Luke 24: 13-35
On Building and Rebuilding Our Beliefs
April 26, 2020
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes
were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this,
it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “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 beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
When I was a young child the school I attended from first through ninth grade was out in the country. It was a beautiful setting with one exception. Across the road from the playground was a big open field and in the middle of that field stood a two story abandoned barn that looked
more like a house. Many of the windows were broken and fragments of curtains still moved to
and fro with the winds. All of the children said it was haunted, of course, which did unnerve me at the time, but I did not believe in ghosts as a young child. I was twenty one before I believed in ghosts because I was twenty one when I realized that I had actually seen a ghost when I was only five years old.
I am an only child and all through my childhood I quite enjoyed playing alone in my room. One sunny afternoon I was in my room playing with Barbie dolls, I admit it, and I became aware that there was a woman in a high-necked white dress sitting on the foot of my bed. I was not alarmed, not in the least bit. All manner of unexpected things happen, most of which are out of one’s control, when one is a child. I turned to face her and she looked at me tenderly and said
the following seven words, “You will always have everything you need.” I did not say anything to her and I can not remember how or when she departed, but I never forgot the encounter. Sixteen years passed and I was in college when I went to help my Grandparents move. I was in the garage packing up old paintings and as I was flipping through a stack of them I saw her, the woman who had visited me in my bedroom. I hurried to my Grandmother to ask about the woman in the portrait. “Why, that was my Grandmother,” she said; “She died long before you were born.”
These stories of Jesus reappearing to his disciples have, since then, been more than just stories to me. I believe that Jesus really did reappear to his disciples after his death. I do not take these appearances as hyperbole, or metaphor, although for a portion of my life I certainly did because I had no frame of reference in which to place them. Richard Rohr, a Catholic Priest and, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent and insightful theologians of our age, says, “You can’t fully understand any truth unless you have somehow, at least in part, experienced it.” I am not saying that you have to believe in ghosts to understand these instances of Jesus reappearing; you do not. But unless you are in a place of conceding that there is more to life than meets the eye, then the story we are offered today must remain in the realm of hyperbole. But regardless of how we approach this story, we find plenty of weighty realism to consider.
This story is found in the gospel of Luke. Last week we heard the version from the gospel of John, so this is a bit like one of those books, popular with kids these days, in which there are multiple story lines to choose from. In this version, one group of disciples have received the news that a group of women had seen Jesus at the tomb, but the disciples do not believe the
women. In the previous verses, Luke 24:11, we read, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe They are hiding, waiting, and wondering what they could and should do next.
There are these two other disciples traveling out of Jerusalem; they are probably wanting to get to a safer place. They meet a “stranger” on the road and lay out the entire narrative to Jesus as if he is some clueless newcomer. This provides us with three pieces of information, straight from the disciples’ point of view, that we find nowhere else in the collection of writings. First, they relay that “all of Jerusalem” knows what happened to Jesus, so it the news has spread significantly. Secondly, Cleopas refers to the women who first saw Jesus as “women of our group.” This is the only place I am aware of where the scriptures state clearly that Jesus’s disciples were women, too, and with women in those times came entire families. Thirdly, Cleopas says, “our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned.” In this narrative, it was not the will of the crowds of people that condemned Jesus to his death, it was clearly the intention and action of the “chief priests and (Roman) leaders.” They are ones who were threatened the most, the ones with the most to lose, their standing, their positions of power and influence. These disciples are grieving the loss of their teacher, to be sure, but they had lost something equally as important, they lost their faith in their leadership, both in the temple and in government.
The disciples really are adrift in this time and yet they hold intimate knowledge about the identity of Jesus, describing him as “a prophet, mighty in deed and word, before God and all the people.” What are they to do? They have lost trust and faith in their leadership. They fear that they may be next on the list of rebels to silence and yet how could they reconcile that, after all that has transpired, all the healings, all the miraculous events, all the transformational growth, all the direct challenging of established authority… how could this really be the end of all the potential for liberation that Jesus offered to the world?
Little did they know that this was not the end of anything. The disciples were only standing in the breech; they were bridging the gap between what had transpired and what was yet to transpire. Jesus, still being perceived as a stranger, asks a question that humankind has been asking ever since; he asks, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things?” Was it not necessary that the Messiah should be tried for blasphemy? Was it not necessary that
the Messiah should suffer the most dreaded death imaginable so that we, in all our infirmity and in facing our own death, could remember that he, too, faced the same? Was it not necessary that the Messiah should go beyond the threshold of death to appear once more?
It was absolutely and unquestionably necessary for those people, those men and women who had devoted their lives to learning from him, it was necessary for them to witness his reappearance. Only in bearing witness to what is the most unlikely event, the reappearance of one who was formerly dead, could they build a belief that would carry them, and the countless others who heard their story, through their fear, through their doubt, and through the threat of persecution
that is still ongoing, to this very day, in other places in the world.
And yet the story persists, because there must be some element of fundamental truth that it contains, some truth that we need most of all. I believe that the truth we need most of all is that love is the most powerful force in our existence. Love is greater than fear (barely!), and love is greater than death. Paul writes passionately in Romans 8, “I am convinced that neither death,
nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
What would it take for us to believe that? What would it take for us to believe that we are loved no matter what we do, no matter what we have done, no matter what we may yet do? What would it take for us to believe that there is part of us that will not, and can not, die?
Beliefs have to be built and tested and rebuilt and remodeled over and over again. No one could attest to this more than those disciples, those women and men who lived through the violent death of their teacher, lived through losing faith in their religious and political authorities, lived through seeing their teacher beyond the threshold of death, and then were so moved that they spent the rest of their lives bearing witness to what they had experienced.
Jesus asked, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things?” It was necessary, in my opinion. It was absolutely necessary because Jesus was a reformer, a rebel, a revolutionary. He was seeking to guide his Jewish tradition to new depths; he was not seeking to begin a new religion. Jesus said, “Do not misunderstand; I have not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” Jesus had a
profound mission to bring new dimensions to the traditional belief system. Jesus was committed to the belief system that requires devotion of the heart to God as the very first step, before any other rules or traditions are observed. What he envisioned is a belief system based on the reciprocal relationship of God within us, as Jesus describes in John 17:23 when he prays, “I in them and [God] in me, that they may become completely one.” What would it take for us to believe that?
In closing on this third Sunday of Eastertide, we look ahead to the next four Sundays of Easter. Our scriptures will center on imagining the nature of God and imagining a life lived in full alignment with the very source of love…the source we call God. Until then, Friends, may the love that is God guide your way now and forevermore. So be it. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer: Source of Love that we call God, we try to name you although you are nameless; we try to interpret you, even though you are unfathomable. Help us, Holy One, to be at peace with your vastness that can not be named and your message of unconditional love that includes us all, each and every one. For those who are ailing, we pray for comfort. For those facing death, we pray for peace. Through your strength and grace, Lord, given to us through the Holy Spirit, help us to extend ourselves as disciples of your love. Empower us to make choices that consider the well-being of the earth and the well-being of our brothers and sisters. In all things, remind us of the power of prayer, especially this prayer, that Jesus gave to his disciples: Our Father…
Benediction: I leave you with these words from the book of Ephesians, chapter 2: “May God grant you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in deep knowledge. May the eyes of your mind be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of his calling.”