Sermon: Easter 3 RCL A – Road to Emmaus

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We are in an argument with North Dakota. They say they have it and we say that we have it. They’re wrong. What is the argument about? Who has the longest and straightest stretch of road. Well, I’m here to report to North Dakota that facts are facts. Their highway 46 can only offer up 31 miles, where as our highway 412 between Slapout and Hardesty boasts over 65 miles of razor edge straight, which, by the way, pales in comparison to a road in Saudi Arabia that has 162 miles of… I’m guessing, nothing.

One of my favorite films is The Way with Martin Sheen. It is about the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage across Spain. Sheen and two others meet “Jack from Ireland” for the first time. Jack writes for travel magazine and at this meeting he’s having a bit of crisis and goes into a bit rant about the Way and roads in general. He says, “The idea of a pilgrim’s journey on this road, is a metaphor bonanza! Friends, the road itself is amongst our oldest tropes. The high road and the low. The long and winding, the lonesome, the royal, the open road and the private, the road to hell, the tobacco road, the crooked, the straight and the narrow. There’s the road stretching into infinity, bordered with lacy mists favored by sentimental poets. There’s the more dignified road of Mr. Frost. And for Yanks, every four years, there’s the road to the White House. Then you have the road which most concerns me today, the wrong road, which I fear I must surely have taken.”

The Bible also has many metaphors of the road. Isaiah 40:3, which will later be picked up by John the Baptist: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” And, of course, Psalm 23: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

And then there are the stories of those on journeys: the Israelites through the wilderness, the roads into exile, Jesus road to Jerusalem, and—in the words of Jack from Ireland—you have the road which most concerns us today: the road to Emmaus, which is a biblical event, but also a metaphor.

As for the event: it takes place on the same day that the holy women discovered the empty tomb, so Easter Sunday. We are told that two of Jesus’ disciples, one of them is named Cleopas, are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It would seem that they had been in Jerusalem on Friday when Jesus was crucified, so they most likely were present at his triumphal entry. As it was late in the day on Friday when Jesus died, the would have stayed in Jerusalem through Saturday night, because Saturday was the Sabbath and the Law would not have allowed for such a long walk on the Sabbath. As they could have walked the seven miles to Emmaus in less than three hours and it was almost dark when they arrived, then they probably didn’t leave Jerusalem until late afternoon on Sunday. They knew that some of their companions who had been with Jesus were reporting that they had seen the Lord, that he had risen, but that wasn’t enough to keep them in Jerusalem. Maybe they weren’t convinced or maybe they just couldn’t believe. Maybe they were just going home. Whatever the case, they met Jesus along the way.

Jesus asked them what they had been discussing along the way and their initial response was the equivalent of asking him what rock he had just crawled out from under. (You saw what I did there… right? What rock… stone rolled away… never mind.) They go into detail of all the events and then Jesus goes into detail: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” And this was no short list.

Once they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus, although the two disciples had not yet recognized him, appears as though he is going to continue on, but the two invite him in to supper and to stay the evening 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.” Whether it was the prayer or the way he broke the bread or just flashback to a few evenings before at the Last Supper, they recognized him. To say that they recognized him is just another way of saying that they finally got it. Remember, all the time they spent with Jesus before the crucifixion, they never really understood the things he was telling them. In recognizing him in Emmaus, they finally put it all together and returned to Jerusalem to tell the others.

There are many Sundays worth of sermons in these events, so instead of preaching them all today, I want to go back to the idea of the road, because the road to Emmaus is a metaphor, it is symbolic in many ways of the road we travel, and today I would like for us to see it as means of hope.

Rev. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is considered one of the most influential reformed / protestant preachers of the 20th century. In one of his more famous sermons, he teaches about these two disciples and tells the story of the time he was asked to assist with a man who was very devout and involved in the church, but over the years, lost his faith and left the church, due to an increasing depression. Martyn agreed and met with the man. As the conversation progressed, Martyn asked the fella if he knew the source of the depression and together, they eventually found it. The man reports that in 1914 he was serving on submarine in the Mediterranean. A naval battle ensues: “We were submerged in the sea, and we were all engaged in our duties when suddenly there was a most terrible thud and our submarine shook. We’d been hit by a mine, and down we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You know, since then I’ve never been the same man.” (Source) What Martyn went on to discover was that it wasn’t the sinking that was the source of the man’s depression, it was that he had remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean all his life. You see, Martyn kept asking him, “What happened next? What happened after the submarine sank? What was the rest of the story?” But the man kept saying, that was it. They sank. He never talked about how they were rescued. How he survived. It was all about the sinking to the bottom.

The two individuals on the road to Emmaus could only talk about what happened and what had gone wrong. “This Jesus was a great prophet. We loved him. We thought he was going to redeem Israel, set us free from the Romans. But the people turned against him. The religious leaders had him put to death. We… we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean.” Martyn says this is a problem for many. He said, “We are so aware of the problems, so immersed in them, that we have forgotten all of the glory that is around us and have seen nothing but the problems that lead to this increasing dejection. That is my analysis of these men on the road to Emmaus.”

We can be like that and these days, it is easy to do. All the things we can’t do, can’t buy, people we can’t be with, events we can’t attend… can’t, can’t, can’t… my goodness, we’ve sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean! But then…. then there’s Jesus, who says, “Walk with me for awhile. Let me help you to understand. What you are experiencing does not have the final say, for I have overcome it all.”

For those two disciples, N.T. Wright explains the problem: “It had been, a matter of telling, and living, the wrong story-or, at least the right story in the wrong way. But now, suddenly, with the right story in their head and hearts, a new possibility-huge, astonishing, and breathtaking-started to emerge before them.”

The same is true with us. We keep telling ourselves the wrong story. “We can’t. We’re sunk to the bottom of the sea. All is lost.” Yet, along that road, at the bottom of the sea, however you want to see it—there is Jesus, and in the midst of our can’t and fears, he speaks a message of hope that is huge, astonishing, and breathtaking. He speaks of new life. Resurrection from death and despair and can’ts.

When it seems that the road you are traveling is fraught with problems and impossibilities, stop and look around. In doing so, you’ll find that the One who is resurrection and life, is traveling with you.

Let us pray:
Father of love, hear our prayer.
Help us to know Your Will
and to do it with courage and faith.
Accept the offering of ourselves,
all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings.
May our lives be spent giving You glory.
Give us the strength to follow Your call,
so that Your Truth may live in our hearts
and bring peace to us and to those we meet,
for we believe in Your Love.

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