Don’t You See?
Grace United Methodist Church
May 8, 2011
Luke 24: 13-35 (NIV)
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven milesfrom Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked….
… 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
How many times in your life have you experienced “the blank stare”? You all know what I’m talking about, right? You’re trying to explain something to someone, when their eyes begin to glaze over, and their mouth drops open, and they look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language. And then, sure you can make some progress, you continue, “Don’t you see?” Don’t you see this little wire here that isn’t connected? Don’t you see that the protagonist and the antagonists are actually brothers? Don’t you see how much fuel it takes for those rocket boosters to lift that shuttle? Don’t you see that those people need some help and we can help them?
Sometimes our continued efforts work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we have to try again with a little more creativity. Sometimes we need to grab the hand of the person and take them to the place where they can actually “see” what we are talking about. And then sometimes we have to start again from the beginning, explaining everything with more precision; pointing to every clue and revealing every detail. And how many times have our efforts to help someone else understand only led us to see that we misunderstood it all ourselves?
That is exactly the experience of those two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The Passover Feast has concluded, their leader Jesus was crucified while they were in Jerusalem, and they saw it. Now, Cleopas and his companion are headed out of Jerusalem. Luke tells us only that the two disciples were going to Emmaus. Emmaus was a little-known town, and Luke doesn’t tell us why Cleopas and the other disciple were going there. They may have been going home or going there on business. And as they go, they talk. They talked with each other about everything that had happened. Before they know it, the two disciples have another companion with them, and as the man falls into stride with the two disciples, he asks, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
It’s kind of humorous at this point to imagine the reaction of the two disciples to this question. Their walk slowed to a stop, their shoulders drooped, their mouths dropped open as they looked at this man in front of them and wondered what planet he was from. Cleopas must’ve been thinking, “Don’t you see?!?” But instead of such an incredulous response, Cleopas says, “You must be the only person around Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on there these last few days.” But the man doesn’t know, at least he doesn’t seem to know as he asks the two disciples, “What things?”
So they continue toward Emmaus, and as they go, Cleopas and the other, clearly overwhelmed and distraught, share with their new companion the sad news of recent days. It is a story of hopes dashed and dreams lost. Listen again to what they say, “About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of the women amazed us. They went to our tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.”
Cleopas pours his heart out to this man who has joined their journey to Emmaus. And as the travelers talk, we sense that perhaps these disciples are going to Emmaus not to get home or to get work done, but just to get away from the terrible things they had witnessed in Jerusalem. There is not much known about Emmaus, and one theologian interprets Emmaus as the place we go in order to escape. Maybe it’s a bar, or a movie, wherever it is that we throw up our arms and say, “Let the whole thing go…It makes no difference anyway.” Emmaus could be buying a new suit or pair of shoes that you don’t really need. Emmaus could stand for whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves try and forget about the awfulness of things. We journey to Emmaus often, don’t we? We grab a friend, and we start ranting as we beat the punching bag, or we pour our hearts out over a tub of ice cream. And then someone comes along wondering what we’re talking about, and we turn to them and ask, “Don’t you see? Don’t you understand how bad things are?”
But the story of the walk to Emmaus is the story about how sometimes we are the ones who don’t see; sometimes we are the ones who don’t understand, and we need a new perspective. After the two disciples shared their story with their new companion, they get what was quite surely an unexpected response. “Wasn’t this the way it was supposed to happen?” the man asks. “Don’t you understand? Don’t you see? There had to be suffering in order for there to be glory!”
And then the man tells his own story. He began with Moses and all the prophets, and he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures about the Messiah. And he didn’t miss a thing. From Genesis on, this man talks to Cleopas and the other about how this story pointed forwards to a fulfillment which could only be found when God’s anointed took Israel’s suffering, the world’s suffering, on to himself, died under its weight, and rose again as the beginning of God’s new creation, God’s new people. This is what had to happen, and now it had, but the disciples didn’t see that, and they didn’t understand who was walking along with them.
We, of course, know that the disciples companion was Jesus, but in their misery, they did not recognize him. Even as he revealed the Scriptures to them, they still did not understand; it took the breaking of bread and a shared meal that night in Emmaus for their eyes to be opened. But the story of the walk to Emmaus reminds us that the risen Lord meets in our pain and sorrow and frustration. The resurrected Christ meets us on the road to our Emmauses; in the ordinary places and experiences of our lives, and in the places to which we retreat when life is too much for us. And this story also reminds us that when the Lord comes to us, it may be in unfamiliar ways, and when we least expect him.
We have to know the story of Jesus, we have to immerse ourselves in Scripture and have our eyes opened and our minds tuned. We even need to take that walk, to bring our problem, our agony, on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his companion. We have to be prepared to share our grief in prayer with the stranger who approaches. And then we have to learn to listen for his voice; explaining, leading forwards, warming our hearts as he tells us the story of comfort we need to hear.
That is the road to Emmaus. It is the place where Christ walks with us through all the difficulties. It is the place where he reminds us of the story of our redemption. But it is also a story about new beginnings. I want to share with you this morning my story of the road to Emmaus. When I was fifteen, I went on a weekend youth retreat called Chrysalis, which is also known by the name of the more prevalent adult retreat, Emmaus. While I was on Emmaus, I encountered God in Christ Jesus in a way that I never had before. I wouldn’t say that I was saved, I had been going to church all my life, but like Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, I felt “my heart strangely warmed” and I felt an assurance of Christ’s love for me. It was an amazing, life-altering experience. Suddenly, everything I learned in Sunday School made sense. Suddenly, my Confirmation of three years hence had meaning in my life. As I encountered Christ in a new way that weekend, I knew that I was loved purely, completely, and unconditionally.
And on that road to Emmaus is also where I knew for the first time that God had laid out a path for my life. Of course, I didn’t know then that I would be standing in a pulpit today, but I knew that God intended me to lead a life of service; to teach, to raise children and youth up in the faith, and to always be a part of Christ’s body, which is the church. My walk to Emmaus was not just an encounter with Christ, it was a beginning; the beginning of a faith that was my own, the beginning of a life of seeking after God’s will, the beginning of living to serve others; it was the beginning of my discipleship.
You see, Christ joins with us on our roads to Emmaus. He walks with us when it seems like everything in the world is going wrong, and even as he walks with us, he reminds us of the story of our salvation; the story of how God came to be with us, and how God will be with us forever through it all. And as we journey with Christ on the road to Emmaus, we cannot help but be changed. Our hearts burn within us as we encounter the risen Lord and we discover the hope of new life in a story that is as old as the ages. And once we know that story and have experienced it, how can we not have new beginnings? How can we not go and share the good news with others? Emmaus is the beginning of the journey, not the end. Don’t you see?