Luke 13: 13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.18Then 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?’19He 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, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But 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. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and 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. 24Some 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.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
It was around 4:00 last Sunday afternoon when I got a text from Susan Parker about a fire at Barb Jones’ house, and shortly after that, we began to hear fire trucks passing our house heading for Morgantown. I began to feel helpless, so I began to pray. By 8:00 that evening, after youth group, Corey and I were able to get to Barb’s house to see what was going on and if there was anything we could help with. As we were passing all the fire trucks on the road to her house, we realized how bad it probably was and I prepared myself to encounter tears, chaos, and sadness. However, when we got there, we found people rallying around Barb and her husband, offering anything and everything you can think of. Her neighbors had already provided her with bedding, clothing, food, toiletries, towels, a microwave, places to shower, and a whole lot of love and support. Everyone had a job to do. And in the midst of this tragic time for them, there was support, encouragement, and hope everywhere we looked. In the midst of the remains and smoke, there we were, seeing glimpses of God, glimpses of the Risen Christ in and through it all. And to think, I almost missed it in the midst of fear and worry for Barb. I almost missed it because I was perhaps not thinking of all the possibilities of what could be happening in the aftermath of such a life-altering event. But thanks and praise be to God, who shows up whether or not we are ready to see him. And thanks and praise be to God when we help one another to see and become the Risen Christ for someone else.
It has been a rough few weeks for several families in our church, but in this time, I have seen you all as a church come together to help others experience the Risen Christ for themselves in acts of generosity and hospitality. The funeral dinners that have been held here where people have celebrated the life of a loved one through the sharing of stories and in the breaking of bread, the love offering we took last week in order to help one of our own, and now in the acts of generosity and kindness shown to one of our own who has lost everything in a fire. These are sad and difficult times, yes, but open your eyes to see the presence of God and the building of the kingdom with our own two hands and our open hearts. If we don’t open our eyes to the possibilities of God at work in these situations, then we might miss the Risen Christ right here in front of us. Now more than ever is the time to continue to celebrate and acknowledge the Risen Christ in our midst. As I told the kids last week, Easter is not just one Sunday out of the year that we celebrate- living as Easter people is a way of life. In fact, every Sunday is to be considered as a mini Easter! We continue to acknowledge when Christ comes into our hearts and lives, but we must have the eyes to see him, and then proclaim this good news through acts of love. The question and challenge is, are our eyes opened to see Jesus? What does it take to see him? And when might we have missed seeing him?
The disciples on the road to Emmaus had to answer all of these questions as they encountered a mysterious person on their Easter evening journey. This story, only found in Luke, is a profound one of encountering the Risen Christ, made even more interesting because we, the readers, know it is Christ, but the two men do not yet know. We are invited to see how these two men will deal with a stranger on the road. Jesus comes among them and asks what they are talking about, and they tell him all about Jesus who was crucified but then believed to have risen from the dead. He then begins to teach them the scriptures and prophecies and tells them of the Messiah and his suffering. And when they reached the village, the disciples invite Jesus to stay with them. When he does, he then meets them at the table where “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and he gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (v. 30). Then, Jesus vanishes, and they begin to realize that all along he had been with them, and their hearts had been burning inside them (Wesley would have said his heart was strangely warmed!), and it was indeed Jesus who opened the scriptures to them. In response to what had occurred, they returned to Jerusalem right away to proclaim what had happened, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed!” Then they told them what had happened on the road, and “how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” A beautiful story of an encounter with the Risen Christ, and also a challenge presented to the disciples and to each of us today to see Jesus, to open our eyes, and to prepare to meet him on our road to Emmaus.
But what Jesus should we be prepared for? Because it seems to me that Jesus’ role shifts throughout this text and he takes on different identities. He is first noted to be a stranger. Then later, he is the guest at a home, and finally, he is the host of a meal where he blesses and breaks bread. Jesus, in this story, is stranger, guest, and host. Jesus, as the stranger, appears with the two disciples on the road and without them knowing it, presents them with the challenge of showing hospitality. And in response, the two practice philoxenia (which means, “love of the stranger”)- a word used repeatedly in the Greek text for hospitality. Philoxenia, or love the the stranger, definitely stands in contrast with an attitude practiced so commonly in our society today, which is xenophobia, or “fear of the stranger” (Homiletics). But we must be constantly reminded that in church life, we are always to practice philoxenia– love of the stranger, hospitality to the stranger, help and kindness to the stranger. And when we practice love of the stranger, we tend to find that the stranger is really not so strange after all. Jesus, as the stranger, challenges us to practice love and hospitality whenever and wherever we are.
Then we see Jesus take on the role of the guest when he accepts the invitation of the disciples to stay with them at the home, even though he is a stranger to them. This seems to say that Jesus wants us to take good care of our guests. He challenges us throughout his ministry to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and embrace those who are different. In this, he also challenges his followers to see him as a guest and take care of him. I am reminded of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 when he explains that he often comes in the form of people who are hungry and thirsty and who are in need of a warm welcome. The disciples become confused and ask him, “When did we see do when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger?” And Jesus answers them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:34-35). Jesus still comes among us as a guest today in his many forms, challenging us to remember that when we help a person in need, when we speak a kind word, when we go out of our way to welcome someone, we are doing each of these things to Jesus himself.
Corey and I have good friends who are a couple in the process of trying to adopt a child. When he was in seminary studying to be a United Methodist pastor years ago and they were newlyweds, they took in a troubled young man who needed a place to live while he was trying to figure out what he could do with his life. He lived with this newlywed couple who welcomed him in as a guest in their home. After a while, he went on his way, and they did not hear from him for a long time. But recently, he wrote them a note of thanks and enclosed a sizeable check to help with their adoption process. The only thing he asked for in return was that once the baby was born, to let him know so that he could set up a college fund in his or her name- and all of this as a sign of thanksgiving for their hospitality all those years ago. They welcomed him in as a guest, showed love and hospitality to the stranger, and God’s presence and riches were made known to them through their radical act of hospitality. They were willing to host someone in need, and their guest was able to pay it forward later in life.
Jesus, too, now having been the stranger and the guest, changes his role to the host as he sits at the table to bless and break the bread. In this simple act, their eyes were opened and they recognized him. When we welcome a stranger, we indeed welcome the Lord and allow him to bless and nourish us in the breaking of the bread. When we receive Holy Communion, we open ourselves to experience Jesus as the host as he makes himself known to us in this way. We are guests at the table of Jesus, the host, and we come ready to receive his many blessings as he reveals himself to us.
The transition of stranger, guest, and host continues to happen today at the breaking of the bread of communion or even sitting around a table with others, whether friends or loved ones, known or unknown. We are invited to open our hearts to the presence of Christ, to acknowledge that he comes among us to feed us and fill us with his power and presence. This means that we must open ourselves to Jesus being our host. This means that we confess that sometimes it’s easier to help others than to receive help- that we would rather be a host than let someone else be a host. But we must open ourselves to what God wants to give us, even in the midst of the most ordinary of things, conversations, encounters, experiences. Whether it is the best day of your life, or you find yourself not knowing where to turn next, or you find yourself in the midst of the remains that are the pieces of your life- let Jesus be your host so your eyes will be opened to him. We all have our own roads that we walk, consisting of flat and easy ground, hills, twists and turns. We all have a road to Emmaus. But the good news is that we do not walk that road alone.
And like the disciples, we too must be willing to talk about how we’ve experienced the Risen Christ on our own walk to Emmaus. Once they realized what had occurred, they immediately left for Jerusalem to proclaim what they had seen and heard, and that he had made himself know to them in the breaking of the bread. They proclaimed what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and that they had meet Jesus there- because at Emmaus, we learn how to welcome one another around a table, how to recognize the Risen Christ, and then that we must go out into the world with a proclamation and put that proclamation into action. Emmaus is where we come together to strengthen our bonds with Jesus and each other (Homiletics). Emmaus is where we encounter the Risen Lord with our eyes wide open and ready to see him.
Still, the question remains: How can we get better at recognizing Jesus when he comes to us? Would we recognize Jesus if we saw him? When might we have missed experiencing the Risen Lord? There was a popular story in the news a few months ago about a unique statue of Jesus that people were just not ready to see. It depicted Jesus as a homeless man sleeping on a bench, and one of the news headlines read: “Homeless Jesus statue startles a wealthy community.” The community referred to is Davidson, North Carolina, and the statue resides on a bench outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, nestled in the middle of an upscale neighborhood with well-kept town homes. As you can see (click HERE), the statue is of Jesus huddled under a blanket with his face and hands covered, and only the holes of crucifixion in his uncovered feet give him away. The immediate reaction was that some loved it, some didn’t. One person actually called the police, thinking it was an actual homeless person sleeping on a park bench. The article reads, “That’s right, someone actually called the cops on Jesus.” Some wrote letters to the editor, calling it creepy or insulting, a demeaning portrayal of Christ. The priest at the church sees it as an authentic portrayal of Christ and the message of their church- that Jesus comes to show us how to treat the poor and marginalized. It is also meant to challenge people to think about these sometimes difficult teachings of Christ. (Article: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthy-community)
So often we think Jesus looks like one of us, when in reality, Jesus wants us to be challenged to see him in the other, in the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the “different.” Jesus wants our eyes to be opened to him in the midst of sadness and hopelessness, in the midst of the ordinary journey on the road, and in the breaking of the bread. On our roads to Emmaus, may we not be blinded to these people and experiences. May we continually discover the joy that is welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the person in need, the person who we might see as different or other. May we not be so blinded by our own fears, prejudices, and judgments that we miss an encounter with the Risen Christ on the road. May we see Jesus in the stranger, the guest, and the host who welcomes us in and blesses us, nourishes us, and gives us food for the journey. May we never pass up the chance to be the Risen Christ for someone else. And may we be ready to meet Jesus at Emmaus, with eyes to see and ears to hear.