Sermon for April 4th

First Reading Isaiah 25:6-9

Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Gospel Readings Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:13-49

Sermon “The Road to Emmaus and Beyond”

The New Testament writings give a variety of accounts of what happened at the crucifixion of Jesus, what he said, who was there. Details also vary about his death and burial, and certainly about what happened on Sunday Morning. That’s the way it is with eye witness accounts – particularly under emotional circumstances; But the essential facts ware clear – Jesus was crucified on a Roman Cross, he died a horrible death and was hastily buried in a borrowed grave with few of the normal preparations. It was for this reason that the women came to the tomb so early that morning as Mark tells us. On the way – on the road to the tomb, they worried about what they would do about the massive stone that had been rolled to close the entrance. But strangely, they found the stone was already rolled back and a young man dressed in white sitting there with the most amazing and confusing news: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Every single account testifies that the tomb was stunningly, amazingly, shockingly empty.

The women had come to lovingly tend the dead and broken body of one whom the loved and followed. Neither they nor the other disciples had apparently remembered that Jesus had promised his resurrection several time before. Grief, distress and horror will do that; they cloud the mind and memory for a time. Jesus being raised from the dead was so far from what they were expecting that they couldn’t process the rest of what the angel said. They were supposed to go and share the Good News: “Jesus is risen from the dead!” But the account records a most human and understandable initial response: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Apparently that was original ending of Mark – just hanging there – asking the unvoiced question – what will you do with this news? How long will you be silent? How will you deal with this amazing occurrence? Will it inspire and propel you or will your fear and uncertainty paralyze you? For the women who had followed the road to the Tomb that morning, the way onward was not clear, nor was it for any of the others – not at first anyway. The resurrection was just too amazing, too unexpected to process right away.

Apparently later editors were compelled to add just a bit to Mark’s gospel. It actually has three different endings depending on which of the ancient texts you pick. The oldest one ends right where we did with the first part of Verse 8. Other ancient editors seem to have added just a few more words to conclude – [[And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]] Others add a quick summary of Jesus appearance to Mary Magdalene, and then a couple of verses which read: (Mark 16:12-13)

[12] After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. [13] And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

And finally a mention of Jesus appearance to the 11 remaining disciples with an account of their commissioning and his ascension – all in 6 brief verses.

Regardless of which details we examine from Mark or any of the other gospels, its that first most raw and original ending that gives us the best impression of what that first Easter Day must have been like – the fear, the amazement, the confusion. To simply stand in awe in front of the empty tomb and ponder what it means is a very honest way to start the Easter celebration. You see, Easter is the most central event in human history after creation itself. The resurrection was the central feature of every sermon we have in the book of Acts. It was what Paul was trying to tell the Corinthians – if Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead, then our faith would be in vain. So, yes – Easter is so central, so important, that we might well stand in wonder and amazement too.

In order to continue down the road of our Easter experience, let’s shift our focus to Mark’s brief mention of those two disciples who experienced the resurrected Jesus on the road. We get the full story from Luke – It was likely just about this time of day when these two headed out to the village of Emmaus, some 7 miles away. These two were walking along on a 3-4 hour trip, talking about all the tumultuous events of the previous week. It had started the previous Sunday with that wonderful procession with Jesus on the young donkey, down the Mount of Olives and into the Holy City of Jerusalem. They had evidently been with him for parts of that week – hearing him teach, perhaps seeing him chase the money changers out of the temple and contend with the Pharisees. Then there was the arrest late Thursday night, the confusion of trials and the awful crucifixion. And now it was the third day later – Sunday.

Strange things had happened that morning before they left. Apparently the women did eventually recover their courage enough to come back and tell the disciples a strange and confusing tale. They had gone out to the tomb and found it empty and even reported seeing and hearing angels say that he had risen from the dead. It just couldn’t be! There was a lot to talk about that day, and so they walked and they talked and they wondered what it could all mean. They were on twin journey’s you see – a physical one of a few hours and the spiritual one of a lifetime: One with a defined goal and the other stretching into eternity.

Luke tells us very little about these two. They are disciples, but not members of the 12. We know the name of only one of them – Cleopas. Since the other is not named, put yourself in the story this morning. For you too are a disciple, a follower of Jesus, vitally interested, and still trying to understand how God’s plan could weave through the strange and chaotic things we see going on around us. A nice long walk is a good time for a conversation and contemplation.

While they were walking, a third man joins them on the road and inserts himself into the conversation: “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” Cleopas answers a bit sarcastically “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” And so they give this newcomer a quick rundown of all they had been talking about. Now they did not know that it was in fact the resurrected Christ that was talking with them, but it makes for a fascinating conversation that could not have happened if they had immediately recognized Jesus.

Jesus begins with a gentle chiding that perhaps we might paraphrase as something like “You dear, idiots! Didn’t know this was how it had to be?” And so he began to open up the scriptures to them and the journey of hours no doubt flew by as they recalled later how their hearts burned as God’s plan was traced from Creation, the covenants with patriarchs, the testimony of Moses, the covenant with David and the further testimony of the Prophets- Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel, even after the Exile and the return to the land – Jesus traced God’s grace and long suffering love and plan of redemption through it all.

How I would have loved to have heard that Bible Study! It’s one of the main ways we have today of meeting and hearing the voice of our Savior – through the pages of scripture – front to back, Old Testament and New – reading and discussing with friends along the journey of life. Its a perfect picture of the Church isn’t it. Friends on the journey – trying to understand and able at times to glimpse bits and pieces of God’s handiwork. But always it seems, in the rearview mirror. The oncoming view on the journey remains a mystery as to what is coming next – we must just follow the path set before us with faith and obedience.

As they approached the village, Jesus acted as if he were going to just keep on walking, but they insisted he come to their house and stay with them – it was getting towards evening and so it was that Jesus was to be their guest at the dinner table. When I was in grade school at First Lutheran School years ago, we always recited the same grace before lunch – it went like this: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let Thy gifts to us be blessed.” But here, something different and again unexpected happens. This man, whom they still didn’t recognize, takes on the duties of the host. He took bread and give thanks for the meal – he broke the bread and gave it to them – in that moment, they suddenly recognized who he was! And just as suddenly, he was gone. What was it that triggered the recognition? We can’t be certain, but it was likely

those words he used in the blessing. They had heard those words before – perhaps on a mountain side above the Sea of Galilee preparing to feed a multitude with five little loaves of bread. Or, perhaps they were in the upper room and had heard Jesus declare that the bread was his body given for them – and that they were to repeat the meal and remember him – and now it happened again and they did in fact remember. In that moment, they finally understood at least enough to know that the women were right after all. And so they raced back to Jerusalem that very evening – I suspect they were more than a little out of breath when they burst in on the rest of the disciples and found that Jesus had been with Peter too. And soon, Jesus was with all of them and the lessons were repeated for all to hear. You can never hear of the wonderful grace of God too many times. Each time, we understand a little more and we continue on our journey down the road of life.

That first Easter Day, the disciples made a lot of progress down the road – even though they wound up physically right back where they started. Nevertheless – they had begun the journey from Grief and despair through the way points of disbelief, confusion and amazement and on towards renewed discipleship with the discovery of meaning and the beginnings of insight. Later, further down the road, they would be able to share and inspire and love in Jesus name. Its a much longer road than just out to Emmaus and back, but Christ goes with us and feeds us at his table along the way.

The table is also set again today. Here are the simple elements of Bread and Wine that anticipate the great banquet that Isaiah promises. Here too are the words of the scripture and the presence of the Holy Spirit along with the fellowship of disciples together on a lifelong journey. This morning we pause in our busy life and come together to read and to sing and to pray. Our Lord invites us to come and tarry a bit. To come to His table and remember and recognize our fellowship with him. For his is risen indeed and lives forevermore – AND in a wonderful and mysterious way, He is present here, whether we understand it or not, He loves us and calls us to himself. This is His table – though we have prepared it in his name. Christ is our host. All are welcome here. He meets us on the way, for he is The Way, the truth and life itself. May our eyes be opened and may we recognize him in the breaking of bread together this very hour. And then, when we leave this place, go and tell of what we have seen and are beginning to understand.

Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!