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Luke 24:13-35 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then 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?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and 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. 24 Some 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.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then 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. 29 But 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
We celebrated Easter two weeks ago and this morning we are still reading about that particular day. So much happened in the matter of scant hours and days that it certainly cannot be contained in one Sunday or one scripture. It literally cannot be contained. The church celebrates our sacred resurrection story for fifty days, culminating on Pentecost Sunday.
This scripture offers us another example of disciples moving from doubt to belief. These two disciples walking the road to Emmaus knew of the testimony from the women that had gone to the tomb and found it empty. The account of their morning visit by angels seemed too far-fetched. The two disciples must have wondered how their hopes and dreams for a revolution could have been quashed so decisively, so cruelly. They had believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the one. The one to free them all from the captivity and cruelty of the Roman government. They walked away from Jerusalem dejected and forlorn, not able to allow themselves to believe what the women reported to have seen and heard.
Gradually, a movement is happening in the telling of these scriptures. Slowly the risen Christ is making themself known. The disciples are astounded, floundering somewhere between belief and wonder. What they have in common is the courage to speak their truth. They speak to what they witnessed, what they experienced, even if they have a hard time believing it or understanding it themselves.
What we can be sure of is that none of them expected the encounters with the risen Christ. What they had in common was that they were open to the unexpected. What they had in common was that they were open to challenging their view of the world.
What do we have in common with Cleopas and his companion? When was the last time we struck up a conversation with a stranger? Invited them to dinner? Offered them any sort of hospitality?
It seems when watching the news the past couple of weeks we are quite the opposite of Luke’s travelers on the road to Emmaus. A casual encounter on the road has ended with someone shooting a stranger for confusing an address and knocking on the wrong door. A casual encounter on the road has ended with shooting a stranger for getting lost and turning in to the wrong driveway. A casual encounter on the road has ended with shooting of two strangers for getting in the wrong car in a parking lot.
I have done all of these things, by mistake, through miscalculation or distraction, an untold number of times in my life. I suspect that you have also.
There but for the grace of God, go we…
That expression breaks my heart. Actually, it angers me when I hear it used in circumstances such as these. These situations have more to do with human fear and hatred than God’s grace.
It occurs to me to ask, for which party are we invoking grace, the one being shot or the one pulling the trigger?
I dislike the expression when it is in reference to the one that has been harmed. What does being the victim of senseless violence have to do with God’s grace? Nothing. God does not swoop in and place a shield around us to protect us from the evils of our families, friends, or neighbors.
The perpetrators of violence, that is for whom I might say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” There but for the grace of God we all may become small-minded and fearful or hateful to the point of wanting to hurt someone rather than help someone. There but for the grace of God we might shoot first and ask questions later. There but for the grace of God we put our needs, our fears, our prejudices ahead of the life of another.
If we are living with God’s grace; if we are living in God’s grace, we treat people with kindness and compassion and mercy and justice.
One of my Ethics instructors has taught me that humans must rely on God for grace, but that we are responsible for justice and mercy. Where is the justice in these situations? Where is the mercy?
We can no longer hope for things to change without being a part of that change. Frankly, we never could.
Delegates to the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Maine Conference UCC passed a resolution entitled An Urgent Call for the Prevention of Gun Violence. It resolved to “require
universal background checks and safety courses for all sales of guns, including sales at gun
shows and between private individuals.” The Social Action Committee of the Maine
Conference, currently endorses these proposed laws, asking and praying that our churches and members will support these measures to keep our neighbors, ourselves, and our families
safe. Please see the recent Weekly Messenger for more detailed information on proposed laws.
I was there in 2013 as a voting delegate. I clearly remember voting against this resolution because “guns weren’t the problem; people were the problem.” I have come to believe that although guns are not the sole problem, they are part of the problem, and regulating guns and the people that possess them are part of the solution.
It may seem that I have strayed from our scripture, but I don’t believe so. We are simply holding our scripture alongside our daily newspapers. After walking with the as yet unrecognized traveler, the two disciples arrived at their home town. Jesus had given them the opportunity to end the conversation there on the road. They invited him, implored him, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” For several hours they had engaged in conversation with this stranger. Then when arriving home, they offered him hospitality. He was not as much of a stranger as he was when they began their walk together.
Our recent news stories about gun violence could not be any more different than this scripture. There is no evidence of attempts at conversation. There is certainly no hospitality. No mercy. There is only fear and hatred and violence.
Of course, there are also so very many good people in the world. Our news tends to bias us. We hear very little good news alongside the bad. Almost always there are good people just out of the scope of the cameras and coverage. Always there are good people not making the news because they are living peaceful lives alongside their families, friends, and neighbors. The vast majority of people fall into this “good” category.
It is important to note that it is when the two disciples offered hospitality and concern for their fellow traveler that they finally recognized Jesus. When he joined them at the table, when he broke and blessed their bread, that is when the two disciples had their flash of recognition.
I wish to conclude with a brief illustration: We had a pastor in Madison, Wisconsin who did not give cash to panhandlers, street people, beggars. What he would do was invite those individuals who were asking for some help, to join him for a meal, right then and there. He would invite them to walk home with him, or maybe to a nearby restaurant. This opened up opportunities… for Pastor Aden to be sure his money went to food and not alcohol or street drugs… for the person asking for help to be seen and heard… for the pastor to learn about the other person’s circumstances if they were willing to tell their story… to open their hearts to the presence of the risen Christ in the person before them.
When the bread was broken, the two disciples realized that the traveler was not a stranger at all but a beloved friend. That is a beautiful experience of God’s grace. An inbreaking of insight.
The same can be true for each of us when we risk allowing strangers to be friends.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus was with the two disciples in their despair, confusion, loss, and uncertainty. Jesus meets us, is with us, wherever we are on the road. And when we ask, when we invite him, Jesus will come into our hearts, our homes, our lives.
May God’s grace compel us to go and do likewise.
Rev. TJ Mack – April 23, 2023