This is a sermon I delivered on April 19, 2015 at Palmyra Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, NE. I was encouraged to share, so below is the sermon.
You will also find a link to hear it preached here.
The scriptural basis for this message is: Luke 24:13-35.
I have a blog. I haven’t touched it in several months, but I have a blog. In fact, as I sat down to pen this sermon I started thinking about my blog and went back to check: my last blog posting was on November 24, 2013. My blog’s name is Walking Emmaus, and I chose the title because of this very scripture. The tagline to my blog is this: “Walking Emmaus: The story of being a mommy, a preacher’s wife and a candidate for ministry of Word & Sacrament, all while seeking the face of Christ in everyday adventures.” My blog has not been updated to share that my daughter turned one – in 2014 – or that we left a call in Kentucky, or moved to Nebraska, that I accepted a call at Wesleyan and have since been ordained, as well. Oh, and my daughter just celebrated her second birthday on Thursday. As you can see, I need to update the blog and my tagline, since I’m no longer a candidate for ministry of Word & Sacrament, and some other significant life changes have taken place since November 2013, too.
One thing I won’t change about the blog, however, when I do finally update it – the more I think about it the more motivated and convicted I am to do so – is the part in the tagline that says “…all while seeking the face of Christ in everyday adventures.” You see, that’s the part that titled the blog when I was creating it several years ago. That’s the part that’s the whole point of the blog. No matter where I go or what I do, my goal in my every day is to find evidence of Christ’s presence and Spirit.
The Emmaus story is quite familiar to many of us from our study of Luke’s gospel, however I’m willing to bet that it’s familiar in another way to us, as well. It’s probably a story that we live – you see, we’ve just spent a long period of time preparing for the death of Christ, and all of the sudden he’s alive again, but do we really believe it unless we see it? Can we really fathom that our Lord who died could possibly be alive again? I wonder if the idea of Christ rising from the dead after being crucified isn’t almost too intimate of a story for us to fully grasp and internalize, after all, we haven’t seen him walking around. The disciples did, but we sure haven’t.
The road to Emmaus was about 7 ½ miles from Jerusalem and it wasn’t a big city. Emmaus was a small town. So small and insignificant, in fact, that Luke, who does an amazing job of filling this story with incredible detail, doesn’t even mention why these two disciples are walking their way from Jerusalem to this place called Emmaus. I have my suspicions, but that’s mainly because I’m naturally an introvert and want to retreat away from people to “recover” after big events in my life. Ordination, for example, was fantastic, but after having 14 people living in and around my house for four days, I just wanted a bit of quiet and time away from the world. And actually, author and pastor Frederick Buechner describes Emmaus as a getaway. According to Buechner, Emmaus is:
“the place we go in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole damned thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway.” … Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men or selfish ends.”
Emmaus is the place where you try to forget what has happened and choose to ignore the reality of the life that you live. I’m thinking that’s just what the disciples were doing – they were in despair and couldn’t handle being in the city where their Lord taught, lived, died … and supposedly came back to life. It was just all too much to handle.
Isn’t that the way we are with the Easter story, too? Here we are in the liturgical third week of Easter and I ask you: When was the last time that you stopped to live in the resurrection that we celebrated two weeks ago? In the grand scheme of things, in the reality of our lives, Easter is just another Sunday. Sure, we may put on new dresses and shoes, hunt for some eggs, enjoy a large meal with family from out of town, and forego our usual Sunday afternoon naps in lieu of time with relatives, but do we really LIVE into the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Did the disciples?
Verses 16 and 31 are, I think, the two convicting verses of this story. Verse 16: “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” And Verse 31: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” They DIDN’T see Christ! Then, they DID see Christ, and immediately he VANISHES from their sight again. Ponder that. Luke goes into great detail during the verses between 16 and 31 to share the story of how these men walked together, talked together, sat at table together and even shared bread together. Almost as quickly as they saw Christ revealed, he’s gone. Almost as quickly as Easter Sunday arrives, it’s gone. If we are lucky we get the Monday day after Easter off from work or school. Christmas on the other hand; Christmas is given a full series of days, even weeks, off from work and school. We are encouraged to sit in the season, soak it all in, make the most of it…rest from our labors…celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ! But then we get to Easter and although we spend 40 days preparing, Christ dies, Christ rises, we go about our days and we’re on the road again. Christ has vanished from our eyes.
In my studies I was struck by verse 28: “As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.” The three men arrived at the village – Emmaus – and Jesus continued to walk on down the road. Christ didn’t even stop without the disciples strongly requesting him stay as verse 29 tells us, “But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’” Boy, if only these two men knew what they were saying to Jesus. The day is almost over. Stay with us just a little longer, please. Still not knowing who Jesus was, they knew there was something special about this man and strongly encouraged him to stay. Near Eastern custom was that a guest was “obligated to turn down” an invitation that might impose upon the hosts by requiring them offer him hospitality. So, understanding the customs, Jesus walked on down the road not wanting anyone to feel obligated to offer him hospitality.
It’s week three of the Easter liturgical season. Jesus has returned and left again. We have celebrated and moved on. We have kept walking the Emmaus road that the disciples started walking for us. Jesus has entered our lives and, as per the custom, kept on walking down the road so not to require any of us offer him hospitality. “Theologically, Jesus’ action in this passage demonstrates that he never forces himself upon others…faith is a voluntary response to God’s grace.” In the Gospel of Luke, and also in Acts, the Lukan version of Jesus is always going further…always on the road…always continuing to spread the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”
I fear that we take Christ’s “going further” for granted. I fear that we take the Easter story and reality for granted. I fear that we mourn the fact that we haven’t seen the risen Christ for ourselves and so we get on the road to Emmaus and we don’t look back. We don’t look up or forward either. We get so caught up in our own selves that we don’t see Christ when he’s standing right with us, talking to us, and even when he’s denying our request for him to come inside because he simply doesn’t want to impose on us. I fear that we just forge on down the Emmaus road and forget that we need to insist that Christ accept our hospitality. We need to relish in seeing him break bread at our table and grieve – deep loss kind of grief – when he disappears from our sights just as quickly again. Easter is not a day, and it’s not even the short liturgical season that we assign to it in our church calendar. Easter is our life. Easter is something that no matter where we’ve gone down the road, we can’t possibly walk away from our ever truly leave. Easter is permanent and Easter means we are actively seeking Christ’s face and presence in all that we do.
In Catching Kisses, children’s book author Amy Gibson, writes about the kisses being blown around the world waiting to be caught. She says, “And once a kiss is given, anytime, anywhere. It can never be taken away. It’s yours.” THAT, friends, is Easter! Easter is a kiss that can never be taken away. It’s a grace that can’t be un-given. It’s free, but also very costly. It’s for us. And its gifter is walking away but secretly desiring us to beg for him to stay ever-present and alive in our hearts. Easter is on the road to Emmaus with us.
To God be the Glory. To Christ be the Glory. To the Holy Spirit be the Glory.
Now and always. Amen.
 Frederic Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat (New York: Seabury, 1966) 85-86.
 R. Allen Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke, pg. 479.