On the Way Home: a Sermon on Emmaus Road

This sermon was preached at Knox Presbyterian Church on Sunday April 30, 2017. The scripture text the sermon is based on is Luke 24: 13-35.

Have you ever been driving someplace and you’re driving along and when you get there you realize you’ve gone to work instead of the grocery store, for example?

I come to church by way of the 12 usually, and if I ever have to take the 12 to go out someplace else, I sometimes have to say to myself, “Don’t get off at Stonypoint…don’t get off at Stonypoint” or I’ll end up in the church parking lot instead of, say, in Sebastopol to get strawberries at the strawberry stand. My internal map sends me to the old, expected place instead of the new one.

I was thinking about how we can be heading one direction and end up in another as I was considering the disciples in the scripture from Luke for today because these disciples thought they were going to one place and ended up in a totally other place, literally and metaphorically.

In the gospel account from Luke, two disciples are walking on a road to a village called Emmaus. Remember, this is pretty soon after Easter morning, just after the women have told them about the empty tomb. The two disciples are deep in conversation with each other, discussing all the happenings with Jesus, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb.

A stranger walks up to them and asks what they’re talking about. They don’t recognize him. The two disciples tell the stranger all about how they hoped Jesus was going to redeem Israel but now he’s been killed, and the tomb was empty, and they went to check it out and Jesus wasn’t there.

The gospel account lets us know that the disciples don’t recognize Jesus on the road. The Greek means, sort of, “a force seized their eyes so they would not know him.” We don’t really know why. There is a rabbit trail of endless speculation possibly hidden in the weird passive Greek verb structure - but for today, I’d like to lift up that it’s possible that this happens because Jesus needs to reveal himself to them in a new, unexpected way to shake the disciples out of their old way of thinking.

You might say that these disciples had a map they expected the Messiah to follow, a map that had been given to them by history and tradition. A map that included their savior being a king and conqueror, freeing Israel from its Roman occupiers, and since that didn’t happen, they believe they’ve reached the end of the road.

They think they’ve reached the end of the road because the disciples started out following Jesus, expecting the journey would end with a conquering hero. Remember Palm Sunday?

Their old way of thinking is keeping them from getting to the new place Jesus wants them to go.

So, Jesus questions them, and then he says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

Then, Jesus gives them a run down on Moses and all the prophets, showing the disciples how the scriptures lead to himself (Jesus) as Messiah.

As they reach their actual destination for the day, the village where they were going, the symbolism of the gospel account makes me laugh a little. Not only have the disciples metaphorically reached the end of the road with Jesus (they think) but they’ve also literally reached the end of the road with Jesus, on their walk with him that day.

But they’re about to be surprised because neither journey is actually over.

They want to spend some more time with this stranger, maybe hear more of what he has to say about the scriptures, so when he starts to go on ahead of them, they urge him strongly to stay. So, Jesus goes in to stay with them.

They sit down at the table. And it’s at the meal, when Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it, where they get the “big reveal”: they finally recognize him because it’s the same gesture as he did at their last meal together.

The disciples know Jesus in the breaking of the bread, and after this, it dawns on them that they also knew him when he was explaining the scriptures. They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

If we are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, then our old habits, misguided expectations and ways of thinking keep us from Jesus. We’re normal human beings, and it’s a fact of life, that we wander from God and get lost.

In walking with the disciples to Emmaus, Jesus gives the disciples two ways to find him. He opens up the scriptures for them and he breaks bread with them.

The good news for us today is that we are not left behind in the dust on the road as Jesus goes on without us. Just like the disciples going to Emmaus, Jesus has given us two ways to open our eyes to his presence: opening up the scriptures and the breaking of the bread.

We are people of word and sacrament. We are called to Jesus by the central acts of our worship, by hearing the word preached and breaking bread together.

Whether we’re going to Santa Rosa or Sebastopol, flying around the world or heading down familiar paths, if we want to walk with Jesus like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we must open the scriptures and break the bread. That is how Jesus brings us home to him. Amen.

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