(Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, 1 Peter 1:17-23)
Luke 24: 13-35
(watch here: https://youtu.be/QiLTjnwK8R8)
13Now 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.
28As 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.
We continue our journey through the season of Easter with this encounter between Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is an appropriate story because we again hear of an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Remember that this season is larger than just the encounter between the women and risen Jesus outside of the empty tomb. The resurrected Jesus had several encounters with people, each offering a unique wisdom about the resurrection. Last week we explored the encounter between Jesus and one of his disciples, Thomas. Thomas and his doubt represent the doubt of so many of us. We want to believe Jesus rose from the dead but science and reasoning create a massive obstacle. We, too, struggle with a resurrected Jesus. We, too, have, at times, serious doubts about the resurrected Jesus. Make no doubt about it, the resurrection is a difficult thing to believe. It is difficult to believe Lazarus was raised from the dead and it is just as difficult to believe that Jesus was raised too. Our rational, scientific minds don’t want to believe it. But we are called to believe by faith, not by proof. We are called to place our trust in God and God’s word. We are called to be witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. These are what we are called to do and to be. Not doubters, not skeptics, not cynics, but believers and trusters and witnesses. Doubting Thomas holds up a mirror to our own unbelief and doubt when it comes to the resurrected Jesus.
This week’s encounter between the resurrected Jesus and two of his disciples again offers us a unique wisdom. Whereas Thomas had a clearly defined obstacle in his belief and trust, doubt, the obstacle for the two disciples was less clear. We simply heard in vs. 16 from our passage in Luke, “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” We don’t know who or what kept the disciples from recognizing Jesus on the road. Perhaps it was their grief and sorrow. Perhaps it was their anger and frustration. Perhaps it was their confusion and shock over the crucifixion. Perhaps it was Satan keeping their eyes from beholding their Lord. Perhaps it was God himself who hid behind an unrecognizable face and behavior. We just don’t know what was keeping the disciples from recognizing their Lord and Savior on that road. And maybe this is a good thing that we don’t know. Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t meant to know. These disciples and the obstacle they faced, whatever that may be, can represent more of us without a clearly defined obstacle. These disciples can represent any of us with any obstacle to seeing the resurrected Jesus in our own lives. Whatever obstacle we have, whether it’s fear or anger or confusion or frustration or sadness or denial…anything that keeps us from seeing the resurrected Jesus in our lives can be represented by these two disciples. Perhaps it IS a good thing we don’t know the exact obstacle they faced after all…
This is why we are given this encounter between the two disciples and the resurrected Jesus—to teach us that the resurrected Jesus is willing to reveal himself to anyone despite their obstacles in seeing, whatever they may be. The resurrected Jesus finds us on whatever path in life we find ourselves on, in whatever mindset and openness we maintain. Jesus comes to us! Jesus reveals himself to us whether we like it or not! Jesus reveals himself to us whether we are able see him or not! What a blessing to be in relationship with a God who searches us out, who is willing to listen to us, who cares deeply enough to find us on whatever path life puts us down. We ought not take advantage of this gift. We ought to give God our utmost praise and thanksgiving for his willingness to find us wherever life takes us. Our God is a good and gracious God! Our God is a faithful and forgiving God! Our God is steadfast in loving us…each one of us!
So why is it so hard to believe this about our God? Why is it so hard to believe that Jesus would come back from the grave for us? Isn’t that totally true to God’s character and love?! Perhaps we should be instead asking, why is it so easy to forget about God’s deep and abiding love for us? Why is it so easy to forget that everything God does is for our own good? We could take the easy way out and blame it on Satan and the power of evil in this world. We could point the finger at him and claim his powers of coercion and persuasion are too powerful for us to resist. But I don’t think that is an honest or admirable justification for our forgetfulness. No, I think if we were to be honest with ourselves than we’d realize that Satan is only as powerful as we allow him to be. And we are the ones to blame for our forgetfulness. We are the ones to blame for not believing and trusting in God and God’s love for us. We are the ones to blame for allowing obstacles of faith and belief to enter our lives. Jesus is here among us whether we see him or not.
I like the expression, “cursed is the person who is surrounded by blessings but is unable to see them.” Believe it or not, we are all surrounded by blessings. Even those who have absolutely nothing can be in relationship with God through Jesus. Such a relationship is the greatest blessing of all! But the expression also points out how the inability to see all the blessings in one’s life is a great curse. Just as the two disciples were cursed for not being able to see Jesus walking among them, we, too, are cursed by an inability at times to see Jesus walking with us too. And it’s just a matter of seeing! If only we’d open our eyes, if only we’d get rid of the obstacles from our eyesight, then we’d see the greatest blessing of all—Jesus walking beside us!
So what are some of the obstacles to seeing the resurrected Jesus in your own daily life? Science or reasoning? Sorrow or shame? Fear or hopelessness? Anger or frustration? Pride or certainty? Grief or anxiety? I could go on with an endless number of obstacles but I think you get the point. This season is not only a season of celebration but also a season of confession. We celebrate our risen Lord while at the same time confession our own doubts and obstacles in seeing our risen Lord. Jesus isn’t just risen for other people…Jesus is risen for you and me! Whatever it is holding you back from believing this, confess it and ask God for clarity and understanding. Jesus died and rose again so that we might be freed from doubt and obstacles to seeing. Let us welcome the resurrected Jesus into our hearts and minds and give thanks for God freeing us from being…kept from seeing.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.