had been dedicated followers of Jesus, they could not let the events of the past week fade into memory. Luke tells us they were “talking with each other about all these things that had happened. “ The original Greek of the passage implies that they were not only talking; they were “examining evidence together.”
How many times do we go back over what we’ve seen and heard and tried to make sense of it. I sat at the deathbed of a fine gentleman the other night. He had died of a heart attack and his wife was going over every minute that led up to the heart attack. She narrated every step from his first chest pain to his collapse to the ambulance ride. At each step, she analyzed what she perceived and what she now saw as happening. As is the case with many heart attacks, it cannot be distinguished from heartburn. She gave him some Tums, some 7-Up. She analyzed every pain, every movement, trying to figure out what she could have done.
We’ve all been through events that puzzled us, caused us pain, made us relive moment by moment the one misstep, the one wrong word, the one wrong turn. Historians have mulled over events for as long as people have made history. For instance, 65,000 books have been written about the American Civil War. Sixty-five thousand!
There are two reasons we go over and over events. First, we want to understand what happened, and second, we want to understand what we could have done differently. Sometimes we learn from this analysis; sometimes we don’t.
Cleopas and his friend were familiar with Jesus’ teachings. They followed Jesus intentionally, wanting to be a part of whatever he was planning. They believed “Jesus of Nazareth, … was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, …we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”
They knew the prophecies, they believed in them and, in Jesus, they had found the manifestation of the old prophecies. Now they were trying to figure out what had happened. We know they were close followers of Jesus because they knew of the reports that had come back that morning from the tomb: 22 “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 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. 24 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.”
Not everyone who knew about the crucifixion had heard about the empty tomb. Clearly, Cleopas and his friend were in the inner circle of disciples.
The phrase that strikes my heart most is (21) “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped. How often hope is the thing that keeps us alive, keeps us believing, motivates us to get out of bed in the morning and allows us to sleep at night. Again, in my hospital work I have seen how a lack of hope takes away the ability to live, to engage, to progress. We had hoped.
What have you hoped for? Sometimes we hope for good weather, for healing, for a good crop, for a raise, for safe travel, for wisdom or luck. Sometimes we hope for things that are so personal that we cannot speak of them without feeling pain.
Cleopas had hoped, along with thousands of others, for the Messiah who would redeem Israel. We know now, that our hope lies in a different direction. Our hope lies in the resurrection, in knowing that resurrection awaits us and all those who go before and after us.
But in the meantime, we don’t sit on our hands. There is also hope for our time in this only life that we know, this life that we are reluctant to leave. Jesus has given us hope for happiness, justice, goodness, not as a martial messiah, but as a loving teacher and an perfect example. There is hope for each day, each moment when we love God and love our neighbor.
As your pastor, and as a Christian, I believe that our coming together for worship is the best way to reinforce that hope. One of my favorite authors is David Lose. He sees in this Emmaus story the format for Christian community:
“… it is Luke’s great promise about Christian worship. Think about the four-part movement of the narrative:
the two travelers are met on the road,
have the scriptures opened,
share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ,
and then are sent to share and live the good news.
We can encounter Jesus in unexpected places. I pray that each day, you find Jesus walking by your side, in the form of your own actions or the actions of another. And I thank God that we can meet together as followers to open ourselves with purpose to receiving God’s presence in this time and space. Amen.