Easter 3 Luke 24:13-35 15 April 2018
They were on the road, the two of them, walking toward the village of Emmaus, walking along and talking as the sounds and the smells of Jerusalem faded in the distance and the seven mile stretch of road, a day’s journey by foot, unfolded before them.
And what were the words they were sharing, the conversation they were having? It was all about the events of the past few days in Jerusalem. Such a time they had not ever experienced before.
For these two, Cleopas and one whose name is not known to us, were disciples of Jesus, and what they had seen and heard during the previous week had shaken them to their very core.
The past week had been the week of the Passover. It had begun with a celebration – Jesus came into Jerusalem and many people welcomed him and shouted his praise. Then there was Jesus’ angry appearance in the Temple, when he drove out the buyers and the sellers. There was time for more teaching, and listening to Jesus’ words, as he told all who would listen, parables; commentary on paying taxes, and predictions of the future and the end of the age.
And then … the part which was too much to bear, the part which was so hard to talk about … the arrest of their beloved Jesus, his trial, and his death on a cross and burial. Jesus was dead and gone. Their hopes were dashed, and it seemed as if their lives were over now too. How could this have happened to their teacher and their friend, the one on whom they had laid so much of their hope?
And now … and now the two of them were on the road to Emmaus, perhaps going back home to the lives they had left behind when they became Jesus’ followers, walking and talking and the conversation no doubt dragging them down further and further into the pit of despair and hopelessness and sadness. It must have been a miserable time for them as they walked along those seven miles.
So miserable, in fact, that they didn’t even seem to notice as a stranger caught up with them and joined them in their sad walk. “What’s going on – what are you talking about that’s made you look so sad?” he asked.
So they told him the story as they knew it – all about Jesus, this one they had followed, this one on whom they had pinned their hopes and dreams for the salvation of their nation. They even told this stranger about some unbelievable business they had heard: an empty tomb, and angels – but no one had actually seen Jesus arisen and alive. To them, it was all too much, the capping sadness to a time of sadness and failure.
Their words – Cleopas and the other disciple walking toward Emmaus – their words blocked The Word for them. They had even heard about Jesus’ resurrection but their sadness and grief at what they had seen in the past few days blocked them from realizing that what had happened was all part of what God was working out, for them, for the world.
Their words – Cleopas and the other disciple walking toward Emmaus – their words even blocked them from realizing that this stranger who had joined them in their journey was Jesus himself.
No wonder Jesus’ words to them were so hard. Doubtless we would expect a soft, kind word if we were in this situation. But Jesus knew that this wasn’t a time for soft words – it was time for a wake-up call to these two, a jarring word to shake them loose from their mourning and self-pity.
Because they had been there and heard, when The Word about what all these events meant had been spoken. This Word had been around since Moses, and all the prophets. And Jesus himself had spoken this very Word to them in all that he had done and said in the time leading up to his death on that cross.
Now Jesus spoke this Word to them again, retelling the Story all the way from Moses up through the events of the past week, describing and teaching and explaining to these two, so that they would believe those words of the angels, that he was alive and not dead anymore.
And finally, as Cleopas and the other disciple ended their journey and invited this stranger to share the evening meal with them, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus. The Word that Jesus had spoken to them had done this. And they knew it. “Did not our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Their hearts were on fire. And this fire drove them right back to where they had come, back to Jerusalem, back to the other disciples, where they shared this Good News with each other. Their faith had been strengthened. They finally understood all that Jesus had been teaching them in the days leading up to his death. They understood and believed what he had been preaching and teaching. Their hearts were on fire because they had heard the Word. They had seen a lot – but in the end, their faith had come through hearing the Good News about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Their hearts were on fire. Their hearts were on fire with the flame of hope and love and joy that came from hearing the Word of the Gospel. Their hearts were on fire and this fire drove them back to Jerusalem, back to share in this joy with the other disciples, and eventually back out into the world, after they received the promised Holy Spirit from Jesus, the “power from on high,” at Pentecost.
Their hearts were on fire.
Can we say the same thing here, this morning? Are our hearts on fire like the hearts of those disciples? Are our hearts on fire with the flame of the living and loving Word of God?
For we’ve got more of a witness to Christ’s power and truth and salvation than Cleopas and the other disciple did, as they walked that lonely road to Emmaus. We have been baptized into Christ’s Church, many of us have been raised in this faith ever since we were babies, some within these very walls. We worship nearly every Sunday. We like being Lutherans. We even know how to respond when someone says, “The Lord be with you.”
But are our hearts on fire? Are our hearts on fire with the flame of hope and love and joy that comes from hearing the Word of the Gospel?
The Apostle Paul, when he wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian church, knew all about “hearts on fire.” He called on that church to “not quench the Spirit.” What did he mean by that? How did he think that could happen?
It had happened to those two, Cleopas and the other disciple, on the road to Emmaus, They had heard Jesus’ words to them before the cross, explaining all that was to happen, interpreting the Scripture to them before he died, but their own internal spin on what these words were to mean blocked the fire from building within their hearts; their grief and sorrow at what they perceived had happened, their hopelessness prevented them even from recognizing Jesus right next to them, as they walked that road. Only Jesus’ risen, living Word to them could remove the obstacles, could rekindle that fire within them, so they could return to Jerusalem with joy, to share their joy with the others, and then be sent back out to set more hearts on fire with Jesus’ Word of hope.
So what may be blocking that fire from burning bright within us today? Guilt over something we’ve done … or said? An old argument, never laid to rest, that churns at our inmost parts, perhaps waking us up in the night? The tears and sorrow of mourning a failed friendship or relationship … the suffering or death of a loved one … the loss of dear friends who have moved far away from us, or who we have left in moving far away from them? The changes and chances of life unfolding before us? Our own pride that keeps us from admitting that we need some help, we need another’s presence, we aren’t as young as we used to be?
All of these flame quenchers, these fire retardants, are very, very real. As real to us as the pain and sorrow of losing their friend Jesus and all that he meant to them was to Cleopas and the other disciple as they walked that road to Emmaus.
Yet there is hope for us. Hope as real as one who came unknown and unrealized to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus. Hope that comes to us in this community of faith, as we too hear the Word proclaimed to us … the Word that is at the center of all we do here … the Word which creates us at the font and which feeds us at the table … the Word which says to us: “You are valued, not because of who you are or what you do or don’t do or can’t do … but because of Whose you are – you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. You and I are brothers and sisters of the Lord.” This Word is a life-changing Word. This Word will set our hearts, even our whole lives, on fire with the love of God in Christ Jesus.
This Word is the Word of Jesus, once dead but now risen, walking with us on our own personal roads to Emmaus, wherever those roads may take us. This Word is the Word of Jesus, The Word that calls and calms, which forms and forgives. The Word that says death is not the end; but instead gives us the promise of eternal life. And this Word brings us all together … each of us, distinct individuals, each with our own gifts, our own needs, our own pains, our own sorrows … brings us together as Jesus’ body in this world … to proclaim this Word to others who in their own pain, their own need, their own sorrow, need so desperately to hear it, too.
So may that fire burn bright within you this day, and always. May it burn so bright that others will see it, and feel it, and talk with you about it, as they walk their own roads to Emmaus. For that…that … my friends in Christ, that is what this life, this faith is all about. Hearts on fire! Amen.