A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on May 8, 2011.
How well do you bury dreams? Not very well, if you are like most people. This was what these two disciples on the road to Emmaus were doing, however, as they made their way back home from Jerusalem. They had gone there to celebrate Passover, but everything turned sour on Friday with the crucifixion of Jesus.
They had so much faith and confidence in Jesus and had attached to him a lot of hopes and dreams for a better world. It appears all of this was in vain, though, which left them bewildered and puzzled, traveling through the cemetery of broken dreams. Let’s catch up with them on their journey and listen to their conversation.
This is one of the most beautiful of the resurrection appearance stories. The plot revolves around the failure of two disciples to recognize a fellow traveler along the road to Emmaus as the sun is setting on the first Easter. This stranger shares with them the story of the covenant faith from Moses and the prophets, giving special attention to how God had been revealed through the sufferings of His people, including the Messiah. Still, these two Passover pilgrims did not make the connection between this stranger and the Messiah, whose death they were mourning.
The suspense builds until the moment when the two disciples, who have invited the stranger into their home for the night, recognize the risen Lord. After he abruptly departs, they rush back to Jerusalem to share their experience with the other disciples.
Why do you think Luke included this story in his resurrection narratives? What messages can we glean from this tender story? Let me offer some things for you to consider.
It seems to me Luke wanted his readers to understand that Jesus cares for all people who are walking through the cemetery of broken dreams. You would expect the risen Lord to appear to the original disciples and his close friends after the crucifixion, but what drew him to these two obscure disciples? There seems to be nothing special about them. As a matter of fact, only one is named, Cleopas.
Why would Jesus appear to them and replace their crushing despair with joy and hope? In Luke, Jesus was always reaching out to the last, the least and the lost: the leper and paralytic in chapter 5, the widow’s son in chapter 7, a sick woman in chapter 8, a crippled woman in chapter 13, a blind beggar in chapter 18 and the thief on the cross in chapter 23. It is evident after the resurrection, he continued that tradition.
Along your journey last week, did you notice those around you who were struggling, especially those whom others ignored? Did you take time to walk with them and offer words of encouragement and hope?
According to Luke, when we reach out to the stranger, we’ll catch a glimpse of Jesus. When these two weary travelers invited this stranger into their home for the night with the offer of genuine hospitality, they had an encounter with the risen Lord.
Do you recall the parable Jesus told about the rich man and a beggar by the name of Lazarus? Lazarus would have been content eating scraps which fell from the rich man’s table, but he never received them, much less an invitation to dine at his table. The rich man never noticed the beggar at his gate or shared any bread with him. When both men died, Lazarus found his way to the bosom of Abraham, but the rich man ended up in hell, where he pleaded for the opportunity to return and warn his brothers.
Luke is the only writer to record this parable, which may hold a clue as to why he included this resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus. There are many similarities between the two stories; both mention food, a table, hospitality, or the lack of it, Moses, the prophets and resurrection from the dead. The difference between them is what happens at the table. The two on the road to Emmaus share their food with a stranger and discover that they have been in the presence of the Lord. The rich man took no notice of the beggar until he was in torment in Hades.
Could it be this resurrection story is a counterpart to the earlier parable? Dr. Alan Culpepper certainly thinks so. Could it also be Luke’s way of helping us to interpret the parable? Again, Culpepper believes it was.
“Fantasize for a moment. What might the rich man have discovered if he had shared his bread with Lazarus?” Culpepper asks. It appears he could have had a divine encounter, just as the two on the road to Emmaus had, which would have changed his life.
Jesus truly cares for the least, the last and the lost and so must we. When we join him on that mission, our eyes will be opened and our lives changed, too. As a matter of fact, Dr. Colin Harris says until we see Jesus in the stranger, we’re not likely to see him anywhere else.
Furthermore, this story indicates that Jesus cares for all people who are confused and bewildered and wants to help them sort through their confusion when life doesn’t make sense. What were these two disciples doing as they trudged back home that Sunday evening? They were discussing the events of the past week, no doubt trying to make sense of all that happened.
What did Jesus do for them? He invited them to tell their story and then he told his story, drawing upon the words of Moses and the prophets. The longer they pondered Jesus’ words, the more they burned within them, providing light in the dark, turning their “we had hoped” disappointment into a “we have seen” joy.
What are you pondering today? What mystery are you trying to understand? What decisions hang in the balance? Invite Jesus to be a part of that process. Share your story with him and pour out your heart in prayer. Ask for insight, understanding and divine guidance.
Our Lord wants to walk with you on your Emmaus road just as he did Cleopas and his companion. Let him join you.
At the same time, open your life to those around you who also care about you. Chances are the very people and resources you need to deal with your challenges are right in front of you.
One common thread that runs throughout the resurrection appearance stories is the need for people to take another look at Jesus in order to recognize him. Mary had to take another look at Jesus outside the tomb Easter morning to realize the gardener was actually Jesus. The disciples on the Sea of Galilee had to take another look to see Jesus preparing breakfast on the shore. The two on the road to Emmaus had to take another look at this stranger who walked alongside them to see that he was no stranger at all, but Jesus. Even Jesus invited these two followers to take another look at the scriptures, which he reinterpreted for them.
Perhaps Luke is telling us that we need to do the same thing. The people and resources we need in order to face life’s challenges may be right in front of us. We just need our eyes opened to see them, our hearts warmed to embrace them and our minds prepared to receive their wise counsel.
This week, take another look at those around you and invite them to become a part of your journey. What a difference it could make in your life and theirs.
One other thing comes to mind this morning as I consider the lessons from this text. On this Mother’s Day, I am reminded that good things happen when people invite Jesus into their homes. When these two disciples extended hospitality to this stranger from Galilee, their eyes were opened. They saw life from a different perspective, which changed them forever.
I believe Jesus still does this for those who invite him into their lives and homes. He helps them to see what is important in life, the potential they possess, what needs to be done to develop healthy relationships and how to repair broken ones.
Living with others is challenging and requires the best of us. Everyone needs help doing what is necessary to enhance relationships while resisting the temptation to undermine them. Where can we find the help we need to be mature, responsible, honest, truthful, loving, patient and forgiving? Who can help us achieve our potential? Who can help us repair broken relationships?
Ask the two on the road to Emmaus. I have no doubt they would have a good answer for you.