O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Luke 24: 13-35
Preached on May 04, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is not a long road – about 7 miles – but for these two - it seems to go on forever. Cleopas and another disciple of Jesus are slowly leaving Jerusalem to return home. But their steps are dusted with despair. Their hearts drag along the way. Their heads are hung low, rising only to speak to one another. Their words bounce back and forth the weekend's events as they try to make sense of everything that has happened. The one whom they had hoped would be the redeemer of Israel was rejected, condemned, crucified, dead and buried. With Jesus' death their hope died. With Jesus' burial their hearts sank. With Jesus' departure there's no reason to stay in Jerusalem. With no Jesus there is no meaning to the weekend's events, no meaning to what has come before and anything that will happen in the days ahead. All meaning has been crucified, dead, and buried. And so these two, Cleopas and another disciple trudge the road to Emmaus with heavy hearts and a weariness that cannot be refreshed no matter what they say or what they do.
This road is the road so many trudge day in and day out these days. Maybe it's a road you are on today. Disciples walk this road. Unbelievers walk this road. It can be a busy road. It can be a distracting road. It can be a terribly lonely road. Walking in the shadow of death and the tomb, it is a dreary road, a road with no joy, a road with hopes dashed, where understanding is confused, and those wanting to be comforted are often afflicted. No, the road is not necessarily a long road, but it sure feels like it. The road to Emmaus goes away from Jerusalem, it is the road trudged by all who think Jesus is still dead, or live as though he were.
But then, while walking this road Cleopas and the other disciple are happened upon by Jesus. Jesus happens upon them. They do not happen upon Jesus. Jesus finds them. They do not find Jesus. Jesus is never lost but "all we like sheep have gone astray, we've turned every one to his own way." We get lost. Cleopas and the other disciple, though they know where they're going, walk as though they are lost. Though they see Jesus, they do not know Him, so they are lost. Seeing without knowing they continue to walk without understanding, without meaning.
Humanity wants to walk by sight and not by faith. Jesus appears. He is seen, but seeing doesn't give faith, or understanding, or peace, or rest. Seeing without knowing is the way of Old Adam. And Old Adam struggles to find meaning in what he sees, observes, measures, evaluates and judges.
We live in a world that has embraced the concept that there is no meaning to words, no meaning to life, no meaning to what we say or what we do. "What does it matter anymore" shrill the politicians asking us to admit, it doesn't matter, it has no meaning. And in a world that no longer has meaning, man is left to determine for himself what things mean, what is "meaningful" to him or her.
Seeing without knowing, observing without understanding Cleopas and the other disciple recognized no meaning in the death of Jesus, no meaning in His burial, or even the tales of His resurrection. Thus their despair. And it is all too often that we too, impacted by the meaninglessness of our culture, behave the same. We despair. We look around with our eyes and we see suffering. We look within ourselves and we find sin. We look at our neighbors and we quickly judge their inferiority. We behold the brokenness of this life and fail to see a remedy. We feel the pains of our mortality. We hurt and harm others only to be hurt and harmed back. Sinful creatures cannot find meaning in themselves until Jesus happens upon us and gives us His Word. For the Lord of heaven and earth gives meaning to our existence, to the happenings of this world and the events we all suffer. His Word gives understanding. His Word opens ears to hear and eyes to see what is true and what is real not just for individuals, not just for "christians" not just for certain communities or cultures, but real and true for all people, every race, and gender, and age, until the end of time.
And so when Jesus happens upon Cleopas and the other disciple there is a shift; a cosmic, life altering, world changing tremor that is heard and felt deep into their very core. Happening upon these and any others walking this road Jesus does not give them sight so that they understand. He does not reveal Himself through the eyes. No, instead He gives them ears to hear. For the ear is the funnel to the heart and the Word of God is the quickening agent poured out richly from the mouth of God to the ears of men, women and children.
All meaning flows from the mouth of God down into the heart of man. And humanity cannot know or understand the heart of God unless we hear Him. Know this then - When Jesus speaks to Cleopas and the other disciple, when Jesus speaks His Word to you through scripture, liturgy, sermons, or hymns, He is revealing His heart toward you, for you, that your heart is set at ease through the forgiveness of sins.
You see beloved, to understand the world around you, to find meaning even in the midst of sin, death and suffering, to grasp the God of your creation and behold a purpose in what you say and do, you must first listen to Him. You must first be right with the Lord. You must first believe. Faith first then understanding. Believing does not come by sight. Believing comes by hearing. Cleopas and the other disciple, and any other disciple, including you, must first be hearing the word Christ speaks for you.
And so Jesus happens. He happens upon people walking this road. He happens upon you to preach to you, to open the scriptures to you and have the Word work on you. He sets before you His cross; His suffering, death and burial. He interprets it for you. Jesus does not leave you to your own understandings. Jesus does not leave you to your own judgments. He draws near - with His Word. He forgives sins. He is gentle and kind and merciful and loving. In Jesus God reconciles Himself to us. In Jesus God makes things right. And this making right happens to you. It happens in baptism under water. It happens in catechesis, bible study, the historic liturgy, the hymns we sing, the readings we hear, the lessons we learn.
And it happens at the table. The whole point of our text is that we are led to the table. The whole point of the gospel of Luke is that we are led to the table. Everything has been leading us to this table where Jesus is both host and meal. It's for this reason He died and for this reason He's risen, that He is for you, the bread of life. For man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This word is a life-giving Word. This word is a Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, suffered the pains of the cross, died our death and rose from the dead in order to bring life and immortality to light, to give understanding to the confounded and comfort to the afflicted, to draw near the lonely and raise up the downtrodden. Jesus happens upon the road to Emmaus, this road we trudge, so that through His death and resurrection we may be brought to the table and recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Jesus opens us to the Word and the Word leads us to the Supper.
Previously, before the Word came to our hearts we saw but did not know. But now that the Word Himself has come, now that we have heard His voice and recognize Him in the breaking of the bread, we know though we do not see. For just as Cleopas recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread and then saw him no more, so also do we Christians recognize Jesus in the Supper. Though we do not see Him we believe in Him. Believing in Him we love Him. We love Him because His Word has laid hold of our hearts and washed away the anxieties of this world, the devil's afflictions and even our own sins. Jesus has happened to us and we rejoice! Jesus has happened to us and we are forgiven. Jesus has happened to us and we are given to eat and to drink more of Him, to draw nearer to His bosom and recline, even rest, in Him as those closest to Him are bidden to do.
Knowing without seeing we are confident that the Lord Himself abides with us and gives meaning to our daily routines. Having been washed, sanctified and justified by His Name through water and the Word, we Christians are no longer lost wandering about the road without purpose. But we have been called. We've been given a vocation in which we are to remain steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor is not in vain! (1 Cor. 15:58). Therefore what we say and what we do if done in faith according to the Word of the Lord is truly good, right and salutary, not for us but for our neighbor. Our purpose and meaning in life flows from Christ to us through the Word and Sacraments and then from us to others as we love and serve our neighbor. We do not see what we give, we do not feel the benefits and often times are not given to behold the fruit of our work. But knowing without seeing we trust that the Lord is with us. We hold firm His Word in our hearts and seek to understand the world we live in according to what our redeemer has revealed. And all along we are like Cleopas and the other disciple – awaiting the Lord's reappearing.
Fellow baptized saints, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus was not a long road and it was a road these men quickly retraced. It is on such a road that we also find ourselves. Some are walking away from Jerusalem, dejected and suffering without the Word of the resurrected Christ. Others run with Cleopas back to the Holy City with joy in their hearts and the divine message on their lips. This I pray, is the direction you are going – back to Jerusalem, back to Zion, back to the city of peace for it is the destination of all who hear and believe and are baptized. We're marching to Zion, marching to the city of our God, trampling over devils and demons, sharing the message of Christ with all who cross our path, reaching down to lift up the suffering and joining them with us, binding wounds with the gospel of our God, comforting hearts with the sure and certain hope of eternal life, calling the nations to turn around, and turn back to the Lord their God, to walk with us rather than against us, to hear the Word of the Lord and be saved. For our joy cannot be contained. Our message will not be silenced. Our mission will never cease, not until that day when we reach our journey's end, when our Savior calls us home to finally and forever enter the great assembly of saints and angels, joining with the whole heavenly host and singing, "This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!" For Christ is risen! (wait for response) In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr