Luke 24.13-35 (NRSV)
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 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?” He 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.”Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. 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. They 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
There is a great funeral scene in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Everyone in town is sure Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and their friend Joe have died.
Here’s how Mark Twain imagines their funeral:
As the service proceeded, the clergyman drew such pictures of the graces, the winning ways, and the rare promise of the lost lads that every soul there, thinking he recognized these pictures, felt a pang in remembering that he had persistently blinded himself to them always before, and had as persistently seen only faults and flaws in the poor boys. The minister related many a touching incident in the lives of the departed, too, which illustrated their sweet, generous natures, and the people could easily see, now, how noble and beautiful those episodes were, and remembered with grief that at the time they occurred they had seemed rank rascalities, well deserving of the cowhide. The congregation became more and more moved, as the pathetic tale went on, till at last the whole company broke down and joined the weeping mourners in a chorus of anguished sobs, the preacher himself giving way to his feelings, and crying in the pulpit.
There was a rustle in the gallery, which nobody noticed; a moment later the church door creaked; the minister raised his streaming eyes above his handkerchief, and stood transfixed! First one and then another pair of eyes followed the minister’s, and then almost with one impulse the congregation rose and stared while the three dead boys came marching up the aisle, Tom in the lead, Joe next, and Huck, a ruin of drooping rags, sneaking sheepishly in the rear! They had been hid in the unused gallery listening to their own funeral sermon!
(Mark Twain (2013-02-27). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Kindle Locations 2029-2034. Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
I love that picture of those three troublemakers walking down the church aisle, the surprise on the preacher’s face, the stares of the congregation. It sparks my curiosity – it kind of makes me wonder, what will people say at my funeral? What will people remember about me? Will people really understand me?
I imagine it could be frustrating – what if it was obvious people really didn’t understand who I am … what I value … what I think is important … what I hoped my life would accomplish?
As Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples, Jesus had an opportunity to learn what they understood about him … what they thought he was doing … their impressions of what he was teaching … their sense what his life and death (and resurrection) meant.
The pair of disciples walked and worked through all the things that happened – Jesus’ betrayal, his suffering, his death. They were trying to make some sense out of what Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women experienced when they went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning and found it empty. When, those women told the other disciples what they experienced, the disciples who first heard the news, didn’t believe it, they wrote it off, saying it was an “idle tale.”
The two disciples were sad and discouraged. They wondered if there was substance to the news, or if it was just a waste of time. They didn’t notice, as Jesus himself came near and walked along with them. For some reason, scripture doesn’t say why, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus.
As the three walked along, Jesus asked some simple, kind of curious, questions. There is a sad humor in their conversation – they miss Jesus, they are trying to figure out what to make of Jesus, and the whole time they are missing Jesus in another way, they don’t notice Jesus walking beside them.
I love that this story is part of Luke’s Gospel and that it is part of the Bible. One thing this story can tell us is that Luke’s Gospel isn’t propaganda. Yes, Luke is writing because he wants us to believe in Jesus, but Luke doesn’t sugarcoat the story. He doesn’t tie up all the loose ends and tell the story in the most positive light. He doesn’t tell us that after Jesus’ resurrection everything made sense, the disciples had tons of faith, and everyone easily believed what happened. Luke tells us these disciples weren’t sure if they could believe what they were hearing about Jesus. Luke tells us they were sad … they were confused … he even tells us they had lost hope.
This is so bold of Luke! He isn’t promoting pollyannaish optimism. Luke shows us that faith asks a lot of people … faith can be challenging for people … sometimes hoping takes a lot of effort. It seems so gutsy for Luke to say these disciples’ hopes were crushed … they had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel, but after all they had just lived through it seemed so far-fetched.
Luke is painfully honest with us. At the same time he teaches us something really important about Jesus. The disciples’ difficulty believing … their sadness … their despair … their pain and confusion don’t scare Jesus away. Jesus doesn’t abandon them because they don’t get it. Jesus approaches them. Jesus sticks with them. Jesus teaches them. Jesus is not in a hurry – he takes his time with them and after a while; after hearing his teaching; after experiencing him … they eventually see that there is still hope. At the end of their story, they remember their conversation on the road with Jesus, and in hindsight it makes sense. In time, as Jesus sticks with them they move through their confusion and sadness toward hope and trust that Jesus is who he says he is.
As Luke tells us about Jesus, he pulls us into the story and he invites us to hope. The hope we have in Jesus is hope that can’t be crushed. It is hope that keeps breaking through, even when things are at their worst. It is resurrection hope.
I can see why the disciples would be discouraged. Jesus taught the way of humbly loving God and loving others … Jesus looked out for the littlest and least … Jesus included people who had been excluded … Jesus challenged people and institutions that seemed set on crushing people … Jesus helped all these people who could never give him back anything in return … Jesus’ words and actions taught what God desired for the world … his way of love led him into conflict … it led to betrayal … pain … humiliation … death. I can see why the disciples would be sad. They hoped he would be the one to redeem God’s people and look where Jesus’ life of loving God and loving neighbors led him. If this was what happened to the one whose life and words embodied and expressed all the goodness and faithfulness of God, what hope was there?
I think sometimes we get discouraged like the disciples too.
As people following Jesus, we are called to love God and love our neighbors. Sometimes it seems like this humble, self-giving, love Jesus calls us toward is inadequate and weak compared to the pain and selfishness we see around us. So often when I look around at the world, it’s not the people who put God and others first who seem to get ahead. Maybe that’s how those disciples felt? Maybe that’s why they “had hoped” … why they felt sad and discouraged. Evil had done its worst. What chance could love have?
The story doesn’t end with two sad disciples in Emmaus.
The resurrection and Jesus’ appearance to these disciples reveal that Jesus is alive, even after the forces of greed and hate and selfishness have done their worst. Luke shows us that hope lives. It really is worth it. There is power in God’s love. God’s love can stand up to and overcome the worst anyone or anything can deal out.
Hopefully that can reinforce our hope and give us courage as we seek to follow Jesus, as we seek to live lives of love … lives shaped by loving God and loving our neighbors.
God, God’s love, God’s will for life and thriving for his people will have the last word. Our hope is resurrection hope. Evil can do its worst, but it doesn’t have the final word. God will have the last word.