(sermon note: 04-11 sermon note)
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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a Jewish son who told his father he was moving out. The son returned a year later and told his father that he had converted to Christianity. The father was upset and called his friend who was also Jewish. “You won’t believe this! My son, David, moved out for a year and came back and told me he converted to Christianity.” His friend said, “You won’t believe this…my son, Benjamin, moved away for a year and when he came back HE converted to Christianity, too!” Both upset, they called their rabbi and explained what happened. The rabbi said, “You won’t believe this. My son, Joshua, moved away and when HE came back, he told me he converted to Christianity, too!” The rabbi suggested they called on God and told him. So the rabbi told God that all three men had sons who moved away and converted to Christianity and didn’t know what to do. God heard their complaint and with a long sigh responded, “You won’t believe this…”
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were not unlike these three men, God as well, in grieving over a shared tragedy. The disciples just couldn’t believe that Jesus had been arrested and crucified. He was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God all the people.” He was “the one to redeem Israel.” How could he of all people have suffered and died?! And to add to their confusion, other disciples had gone to his tomb earlier that day and found that it was empty. Other disciples went and confirmed what the earlier disciples had found. Which is to say that one of two realities had occurred: either Jesus’ body had somehow been removed from the tomb despite the large rock covering the entrance or Jesus was resurrected and alive and walking among the living as the angels had suggested. Either reality was difficult to believe, much the same way the reality of good little Jewish boys converting to Christianity was difficult to believe. These realities just…don’t…happen! Thieves don’t roll away large stones unnoticed, dead bodies aren’t resurrected, and Jewish boys just aren’t converted! How could such absurd realities occur?!
Well, two of the three realities DID occur despite their absurdity. Jesus was resurrected and Jewish boys are converted as illustrated by Jesus himself. I know, it sounds just as absurd that Jesus converted to a religion structured on his life, death, and resurrection but clearly he is more than the Jewish religion. He said it all along, “I came to fulfill the Jewish scripture.” His life took the wisdom from Jewish scripture and transformed it into a much greater revelation of who God is. Jesus is the wisdom of Jewish scripture…Jesus is God! So yes, even good, little Jewish boys can be converted as their understanding of God develops. But I don’t want to upset our Jewish brothers and sisters by dismissing their faith. We know and worship the same God even if our understanding of him may differ…He is the same God.
Nonetheless, Jesus did rise from the dead just as he said he would throughout his late ministry. He did rise and he still walks among us practically 2,000 years after his crucifixion. Now I understand that’s a difficult statement to proclaim, especially as modern scientific thought seems to grow in popularity. Modern scientific thought can’t prove the resurrection so therefore it can’t exist. Things can’t come back to life because science hasn’t proved there can be life after death. Death is an absolute end according to science. But is science right? Is death the absolute end? Well, there are a lot of mysteries in the universe that science hasn’t proven so science is limited in its answers. Certainty is a fleeting illusion. Realities are constantly changing and evolving as time presses on and there are very few absolutes in this world. Death is by no means an absolute end, let alone an end at all. Death is simply a shift in reality and a new beginning. There most certainly is life after death! Science struggles to prove it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t so. Jesus proved it! Jesus showed us there is life after death! Jesus came alongside those two disciples as they were walking away from Jerusalem and the tragedy of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus came right up alongside them and mischievously played stupid: “What are you discussing? Why so sad? What things have taken place in Jerusalem?” Jesus played stupid, the disciples shared their testimony, and Jesus went on to reveal himself both in scripture and in person.
The disciples thought they knew Jesus and Jesus’ story. Boy, were they wrong! Their certainty was a fleeting illusion. They didn’t know Jesus. Heck, they didn’t even recognize him as he walked with them! It was only when Jesus broke bread with them when he was revealed to them. It was only when they relied less on their certainty and more on being in the moment, being in his presence, when he revealed himself to them. It was only when they lived by faith that they came to believe. Friends, there is great enlightenment in faith and belief, far greater than in certainty. God reveals himself in faith and belief. God blesses the faithful with belief. Recall Jesus’ words to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) The disciples weren’t looking, they were faithful and because of it they came to believe. Their confusion and sadness was no more, just as Jesus had calmed the hearts of his eleven disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
Faith is important in that it leads to belief. God reveals himself and the answers to the mysteries of this world to the faithful. Not the certain but the faithful. God comes to those who are faithful and want to believe. Recall what Paul wrote to the Romans, “Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (10:9-10) Faith leads to belief which ultimately leads to salvation. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” As we continue on our walk through Easter, let us seek to be faithful instead of certain. Only the faithful can come to believe. Let us believe in the resurrection, in the hope of life after death. Death is by no means an end but rather a beginning. Let us cling to Jesus’ questioning words, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.