Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sermon: the Road to Emmaus ~ Luke 24:13–35

Preached at Light of Christ Anglican Fellowship in Kenosha, WI on April 8th, 2008...
In this morning’s Gospel St. Luke is writing in such a way as to communicate two messages to his audience. The first is what he made clear at the beginning of his Gospel which is “to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (v. 3-4) To simply provide a record of the events of Jesus’ life, and that of the nascent Church, just as a journalist or historian would. The second is his intention to convey, by the way he writes, some deeper truths and patterns for the early Church.
The Road to Emmaus is about how Christ is revealed. How He was revealed to Cleopas and his traveling companion, and how Christ is revealed to the Church and to us.
Our Gospel this morning begins on the day of Christ’s Resurrection, the women have just returned from the empty tomb to tell the Eleven of their encounter with the Angel who proclaimed the Resurrection and reminded them of all that Jesus had told Him about Himself. The scenes changes and the camera pans to two disciples walking down the road talking. They’re leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus. They’re headed home. And this is a strong indication of the condition of their hearts, because as they themselves say, they heard the testimony that Christ had indeed been raised (v. 22-24) but what did they do? Headed home. Contrast this with Peter’s response, what does he do? (v. 12) “But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” Peter runs towards the tomb and when he confirms what the women say, he marvels. On the contrary these two disciples aren’t interested in confirming it. They leave town disbelieving. Their hope that Jesus was the Messiah crushed.
Into this sad walk home steps Jesus who “drew near to them” to engage them in dialogue. And it’s at this point that we find the first of a few unusual things. First, they are prevented from recognizing Him. It’s not that their grief, or tear-filled eyes, or their presumption that He’s dead is confusing their ability to recognize them. They’re prevented from recognizing Him.
But why might they be prevented from recognizing Him? What if they did recognize Him immediately? They would be elated, ecstatic and respond much like Mary Magdalene and the other women at the tomb and Peter. But if this happened something important would be lost. You see, one of the problems these two disciples had is that they had forgotten what the Scriptures said about the Messiah. And obviously they’d forgotten what Jesus had told them about Himself. They needed to be firmly planted in what the Scriptures teach about Messiah in order to properly understand Jesus. But if they had immediately recognized Jesus this opportunity to be instructed and firmly rooted in Jesus’ identity as the Messiah foretold by Scripture might have been lost in the moment. And a correct understanding of who Scriptures say the Messiah is, is absolutely crucial to our faith isn’t it? It’s like when an airplane’s travels 1 compass degree off its intended course. If you go ten miles, you’re not too far away from your destination, but travel 100 or a 1,000 miles with your compass 1 degree off and you’re nowhere near your destination. Properly understanding the Messiah, and having this understanding firmly planted in what the Scriptures foretell about Him, is so important that Jesus prevents His disciples from recognizing Him in order that He might instruct them in this most important Truth. What an incredible teaching it must’ve been to have Our Lord “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
What do these two reflect about it? That as Jesus did so their hearts were burning within them. To me, it creates this image of the refiner’s fire. They have some dross of wrong belief in their heart, about who Jesus is, and as the Lord teaches them their hearts burn within them, the dross is burned away and what is left is a pure belief in the Messiah.
The second unusual feature is when and how Jesus is finally revealed to them. It’s not once He’s done teaching them. That would seem to make sense wouldn’t it? He’s taught them, corrected their misunderstanding and then…BAM!...He reveals himself. But He doesn’t. It’s also not when they beg Him not to depart but stay with them. This would seem to be an opportune moment to reveal Himself to them. They’ve been taught and then beg Him to stay with them. They certainly seem ready to recognize Him. But He doesn’t reveal Himself here either. No. Where is He revealed to them as Messiah? In the breaking of bread.
They recognize Him in the breaking of bread. Is this random? Is it because at that moment they finally recognized something familiar about Him? His gestures. His hands. The specific prayer He used to bless the bread? Maybe a particular phrase that He had always used before? Is it a coincidence that they recognize Him in the breaking of bread? No. Why not? Because what happens the instant they recognize Him? He vanishes. He would not do something as miraculous, as dramatic, as His vanishing without a specific intention. There was a reason He vanished. And there was a reason He vanished at the precise moment He did. It was because He wanted to punctuate that He had revealed Himself to them in the moment in which He broke bread. Imagine your at the Eucharist on Sunday and immediately after Fr. Eirik (our priest) breaks the bread and says “Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us…” then whoosh! He disappears. Gone. Vanished. You would remember that Eucharist for the rest of your life wouldn’t you? Jesus didn’t vanish after the teaching. He didn’t vanish before they could urge Him to come stay and eat with them. No. He vanished after they recognized Him in the breaking of bread. After instructing them in Scriptures about Himself, the Messiah revealed Himself in the breaking of bread.
And so we have Luke’s journalistic narrative of this event. What about the deeper Truths he’s communicating to his audience, the Early Church? The modern scholars, as well as the early Saints and Fathers of the Church agree that the way in which Luke describes the breaking of bread here is his classic way of describing the Eucharist throughout his Gospel and the Book of Acts. What Luke is driving at by his specific use of language is that “the risen Christ will be present to his assembled disciples, not visibly, but in the breaking of bread.” What he’s driving at for his audience is that, just as the Lord was revealed to the Emmaus disciples in the breaking of bread, he can be revealed to them, and therefore to us, in the breaking of bread.
And this emphasizes how crucial for our Christian life our participation in the weekly Eucharist is. You see, these disciples had been with Jesus for some portion of the last three years of their life. Jesus taught them that the Messiah would suffer and rise in three days, as they themselves indicate when they said, “And it is now the third day.” They had likely witnessed Jesus miraculously break bread in the feeding of the 5,000 and His many other miraculous signs and healings. But in three short days since His crucifixion they’d forgotten it all. They were leaving town. A tragedy occurred and they’d forgotten all they’d been taught…and by Jesus Himself!
And it’s not much different for us. We come to worship Jesus in our celebration of the Eucharist each Sunday and often have those days where we feel great joy, or strength, or faith during our worship. But then Monday comes…life. Now, we don’t always face a tragedy like these two disciples did but we still have distractions: jobs, kids, school, family, bills and homes. And our rooted-ness in the Truth about the Messiah can wane and get watered down by these distractions. We begin to forget that He is who He says He is, who the Scriptures say He is. And He starts to become who we think He is or who we think He ought to be. Or who are circumstances may be trying to tell us He is. But all of these are false.
This is why our liturgy begins with the proclamation of God’s Word: the reading of Holy Scripture, an exposition of these Scriptures by the preacher and then an affirmation of who the Messiah is in the Nicene Creed. All of these have the power to burn away the dross of mistaken belief in our hearts. To correct our compass when it’s just that one degree off.
You see our faith is an anchor, and our instruction in the Word is like adding more weight to that anchor. It makes us more stable in our Faith. Less easily tossed around by the waves of life. This is why it’s so important to return each week to the Eucharist: to the celebration of the Word and the Table. Because if these two disciples, who were instructed by Jesus Himself, can go astray in three days, be tossed around by the waves of life, how much more can we in seven?
But beyond mere correction, don’t our own hearts often “burn within us” when we hear the Word? A particular verse of Scripture, something the preacher says or a point we profess in the Creed touches us in a meaningful and powerful way and “jumps out” at us. We need to make room for the Word to burn within our hearts regularly and one of the best places for this is in the weekly Eucharist.
And then we move from the Word to the Table. To that place where Our Lord so strategically chose to reveal Himself to us as He made so clear by His preventing, revealing and then vanishing from these two disciples. Jesus desires to reveal Himself to us in the breaking of bread. As the Holy Scriptures teach, and our Anglican heritage has inherited, we believe that Jesus is truly present under the forms of the bread and wine. Jesus is revealed before us in our celebration around the Table, in the words of institution prayed over the bread and wine and in the bread and the wine itself, His most precious body and blood.
This is why the weekly celebration of the Eucharist is the anchor of our Faith. And why it is so important to return to it each week. To dispel our doubts and distractions, to reorient the compass of our belief, to allow the word to burn in our hearts and to receive the revelation of Jesus in the breaking of bread.
So we’re faced with a decision. When the waves of life toss us around how will we respond. Will we forget what the Scriptures say and leave town, like these two disciples? Or will we respond like Peter, who ran towards Jesus and when He discovered the empty tomb marveled? May we respond like Peter and run towards the revelation of Jesus available to us in our weekly celebration of the Eucharist.
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