Sunday, May 8, 2011

Our Journey to Emmaus

Todays Gospel from the RCL is Luke 24.13-35


Sermon 5.8.2011 3rd of Easter

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

Scholars have no real idea where the town of Emmaus referred to in our Gospel reading today was. It was a fairly common name and there are several towns from New Testament times near Jerusalem called Emmaus or had Emmaus as part of its name. The problem is that no one has ever been able to find one that matches the distance mentioned by Luke.

Now there are variant readings for the text, and one of these gives a distance of around 20 miles and there was a town called Nikolai Emmaus about that far from Jerusalem … but then you run into the problem of trying to fit the other details of the story around this town … Luke tells us that the two disciples walked to Emmaus; we know they didn't start out too early, because they had heard what the women had to say about the empty tomb before they left and the other disciples running to see for themselves … and by the time they arrived at their destination it was getting late and was almost evening. Having arrived, they sat down and began to eat … and once they realised who it was they had made the journey with, they went right back to Jerusalem and got back in time to catch the other disciples before they went to bed. Which seems to rule out the idea of the town being 20 miles away, and make the idea of a 7 mile trip more reasonable …

Well whatever about where the town was, why were the men going to it? Luke tells us that when they got to the village and it looked like Jesus was going to journey on, they urged him to stay with him and they sat down at table together … there is no mention of an inn, so  it seems likely that the men were inviting Jesus into the home of one or the other of them. These men had gone home. They had been with the disciples when during the events of Jesus's Passion, death, & burial; they had stayed with the group as they mourned … but when the women came running in to tell them that the tomb was empty and Jesus was risen it was all too much for them. They turned their backs on Jerusalem and headed off back home to Emmaus.

It is no wonder then that they don't recognise Jesus … we hear in the passage how their eyes were kept from recognising him … but we are not told what it was that kept their eyes from knowing who it was that was walking along with them … but Luke does have the idea of spiritual blindness in many other places in his Gospel … so perhaps it was their own lack of faith that kept these men from knowing who it was that they were talking to … the very same man that they were talking about!

Think about what they say about Jesus: that he was a prophet mighty in word and deed before all the people … they had hoped that he might be the Messiah … but then he was handed over by the Chief Priests and crucified … they had hoped he was the Messiah – why? Because of all he had said and done … but then they stopped believing – why? Because he was crucified. A Messiah who could suffer and die didn't fit into their idea of what a messiah was all about … so then Jesus explains to them how wrong they were … he opens the scriptures to them so that they can understand how the Messiah not only could be Jesus of Nazareth, but actually was … his life was the fulfilment of all the messianic prophesies …

The journey to Emmaus becomes not just a journey to a physical place … but a spiritual journey also … it is a journey during which Jesus opens their eyes … frees them from their spiritual blindness … as they journey the sadness that filled them when they first met him on the road begins to slip away … and as he opens the scriptures to them their hearts begin to burn within them ... so that by the time that they reach Emmaus and sit with him at the table, they are ready to recognise him again … and in that final moment, when he blesses and breaks the bread, just as he had done in the last supper when he said to his disciples this is my body, they see him for who he truly is … and at once they get up and go back to Jerusalem to share the news with the rest of the disciples … they have seen the Lord … he is risen … they recognised him in the breaking of bread …

Perhaps it is no bad thing that we do not know where the real town of Emmaus was … because as I said, the journey the disciples made that day was as much a spiritual one as a physical. And as a spiritual destination, it is a place that we all may journey to. We too may ponder the scriptures, remember the words and deeds of Jesus, see how the life he lived showed that he was the promised Messiah … as we journey we may pray that God will also open our eyes … that he will open our hearts so that they burn within us … and that we will truly come to recognise him in the breaking of bread … the road to Emmaus is a road that we are all called to walk along … and like the two disciples that day we do not walk it alone … we walk it with each other … and we walk it with Jesus, from Journey's beginning, to Journey's end … Amen.

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