Awakening to Peace
Luke 24: 13-48
Good morning! Our text this morning, as you will hear, is a long story one. Though it might be familiar, I trust there will be something new to hear. The season of Easter is a time for us to celebrate, to listen to the stories of our Scripture that tell of the resurrection and to take time to let the varied experiences of the disciples sink in, and for us to bask in the glory of God’s mysterious and wondrous love. For the last two weeks, we have studied the resurrection accounts of the Gospel of John and today, we have a new telling. Today, we hear of the disciples experiences through the Gospel of Luke.
We haven’t spent much time in Luke recently so I want to take a step back and take a look at the Gospel as a whole to help us understand the context of this particular story. Believed to have been written sometime between 80 and 90 A.D., much of the material in Luke had been circulated through oral tradition in Christian communities. “The author of Luke wrote [this text] to reinforce a Christian audience’s confidence about what it knew concerning the good news of Jesus Christ” (Skinner). One of the central themes of Luke is the nature of the salvation of Jesus Christ, and throughout the gospel, Jesus encounters a wide variety of people and experiences that offers a glimpse into the different facets of salvation — the spiritual, physical, and social dimensions of salvation. And, because Jesus speaks many parables, this Gospel also becomes a source for deep reflection about the nature of God’s reign and the ways of living faithfully in this world. And, for those of us Presbyterians, we might appreciate that the gospel is written in a rather orderly manner, shaping the story to lead the reader to understand the significance of Jesus. (Skinner)
The lectionary text only has a portion of the story listed but I wanted to read the whole text – it’s a remarkable experience and I hope you will find as much nourishment in the text as I have this week. So, let us turn to the Gospel of Luke and listen for God’s Word for us through the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, awaken us with your love. May our hearts burn with passion as you reveal the scripture to us this day, O God. Amen.
Luke 24: 13-48
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.
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
When we look a little closer at our story today, it is quite an exciting story. Jesus was walking alongside two disciples along the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Much like Mary Magdalene at the tomb in the Gospel of John, the disciples did not know that it was Jesus along the road with them at first. Jesus asked them a question, and they, as if they were teenagers at the mall recounting the latest bit of gossip, responded with: have you been living under a rock?! What do you mean you haven’t heard?! So, they recounted the story of Jesus to Jesus and then Jesus responded by retelling the whole story of the messiah to them – from Moses to the prophets and beyond. The sun began to set and they invites him to stay with them for the night, to share in a meal and to rest.
But then, as they broke bread together, something wild happened. As Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they saw things differently. They could see that the man they had been walking with, the man they had been talking with, was actually the risen Jesus – the one they had been expecting yet didn’t recognize. You see, they had great expectations of what the coming of the Messiah would be like – they expected him to come down off the cross before a final breath was drawn. Since he didn’t do that, they expected him to break out of the tomb in glorious fashion, making himself known with grand excitement. They had created expectations of what the Messiah would be like – expectations that differed from what God had in store. So, in this moment, they took a piece of the bread and as they began to understand the presence of Jesus in their midst – he vanishes from their sight.
The two then got up and headed back to Jerusalem and gathered with the others to tell about what they had experienced. As they were recounting the story, reflecting on the ways their hearts had burned as the man they walked with discussed the scriptures, Jesus then appears to them again, seemingly out of nowhere. Believing him to be a ghost – or perhaps questioning their own sanity at this point – fear and confusion are palpable. And, Jesus calmly reminds them that they need not fear – “Peace be with you” he says. He is human – he is not a ghost. He invites them to touch him and not to fear. He says he’s hungry and he sits and eats fish with them. And, even in the midst of their confusion and fear and trembling, he repeats the familiar refrain of “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…” This isn’t the first time they have heard him say this. Before and after his death, this clear instruction of what was to happen was explained to them. But, it was still too mind boggling to recognize Jesus, risen on the third day – even when he was walking with them or sharing a meal of fish, it was difficult to overcome the engrained expectations of what the Messiah should be to believe that the Messiah was standing before them resurrected from the grave.
In this scene, we see how Jesus’ followers encounter the same Jesus they had known before, but now, in the resurrection, Jesus has been fundamentally transformed and made new. The cross has not been reversed nor has Jesus been resuscitated – Jesus has been resurrected. Fundamentally, the power of God on earth, through Jesus, has been transformed, and though there is a continuity between the person we knew in Jesus and the presence of God in the world, life after the resurrection will not be what is expected, and we need not be frightened.
During Lent, I spent some time away learning. I attended two conferences and a lecture before the Presbytery meeting last month as well. On two occasions, I had the good fortune to listen to Diana Butler Bass speak on the topic of her newest book – the Fourth Great Awakening. A church historian, Diana Butler Bass has focused her research and writing mainly on American religion and culture. In her latest book, she explores the hypothesis that religion in American culture has journeyed through several Awakenings – and currently, in this decade, we are in the midst of the Fourth Awakening. An Awakening, she describes, begins with a fundamental shift in culture and then religion responds accordingly. During the time of an Awakening, the practices of religion are fundamentally altered as the experience of God in the world remains dynamic in the shifting culture. For example, in our culture, technology, and therefore communication, looks totally different than ever before. One outcome of this technology boom is that our religion must redefine neighbor as not simply the person who lives down the street, but also those who dwell in the global community. Our practice of loving neighbor must look and be fundamentally different than it ever has before.
During a time of Awakening, the Church goes through a process of transformation. The pattern begins with a Crisis of Legitimacy – people start to lose their bearings and feel as if something is wrong but it is difficult to articulate what is wrong or why. Practices and rituals are questioned at this stage – some leave once-comfortable practices while others may act out or resist. Then, there is an acknowledgement of an institutional failure. At this stage, the Church focuses less on the belief that the church no longer fits in the changing culture, and instead, acknowledges that the prevailing order has failed. Another marker of this stage is that few, if any, solutions can be agreed upon by the whole community. And, this is the stage where folks can take one of two paths. One, they can take the path of the Nativist, and do all they can to return to a time in the past and re-create something they once knew to work. Or, they can begin to discern a new vision. During this stage, the foundational ideals and practices established in the Scriptures are envisioned through a new lens, and prayerful voices come forward as prophets, building a bridge between what has been and what will be. Now, this is the stage, Diana Butler Bass claims, where churches are most vulnerable. All too often, churches have a hard time allowing the dying or damaging practices go and often become entrenched in memories of the way things used to be. Failure is an option during this stage as communities prayerfully discern together a new way of life together. But, for faith communities who navigate through death to new life, younger generations begin to engage and a time of innovation and experiential learning begins to take hold. And gradually, transformation takes place. New patterns are no longer feared and new practices are incorporated into past traditions, enabling all generations to engage with the Divine presence alive in the world.
Now, Butler Bass commented at one point that as she has travelled all over the country to talk about this, early on, she discovered that people are far more eager to talk about the decline of the American mainline church. People loved to complain about it, comment on it, lament about decline. But, she shared with us, people had a much harder time talking about the awakening. And, this reminded me of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were quite eager to share with the stranger on the road about their heartache – the hardship of the crucifixion, the sadness of power that the grave has and their disbelief that the though the tomb was empty, they still hadn’t seen proof enough of the resurrection. So, as I was listening to Diana Butler Bass recite the various statistics that describe the decline of the mainline American denominations, and I leaned over to Leslianne in the pew and I asked, “How is it that we, as Christians, could possibly fear what comes after death? Why would we tremble at the thought of what comes after letting go of the things that inhibit life?” It is a question that still boggles my mind. And, it doesn’t just apply to the Church – it applies to each of our lives. I’ve heard over and over that it’s in our ‘human nature’, our ‘fallenness’, our ‘depravity’ that causes us to resist transformation. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not being in control, these are all fears I have heard claimed as excuses not to change.
But, what if we didn’t buy it? What if we believed that fear was not a good enough reason to perpetuate the things that inhibit life? Transformation, Reformation – it is necessary in life; it is inevitable – particularly in the context of relationship. A parent relishes the moments of holding the tiny hands of a child taking their first steps – but the dynamic of the relationship inevitably changes as the child grows. The Church is in relationship with God and the resurrected Jesus has an impact on our relationship. Our relationship is not stagnant or stationary. It is dynamic and life-giving. What if we trusted the accounts of the resurrection and allowed our eyes to be opened in the breaking of the bread and in the gathering of the people of faith? What if we laid down the burden of pre-conceived notions of potential miracles and sought to be more present along the road, listening to the voice of God, allowing our hearts to burn and our eyes to be opened to something unexpectedly glorious? What if we believed that Christ is alive?
What could we possibly be afraid of, as the Church, with the resurrected Christ awakening us to peace? The presence of God in the world has been fundamentally transformed and walks among us in ways unexpected, ways needed, ways magnificent. May we open our eyes to see. May we not be afraid. May we, also, be witness to this great resurrection. Amen.