We are going on a journey today and in order to understand more of this familiar story, we need to try to gain an insight into the mind set and understanding of the two walking along the road. Remember they are talking about the events of Easter and reflecting on the life of Jesus and how he had appeared to tick all the boxes as the promised one.
I’m not sure that I can fully appreciate the desire for liberation, the longing to be free from oppression by a foreign ruler.
Free from the constant reminder that you are governed by those who have invaded and occupied your country and won’t leave.
Free from the inevitable constraints that there are and the niggling rules that have to be obeyed and the symbols – as well as the physical presence – of a foreign government.
Yes things may settle down to a cosy co-existence, but the presence is still there reminding you that you are not free.
The experience of Israel over the centuries seemed to have been one of struggle against oppressors – the Egyptians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans – and now the Romans. Perhaps that’s why Israel is so fiercely jealous of its independence and pro-active in defence and preventing any possible attacks upon its sovereignty, today. When would it all come to an end and God be their King? When would they be able to join with the crowds at the festivals and go up to the temple in celebration and worship in freedom?
“These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.”
The knowledge that the enemy was constantly there, ruling was irksome; no, more than that:
“Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me.”
In fact it was worse than that, because they were supposed to be the people of the promise, the chosen nation, God’s own people. But where was God? Where was hope?
“Vindicate me, O God…You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?”
Ps. 43: 1-2
When would he come in power to free them? When would they be released from their captivity? When would they hear the words
“…[your] hard service has been completed,
[your] sin has been paid for..”
When would the good news come:
“The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations
And all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”
These themes were quite probably among those being discussed by the two as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were in a dark place, they were despondent and they were hopeless. Along with their nation, they were part of a story in which God had always come to deliver from the oppressor and given them their just desserts. They had long been looking for God’s deliverance and their hopes had been raised with the appearance of Jesus. We know this because they say, “…we had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Their hopes had been dashed.
Let’s look at the expectations of these two, and presumably of the other disciples as well. When they are approached by the stranger they are clearly deep in conversation about the events of Easter and are in a place of despondency and hopelessness: that much is expressed in the words just quoted.
What did they say about Jesus?
He was a prophet. For Jews the concept of a prophet had clear connotations. A prophet was someone who spoke with the authority of God. Well this much was recognised early on in Jesus’ ministry.
After the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed at his teaching, because he had authority and was unlike the teachers of the law.
When he spoke in the synagogue at Capernaum, the same thing was said about him.
When he drove out an evil spirit, the people recognised his power and authority.
When he entered Jerusalem and cleared the temple, declaring it to have become a den of robbers instead of being a house of prayer, again the people were amazed at his teaching and the religious leaders were afraid.
A prophet brought God’s word and Jesus did that.
A prophet brought the promise of future hope and Jesus did that as he spoke about giving to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s; when he spoke about forgiveness of sin and the coming of God’s Kingdom. It was his opening declaration when he read the scriptures in Nazareth.
A prophet brought judgment and he certainly did that as he spoke against the Pharisees and their spiritual as well as temporal leadership of the people; as he rode into Jerusalem in prophetic style, seemingly promising judgement on the occupiers.
A prophet spoke deliverance and redemption and he certainly did that as people were freed from illness, spiritual oppression and sin. He was certainly powerful in deed as he turned water into wine, fed the multitudes and calmed the storm.
If this man wasn’t from God then no-one was. Redemption was needed, as the prophets had said and this was the man to bring it – or so they thought. He certainly had favour with all the people, but their leaders had failed to realise, failed to understand and brought everything to a crashing halt as they handed him over to the oppressors, the ones he had come to deliver them from! It was their leaders who had failed the nation in the past, leading them astray and into judgment and now they had done it again, actually delivering Jesus to the enemy.
Redemption? They were still forsaken. Everyone knew that crucifixion was a curse. Instead of being God’s chosen one, Jesus had become God’s cursed one and Israel was still forsaken, had no deliverer and must go about mourning. The events of Easter Sunday hadn’t helped. Yes they had heard the message of the women, but clearly they dismissed it. Their comment concerning those who went to the tomb is telling: “…but him they did not see.”
These two at least seem to be sceptical about the claim that Jesus is alive. And why shouldn’t they be? After all they knew he was dead and since he was the one who raised people from the dead, who was going to raise him? In any case where does it mention resurrection in the prophets? That wasn’t the path the deliverer of Israel was going to take. Yes they had heard Jesus say that he would be treated shamefully and killed and on the third day he would rise; they heard him say that it was in fulfilment of the prophets, but they had not understood.
Then the stranger is really quite rude: “How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe.” Colloquially I suppose he could have said, “You really are blockheads and dimwits for not seeing that this is what the prophets were talking about.” Yes the Messiah was going to do all the things they described, but they had overlooked the parts that pointed to him suffering, dying and then being glorified by the power of God. The stranger tells a different story – or rather re-interprets the story in which they find themselves. He had told them on at least three occasions that he would suffer and die but rise again.
However, they had not understood, because that was not their expectation; that was not how they saw God working. Then the stranger explains that redemption has come through suffering – intense suffering – and that God has vindicated. He puts the suffering of the past few days and the strange story of Easter morning in the context of the bigger picture of Israel’s history and God’s plan for his people. The stranger explains the story and gradually it is making sense.
Slowly they are moving from their hopelessness and despondency into a place of hope. Maybe there is some meaning to it all. Perhaps this was God’s purpose; and could it be true then that Jesus has been raised from the dead? The scriptures are beginning to make sense and this stranger is teaching with authority. How do we know this transition was taking place? Because they say so once the stranger has revealed himself as Jesus and suddenly everything is clear.
Then the moment of revelation comes: Jesus stays for a meal, quietly assuming the role of host; gives thanks for the bread and they see that it is him. The journey is nearly complete: they have moved from the dark place been enlightened by the teaching of Jesus and they have recognised him. All they need to do now is go and tell the others, which is what they do. Their understanding has been revolutionised: the story is not about triumphalism, the enemy being booted out and Israel reigning supreme. The story is about bringing light and hope to the nations, which comes through a restored relationship with God, which has come through the sacrifice of Jesus, vindicated through resurrection.
Notice how Jesus reveals himself to the disciples: in the breaking of bread after expounding the scriptures. There is significance here; God speaks through his word and through the sacrament. At the last supper Jesus broke bread and told them that this was his body and blood, but they didn’t understand. Jump forward to Acts 2 and they are devoting themselves to hearing the Word of God and breaking bread.
On the road to Emmaus, they have heard the Word of God explained and through the breaking of bread they have their eyes opened. Notice that is what they say as they tell the disciples that Jesus is alive and they have met him. In fact it seems they passed on the teaching Jesus gave them along the road, but make the point that it was when he broke bread they realised who he was. These two disciples have turned from despair to worship, which had been confirmed through the symbolic – but significant – act of Jesus at the beginning of the meal. What a journey!
And what a relevant story for our country and the world today.
There is confusion, fear and uncertainty about the future and concern about what it will mean.
The threat is no longer Brexit, but an invisible enemy that can sneak in unawares.
There is fear concerning our physical and mental health following a prolonged period of isolation,
and when we can mix again, how do we relate to each other?
We are looking to blame people for mismanagement, and looking for salvation and creating new heroes.
We are fearful of the economic darkness that could be coming upon us as businesses fail and the government bails out the economy, with the inevitable result that as a country we will bear the debt. The myth of continually rising living standards and increasing prosperity must now be fading as people’s ability to earn an income is reduced. As our horizons begin to shrink and our dream holidays, dream kitchens, dream cars become a thing of the past, we begin to realise that what is important is vested in something far more valuable. In these circumstances, materialism fails to satisfy and deliver the goods.
The story of the resurrection surely comes into its own in these circumstances.
We have a Saviour who has interpreted the story of life differently.
We were made to be in relationship with God, to worship God, to serve him.
We have turned to our own gods and worshipped and served them instead, and they have failed or are failing.
The saviours we have looked to are unable to deliver and there is an air of despondency about our situation.
Jesus comes and shows that actually loving God with all your heart soul and mind is where we begin; loving our neighbour as ourselves becomes our lifestyle – the outworking of loving God.
He comes to bring forgiveness and turn people back to God, to bring a new relationship and dies to do it. God vindicates his mission through the resurrection.
The challenge of Jesus is that he is both Lord and Christ as Peter said in his Pentecost sermon. The only way people will know hope in a world of despair is to meet with the risen Christ; the only way people will not feel despondent about the future is to know that there is a Saviour who transcends the circumstances of this world and brings us into relationship with God who created us. The way is acknowledging that we have turned our back on God and rejected him. The way is through repentance – completely changing our understanding and focus. To do so brings hope and purpose and reconciliation with God our Father.
We have the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ, part of the big picture of God and creation that will come to fulfilment when Christ returns and brings in a new heaven and earth under the sovereign rule of God Father Son and HS.
This rule begins now in our lives and in the community of the risen saviour, Jesus Christ. We are people who live in the light of the resurrection even in the darkest of times. We are people who live forgiven and redeemed. As such we are the light of Christ in the world and can lead others through the darkness.