An Easter evening sermon, based on the lectionary readings. The Emmaus road story is a great introduction to a lot of Christian life; there’s much more to talk about than is possible to do in one sermon!
I’ve also taken a very different approach to the events on the Emmaus road with an all-age talk and quiz!
For this sermon, two commentaries on Luke that I found helpful were Tom Wright’s commentary and the NIV application commentary by Darrell Bock.
I really enjoy walking. Walking in the fells, or on the peaks, in the dales, along sea cliffs or wherever. I enjoy the different things you get to see, the places you visit, the time spent out of the hustle and bustle. But, if you go on enough walks, sooner or later you end up a bit lost. The map or book was out of date, or you misread it, or you didn’t understand what the guide book was saying. Sometimes it doesn’t make much difference; you can see where you’re meant to be, or can see an alternative route. Other times, it’s a bit harder and involves the occasional hop over a fence or gate. And occasionally you end up realising that you’re going to have to turn round and go back the other way. That’s always a bit dispiriting. Having to retrace your steps, feeling that the effort you’d made to get there hadn’t actually been worth it.
But, the walk that we heard about in our reading from Luke was a different sort of journey. It wasn’t an enjoyable walk through the countryside. It was a hot trudge back home after a traumatic and shattering few days. Cleopas and his unnamed companion were heading home, perhaps not knowing what else to do. Cleopas was probably walking home with his wife Mary.
They are walking home talking about all that has gone on, trying to make sense of it. And, probably, talking round and round in circles. When, suddenly, they are approached by a stranger, who wonders what they’re talking about. “Do you not know the things that have happened there?” they ask. Cleopas, bravely, recklessly or beyond caring, tells the stranger about Jesus of Nazareth and their hopes for him. And then the stranger cuts through all their wondering and talking in circles. He explains to them what is said in all the Scriptures concerning the Messiah.
Jesus walked the wrong way with Cleopas and Mary. Jesus walked the wrong way, and listened to their concerns and worries. Jesus walked and listened before he talked. So, when he talked he knew what Cleopas and Mary were thinking and worrying about. And as they walked and as the stranger talked Cleopas and Mary listened and realised that the map they had was out of date, that they had been misreading the guide book, they hadn’t understood what the book was saying.
What Jesus had been reminding them, was that all through the Old Testament the promise of new life and resurrection was present. We heard an example of that from Ezekiel. This great promise of life from death is at the heart of what we are celebrating this Easter Day. Life from death for Jesus, and so life from death for us all. It’s one of the great promises of God, it’s one of the main sources of hope that we have. It’s one of the great sources of hope that Cleopas and Mary would have had; that Jesus and themselves would be raised to life. But, only at the last day, only when the Messiah had come to bring God’s kingdom and usher in the end of the world.
So, they weren’t expecting it in the way that it happened. They were expecting a victorious Christ to sweep away all God’s enemies and bring about God’s rule, and so bring about the last day of God’s judgement. They weren’t expecting things to go on seemingly just like they had done.
And is that a problem that we still have? We know where they got their beliefs wrong. We know that Jesus has brought in God’s kingdom, has brought about his rule, and in so doing promises to bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom. But, do we live out our belief in new life from death? Do we believe that God breathes new life into our own lives? Do we believe that God breathes new life into our hopes and dreams? Into our tired imaginings? We are promised that “God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine”. That’s what Cleopas and Mary experienced in their walk and meal with Jesus. God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. What could that look like in our own lives, in the life of our church? That’s the promise of Jesus’ resurrection. Not just resurrection at the last day, but resurrection now, in our own lives, in our life together as the body of Christ.
But, there was another strand running through the Old Testament. As well as the hope of resurrection there was also the understanding that God’s chosen one would have to take on the suffering of others to bring about God’s promised kingdom. And that was a bit more confusing. New life and resurrection, well who wouldn’t like that? Restoration of God’s kingdom? Great! Suffering and pain and death? Less popular. Not something that we want to focus on and certainly not something that the Jews of Jesus’ time wanted to focus on. Not least because they probably felt that they’d already done more than enough suffering.
That’s a challenge to us to though. Do we pick and choose which bits of the Bible we focus on? Do we choose which bits of God’s nature we want to think about? Cleopas and Mary were devout Jews, they knew the scriptures. They just didn’t know what the scriptures were saying. And that’s a challenge to us. Do we assume we know what the Bible says without going back to it, wrestling afresh with it, asking for God’s Spirit to help interpret it? Do we think we know what God is thinking about this situation without going back, allowing our assumptions to be challenged?
And, of course, if we’re like this with the Bible, then how much more so with other parts of our lives, and with other people’s lives, and with the life of our church? We’re pretty good, at least sometimes, with carrying on with things because we’ve always done it that way. We’re pretty good at doing other people’s thinking for them: well obviously they’d do this, or wouldn’t want to go to this. Apparently that’s one of the commonest reasons for not inviting people to church events. We think ‘well they wouldn’t want to, it’d be embarrassing to ask, so I won’t bother’. We think through the whole conversation, without even bothering to include the other person. I’ll be talking about that again at some point!
Can we allow the power of the resurrection to flow into our lives, into our thinking, into our attitudes?
Notice again what Jesus did. He walked the wrong way with Cleopas and Mary. He listened before he talked. He helped them move from their assumptions, to where they should be. Is that a model we take seriously when we’re talking to other people about Jesus?
And notice also when Cleopas and Mary actually discovered who it was they were talking to. It was after they had invited him into their home. It was in the physical, everyday act of taking food and giving thanks. Jesus was revealed in the physical and the ordinary. Jesus was revealed, as Luke is at pains to state “in the breaking of the bread”. Luke clearly meant us to think about discovering afresh Jesus in taking communion.
I think also, we need to take seriously how seriously God takes physical things. God became flesh for us. God uses ordinary water at baptism to welcome us into his family. God uses ordinary bread and wine as the way to bring us together and to meet afresh with Jesus. Jesus reveals himself in the ordinary, in everyday activities. And he calls us to reveal ourselves as his followers in the midst of our everyday lives.
So let us take seriously the ordinary, the everyday, and let us consciously seek to discover Jesus in those places, with those people we meet. Let us ask God’s Holy Spirit to breathe new life into us, let us ask Jesus to walk alongside us. And as we take part in this meal, this taste of the heavenly banquet, let us do so in the knowledge that we can look for the day of his return. For it is then when we will sit at the banquet of God’s kingdom and celebrate the salvation of the whole world won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. And let us live our whole lives in the light of that hope and promise. Amen.