Last week we saw how God intervened into Thomas’ life in order to deal with a dangerous dose of cynicism which was threatening Thomas’ faith.
This morning we encounter two other followers of Jesus who also are dejected about the events of Good Friday and have also doubted the resurrection. Maybe they have left Jerusalem and were now traveling these seven miles to Emmaus because they had given up.
While we know one of the names of one of the disciples, Cleopas, we also know that they seem to have been fairly close to the 12. The passage this morning suggests that they were in the upper room when Mary Magdalene came with the news that Jesus’ body was not at the tomb. Listen to what they say: Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.
There is, I think, great symbolism in the fact they are walking away from Jerusalem. They had not waited to found out what was going on. They almost certainly did not believe the women’s report. It’s interesting that Luke alone records the disciples initial reaction to Mary’s announcement that the body was missing – Luke 24:11 says but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
The basic problem with these two disciples was the same as Thomas – they had heard about empty tomb but because they had not seen Him nor had they heard from any ‘credible’ witness that Jesus was alive, they gave up and left. Notice their dashed hope – But we were hoping that it was He that was going to redeem Israel. The implication is that the Cross had destroyed their hope that Jesus could redeem Israel.
What is wonderful about this story is that it is in their hopelessness that Jesus draws along side them. We have no idea what happened to them afterwards – but these two struggling disciples are visited physically by the Lord Jesus on the day of his resurrection in order to help and encourage them. Jesus knew they needed help and so he went to them!
Jesus ALWAYS draws along side us when we are struggling. ALWAYS! We may not recognize him or feel him or hear him at first but Jesus will always come alongside us.
And Jesus will always allows us to speak. I love the way Jesus suddenly appears and starts to walk alongside them and then asks – “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” Of course Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about but he allows these disciples to vent if you like. The two disciples are astonished at the question – we are given a sense of the enormity of what happened in Jerusalem during that passover – how can you not know!i Is their response. Of course they were talking to the one who knew everything!
But Jesus lets them explain it from their perspective.
Jesus’ tenderness and love allows us the space and the privilege to speak out – but then Jesus will always correct us, in order that we may see the situation from the right perspective, just as he does with these two disciples – O foolish ones! He says. Or, perhaps better, How dull you are. One translation has How unwise and slow you are.
What is he rebuking these two disciples for?
He is rebuking the assumption that just because they have not seen or heard evidence of the resurrection, that it had not happened!
It is something we as Christians often struggle with. We are told we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing; that the Lord is with us; that he will protect us and guide us, that we should live life without fear and yet we don’t always experience these truths.
And this is the point that I want us to consider this morning – The basis of whether these disciples believed in the resurrection should not be based on physical evidence but on what the scriptures teach!
This is a very important spiritual principles for us as followers of Jesus. The basis of belief in a promise of God can never be on what we see and experience but on the what the Bible tells us.
The absolute truth of Jesus’ words that he will NEVER leave us NOR forsake us, that he has blessed us and will protect us cannot be based on what we are experiencing right now, but on the fact the promise is in the scriptures and that the scriptures are true.
Hence Jesus shows these two disciples the truth of the resurrection NOT by showing them himself but by explaining how it was revealed from the Old Testament. Everything about Jesus and the resurrection can be found in Moses and the Old Testament.
Jesus probably began at Genesis 3:15 – the first promise of a redeemer; maybe he explained the significance of the passover in Exodus and how the tabernacle and all its ceremonies in Leviticus all pointed to Jesus, as did the Day of Atonement and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and the prophetic psalms of 22 & 69.
Jesus shows these disciples that their unbelief was not just in the reports they heard, but also in the scriptures they read since they were children. If they had understood the scriptures they would have believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.
As Jesus taught them the meaning of the scriptures, their hearts burned within them. This is exactly what should happen when we encounter Christ – our hearts should come alive and burn in us.
But notice when they DID recognize him. When he broke the bread! Now, Jesus was not presiding over a passover meal here – this was not a ‘communion’ meal. He was simply sitting down to eat with them and doing what all Jews did – blessing the bread as they broke it. BUT, in light of what has just taken place in Jeruslaem and the fact Luke makes it very clear that their eyes are opened to Jesus’ identity at THIS point, I think we are meant to see a link to the Lord’s Supper.
At the clergy retreat this past week, at the final Eucharist, Archbishop Bob Duncan gave a meditation on the Eucharist which was extremely powerful. And some of what about about to share with you comes from a small part of that meditation.
We have seen so far this morning that our life and our hope in God cannot be based necessarily on what we are EXPERIENCING but on what the SCRIPTURES teach. We cannot say for example “I do not believe God speaks in visions today” just because we have never experienced a vision. Our acceptance of it should be based on what scripture teaches.
Often our struggles and doubts in life and even about our faith lead us to ‘walk away from Jerusalem’, that is, take us on a path AWAY from where God would have us be. And during these times it is hard to hear from God or to know his will for us.
Yet what we have seen this morning is that God meets these disciples on the road and speaks with them and then reveals himself to them.
And I want to suggest to you today that in those times when we are struggling – when the reality of our life situation is not matched by the promise in Scripture – when chaos seems to be overwhelming us, the way we turn it around and walk back towards Jerusalem, is to come to the Lord’s table in Communion.
Because it is at the breaking of the bread – at the Communion table – that Jesus has promised to be with us and indeed is REALLY present. Anglican theology believes in the REAL presence of Christ at Communion – not just in the bread and the wine but in the fact that Christ himself is here with us!! And it is here that he speaks with us. Of course God speaks to us at other times through the Bible and his Spirit – but when we come each week to be with one another as the body of Christ. We gather, as the old prayer book,reminds us, to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary both for the body and the soul. Do you see that – TO ASK, for those things necessary for the BODY and the SOUL.
The Lord is powerfully present when we come to worship and to take communion – and so we must be EXPECTANT that God will speak to us – expectant that God will minister to us – expectant that he will change our focus from what we are experiencing to what the scriptures have promised. We must come to communion in an expectation that God will speak to us – speak to us and reveal himself to us in the breaking of the bread. And even if we hear or feel NOTHING this morning – we must leave this place knowing the promise of scripture that God has meet with us.
Just like these two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will encounter discouragement. But also, just like these disciples, the Lord has promised to walk alongside us and to encourage us with his word and to meet with us when we need Him so that we may return to the path he has for us.
The thing is we must be expectant that he will speak to us.
As we prepare ourselves to come before the Lord at Communion just hear some of the promises in our reading from Isaiah this morning:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you
Fear not, for I am with you.