Tuesday, April 12, 2005

On the road to Emmaus

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Homily for Luke 24:13-35
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s, Arlington, TX, on 10 April 2005

It seems like a lot of interesting things happen on road trips . It was the same road that they had walked many times before. But this it would be different--much different. Josephus tells us it was a four or five mile road from Jerusalem back to Emmaus. Luke tells us that one of the pilgrims was Cleopas, tradition later names the other as his son Simeon.

Cleopas and his son were in Jerusalem for the festivals and now they were on the slow walk back to their home. There were believers in Jesus—they were, but perhaps not as sure now. It had seemed so promising when Jesus entered Jerusalem. They cheered with the crowds and hailed him as king. Jesus had walked with them for three years, and it seemed like the glorious part of the journey was just beginning, but it had all too quickly turned to tragedy, and now it was time for them to walk alone.

They believed Jesus was a prophet, and with many others, they hoped he might be the one to reestablish the kingdom of Israel, dominated for so long by the Roman Empire. Maybe he was the one to restore Israel to its greatness. But Jesus had been rejected by key leaders of the nation--shouted down, buried in false accusations, arrested, mistreated, and finally brutally executed on a cross outside the city walls. Earlier in day a few of the women said they found his tomb empty. They said they saw angels who told them Jesus was alive. Perhaps something miraculous has happened. Perhaps someone stole his body--one more insult for his dejected followers.

On the way to Emmaus, they experienced sadness, disappointment and hopelessness. The two disciples still grieved the loss of their friend and leader, Jesus. Even with the women’s testimony, it was hard to be hopeful after the agony and shame of the cross. Perhaps now it was simply time to get back to life as usual. So two disheartened disciples headed down the old road to Emmaus. The road never seemed so long.

Yet, they didn’t stay in Emmaus; they went back to Jerusalem. The two pilgrims felt it was urgent. There was no time to waste. They were determined to tell others what they had experienced. Going back to Jerusalem, they were filled with joy and hope. The road never seemed so short.

What happened on the road to Emmaus? Clearly, whatever it was, it had changed their lives forever. As they were walking toward Emmaus, an apparent stranger comes along side and joins them. As the three walk together, they are talking about the events in Jerusalem. The stranger seems unaware of recent goings on. Very odd for another pilgrim coming from the city.

An interesting thing Luke tells us is that "they were kept from recognizing him." Perhaps they were too dejected to be open to Jesus being alive, perhaps they were spiritually blinded to the new reality of the resurrected Lord. They had been unprepared to witness his death, they were certainly unprepared to witness his resurrection. We too are often blinded by our expectations.

Cleopas asks , "Are you the only pilgrim in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been going on?" The stranger begs the question, "What things?" Cleopas tells him all about what has happened to Jesus. The stranger can tell there are walking home dejected. The stranger gently chides them. He says, "No you’ve got it all wrong. Nothing has been lost here, everything has been gained. It was part of God’s will all along that the Christ should suffer and die, and then after his Sabbath rest, be raised from the dead."

Luke tells us he conducted an informal bible study as they walked and talked. "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in the scriptures" (Lk 24:27). As they got to Emmaus, the stranger started to continue on. They said, "No, please don’t go. Stay with us. Evening is at hand. The day is past. Please stay with us. Maybe we can talk some more."

So the stranger went into their home to stay the night. He ate dinner with them--and Luke uses the same language we find at two other miracles: multiplying the loves and fishes, and the Last Supper. When the stranger was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.

The written Word had prepared their hearts to see the Word made flesh. Their hope had returned and their spiritual blindness was gone. Perhaps it was when the stranger reached out to give them bread, that for the first time they noticed the wounds in his hands--the stranger was Jesus--and when they looked up, he was gone. The two pilgrims turned to each other and said, "It was the Lord! Did you feel it too? Didn’t your heart burn within you as did mine when he was speaking to us along the road?"

I find it interesting how the Sacred Heart of Jesus--the symbol of his love--is always depicted as burning with fire and crowned with thorns. Jesus gave these two disheartened people "burning hearts." Burning hearts are hearts ablaze with the good news of the gospel. They energize people to witness to the hope of Jesus’ resurrection. Burning hearts pump new life into people--life to share with others.

The Word of God had burned away the dejection and sadness in the disciples’ hearts, leaving them enflamed with hopefulness and joy. Their grief and confusion into exploded into excitement to share their experience with the other disciples in Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 20:9, the prophet, speaking about the Word that the Lord has given him to proclaim, says, "There is in my heart, as it were, a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary from holding it in, and I cannot any longer."

Have you had that moment in your life before? When you have had a close encounter with a stranger along the way--the stranger is Christ himself, who opens your mind to understand the written Word of God and to behold the incarnate Word--has the good news, the gospel, burned within your heart like it did for these two disciples? Has it burned so intensely, you say with Jeremiah, "I am weary from holding it in, and I cannot any longer"? The knowledge gained along the road ignites into hope at the supper.

Perhaps more clearly than with any other gospel narrative, we can see that this is a story about us. We are the disciples, walking along the road through life, our hearts dampened by fear and doubt and grief. Jesus walks along with us, unrecognized at the time. In the beginning, he is a stranger. But he is there to guide, to give understanding, and to reveal God’s will. He inflames our hearts with the love of God, a love that cannot help but be shared with others.

At the meal, the two disciples discovered that Jesus really is alive; death has no power over the Lord of life. They discovered that the Lord Jesus was still there to walk with them, only now he would not be leading from without, Jesus would lead them from within. Without hesitation, the two ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they too had experienced the risen Christ. When the opportunity arises, never hesitate to share the good news. Share with others how you have experienced him for yourself. Tell them how the love of God burns in your heart.

Tell them how you were once sad and lonely along the road, but Jesus transformed your life and turned you around. And invite them to some experience Jesus here for themselves. Invite them to come hear the Word read and preached. Invite them to know Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread.

May that kind of love and excitement burn within our parish family. May we race back to Jerusalem like those disciples and share the good news. May we be a people ignited by the hope that comes from the presence of Christ among us.

Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, stay with us; when evening is at hand and the day is past, be our companion in the way. Kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know thee as thou art revealed in Scripture and the breaking of Bread. Grant this for the sake of thy love. Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...