2023-04-23 Easter 3
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
There was once a small Seminary–the place that trains and forms Pastors for the ministry. The Dean of the Seminary assigned a young, first year student to preach one day in chapel. The novice worked all night on his sermon, but despite his struggle, he came up empty. The next day, when it came time for him to stand in the pulpit and preach the Good News, he looked out at his brothers and said “Do you know what I am going to say?” They all shook their heads “no.” The young preacher said “neither do I. The service has ended, go in peace.” The Dean was quite ticked off about this and told the student “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon ready! Your future congregation will not tolerate such behaviour!” Again, the novice stayed up all night, but still had no sermon to show for his efforts. He stood in the pulpit and asked again, do you know what I am going to say?” All the other students nodded “yes” so the would-be preacher said, “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, go in peace.” The Dean was absolutely livid at this young Seminarians ignorance! “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the Gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled!” The preacher wannabe stayed up until the wee hours of the morning slaving away at his sermon. The next day he stood once again in the pulpit in front of his fellow students and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The preacher then said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.” This time, the Dean was grinning ear to ear. He walked up to the young student, put his arm around him and said: “Hmmm … those who know, tell those who don’t know?! Today the Gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace!”
This is the experience we have before us on the 3rd Sunday of Easter. We meet some of Jesus’ disciples today in Luke’s Gospel reading. We’re told that two of them were on the way to a little town called Emmaus. It was the late afternoon of our Lord’s Resurrection. They were talking about everything that had just happened. Jesus had been crucified and now there were claims circulating that He was risen from the dead! They were chatting about all of these details. Then suddenly a stranger draws near to them along the road. We could imagine that they quickly stopped talking, just as the other disciples had been hiding out behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. “What are you talking about as you walk along here?” the stranger asks. They stood sadly still, probably wondering if they should say anything to this guy at all! Who knows who he is? He could have been a Jewish spy!
But Cleopas answers. “Are you the only one in the world who doesn’t know what’s happened?!” It’s hard to imagine that anybody who would have been in town for the passover could have missed what just took place. Jesus, who had been welcomed with throngs of praises and palm branches by enormous crowds, had been sentenced to die on the cross. He hadn’t done anything wrong to die a criminal’s death, but rather He healed people and did myriads of miracles and preached about the Kingdom of God. They had hoped He would be the One to redeem Israel, another veritable Judas “The Hammer” Maccabaeus, valiant in military might! But it didn’t pan out that way. And now, what’s further beyond belief, is that some women from the group of believers went to the tomb where Jesus lay and found it empty! They saw visions of Angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive! Some of the men also went to the tomb and backed up the ladies’ story. The tomb was empty and Jesus was gone!
And now the stranger speaks up. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (LK 24:25-26). Then comes a first-hand, first-class Bible study where all the sacred and holy scriptures are made clear to them. Moses. The Prophets. Everything. Everything pointed to these exact events! The disciples thought that because Jesus suffered and died, He wasn’t the One. He wasn’t the Messiah. For surely, God’s chosen One would be victorious and wouldn’t be so easily overcome by sinful people and the world! And yet they missed the whole point. Jesus’ suffering does not prove that He was not the Messiah, but precisely that He was! God’s ways are not our ways. He operates completely opposite of what we expect sometimes. Instead of trying to wrap our minds around this, we are far better off to trust with our hearts. Trust that God is always going to deliver on His promises. Trust that He knows what is best for you and will always work accordingly, even if it’s difficult and involves enduring some difficulty and trying times.
So as they walk they get closer and they finally arrive at Emmaus. This stranger acts as if He is going on, but the disciples insist that he must stay with them. It’s late, the sun is down, come on, stay! They won’t take no for an answer. And fortunately this stranger never turns down an invitation! So they all go into the house. Then suddenly this stranger, the guest, becomes the host. He took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples. Then suddenly, at this exact moment, their eyes become wide open, and they see clearly that this ‘stranger’ is no stranger at all! They recognized Him in the same way that Mary did earlier that same morning. At first they didn’t know it was Jesus but then, miraculously, they knew! “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”“ (LK 24:32).
Now normally, heartburn is something that everyone wants to avoid! But not this time! The heartburn the disciples had was a good thing! It was a conviction. It was an overwhelming sense that God was truly present! Something amazing, something Divine has just happened and we were first hand witnesses to it! And something truly awesome had indeed just taken place for these two disciples. The Risen Lord Jesus came to them, walked with them, talked with them and now made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread. Are we sensing a theme here? Are we picking up what Jesus is laying down for us?
These are the ways and places that the Lord Jesus comes to His people still today. Especially when we are downtrodden. Especially when the world has beaten us up and we are sad or depressed or dishevelled. The Lord comes to His people in the midst of difficult times and gives us Divine Heartburn! This heartburn doesn’t give us more pain and suffering but rather gives us hope and strength and even excitement! And these places are none other than our Lord’s Word and Sacraments. There is no clearer depiction in all of the Scriptures of this. The Lord speaks and He makes Himself known to His people in the breaking of the bread. It is here, in these places where we are absolutely sure where God is for us and our salvation.
This story truly is awesome and is one of my all time favourites in the Bible. But you know what’s even more interesting? St. Luke tells us there are two disciples on the Emmaus road. One of them is named Cleopas. And the other … remains unnamed. Was it an unimportant fellow? A person not worth the ink and paper to write the name down? I’m 100% confident St. Luke did this on purpose. The other disciple’s name is intentionally left blank so that we could write our name in the space. We are the unnamed disciple! Each of us. The Lord wants to walk with us along the road. He wants us to learn the scriptures that point us to Himself and His great love and mercy for we poor sinners. He wants our eyes to be wide open to see Him in the breaking of the bread!
We are the unnamed disciple journeying with the Lord. We are the ones that Jesus gives the first hand experience to. We receive the Lord’s love and care for us in the Scriptures when we need encouragement, help and up-lifting. We receive the Lord’s forgiveness, life and salvation for us in His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. And, we receive the promise that our Lord truly has conquered sin, death and the devil for us through His cross and empty tomb. Our Lord invites us to share this Divine life and promise with Him, not as second-hand spectators, but as first-hand participants! How awesome is that! How incredible to be included in God’s salvation story! How amazing to be given a case of Divine Heartburn from Jesus that won’t ever go away! Praise be to God now and forever! Amen!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!