Sunday April 26th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
So Sad that They Couldn’t See Straight
There’s a saying that we use to describe someone who is experiencing intense anger. We say that they are “so mad that they can’t see straight.” The same thing happens when we experience intense feelings of sadness or grief or shock. Sometimes our eyes are so filled with tears that we literally can’t see, but other times we are in such shock that we feel numb. We feel like we’re moving in slow motion, or that we’re walking around in a fog.
The two travelers on the road to Emmaus late that Sunday afternoon were so sad and confused that they couldn’t see straight. I imagine them walking with their heads down, staring at the ground, perplexed and grieved.
One of the travelers was named Cleopas — we don’t know the other traveler’s name. I like to imagine that perhaps they were a husband and wife, or perhaps a brother and sister.
These two travelers had been followers of Jesus, had heard him teach and preach. Most likely they were two of the seventy-two who had been sent out to preach and heal in Jesus’s name in Luke chapter 10. Perhaps like many of the others, they had left everything to follow him, or supported him out of their resources (see Luke 8:1-3).
Like many, they had had high hopes that Jesus was the One, the promised Messiah, the Anointed One, who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21) and set their people free.
But three days prior, Jesus had been crucified. Beaten and mocked by the religious and political authorities, hung on the cross for all to see. He experienced one of the most painful and horrific deaths imaginable, and with his death all of their hopes and dreams died too.
Stranger on the Road
But then earlier that morning, some of the women disciples had gone to the tomb and reported that his body was missing, but that an angel had appeared to them and told them that Jesus had risen. The two travelers on the road to Emmaus were confused. If Jesus had risen, where was he? Why didn’t he show himself to them?
I imagine that they had delayed their journey back to Emmaus as long as possible. They had waited all afternoon to see if Jesus would appear and show himself to them, but as the hour grew late, they reluctantly tore themselves away from the other followers of Jesus, and started the long7-mile trek back home just as the sun was starting to slip below the horizon.
As they walked towards home, they discussed everything that had happened over the past week, and they were so engrossed in discussion that they didn’t notice the single, solitary figure walking behind them until he interrupted them to ask what they were talking about.
They were shocked that this stranger didn’t know all of the events that had taken place in Jerusalem that week, but I imagine that they were glad for the chance to process aloud everything that had happened.
Bible Study with Jesus
After hearing them out, their traveling companion began to speak. Luke gives us merely the cliffnotes — that Jesus (whom they did not recognize), “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
Although Luke does not capture their discussion word-for-word, we can assume that what Jesus told his traveling companions that day was eventually passed on to the other disciples, and that the content of their conversation found its way into the various speeches throughout the book of Acts, and into the various letters written by the Apostles in the New Testament.
Most likely Jesus pointed them to passages such as Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses told the people, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people,” and Isaiah 61:1 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”
I imagine Jesus quoted passages such as Ezekiel 34:11-16, where God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel regarding God’s people who had been scattered, hurt, and abused by the corrupt religious and political leaders of the day. God told Ezekield, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” As he quoted these Scriptures, Jesus shared how each and every one of these prophecies pointed forward towards himself.
And of course, I’m sure Jesus took them to Isaiah 53:5, where the prophet Isaiah spoke of One who was “wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Jesus explained to the two travelers that his crucifixion had been necessary in order for the Scriptures to be fulfilled.
Dining with Jesus
The whole time Jesus was talking with them on the road, they felt like their hearts were burning within them (Luke 24:32). Although they still did not recognize Jesus, they were awestruck by what he had to say. When they arrived at their home, they urged him to stay with them and to share a meal with them (and, I imagine, to continue their conversation), since it was almost evening, and the day was nearly over.
As they sat down to eat, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them — just as he had done so many times before. And in that moment, they recognized that this stranger was actually Jesus — risen from the dead, alive and in the flesh, sitting right in front of them! And in that moment, just as they realized who he was, he vanished from their sight.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul narrates Jesus’s last meal with his disciples before his crucifixion. Paul tells us that “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (1 Cor. 11:23-24).
This passage is often read when we celebrate Holy Communion together here in church. We break bread as a way of remembering that Christ’s body was broken for us. We drink wine/grape juice, as a way of remembering that Jesus’s blood was shed for us. We silently confess our sins before the Lord, we pass the peace to one another, and we experience anew God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness washing over us. Holy Communion is a beautiful and moving ceremony that Jesus gave to his disciples and to us, during which we remember the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
But when Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, and shared it with those two disciples in their home in Emmaus, this was not in the context of a church building or religious institution, nor was it part of a liturgical ceremony. Rather, it flowed from a simple and beautiful act of hospitality by two followers of Jesus, when they welcomed this stranger into their home and invited him to share a meal with them.
There in their home, when they sat around their table and broke bread and fellowshipped together, their eyes were opened to the fact that Jesus was right there with them, in their home, sitting at their table with them, dining with them.
A few weeks ago, I explained that during this season when we’re not able to come together and meet in person for worship, that rather than participating in Holy Communion, we are encouraging you to practice another traditional Christian meal, the Love Feast, also called the Agape Meal. This is a meal that can be eaten together at home, with the other members of your household, or even as you fellowship with others via phone or technology. The Love Feast has often been practiced throughout history in those times and spaces when there were no clergy present to officiate the Communion service, or when people were not able to meet together for worship for fear of persecution.
Love Feasts typically involve sharing testimonies, and prayers and scripture readings, and food of any kind can be shared. In our home, our family has started doing devotions together as a family each morning during breakfast. We take turns reading a passage of Scripture and praying together before we start our day, and it has helped us draw closer together to God and to one another as a family.
When you fellowship and eat together, you may choose to say a prayer such as this:
Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with Thee.
“Be present at our table, Lord.” The simple and beautiful truth is that Christ is indeed present with us, just as he was with those two disciples in their home in Emmaus. Jesus is with us when we sit at our tables, whether we are alone or with friends or family. Jesus is present with us as fellowship with one another, whether in person or over the phone or the computer. He is present with us, whether we recognize Him or see Him. Jesus is even present with us in the faces of the strangers that we pass on the street and in the faces of those who are in need.
My prayer is that we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, would allow our hearts to burn within us as we read and hear Jesus’s words read or spoken aloud. Like those two disciples, may we invite Jesus into our homes and into our lives, to fellowship with us, and to commune with us. May we too learn to recognize the risen Christ in our midst, in the faces of our friends and our family members, and in the faces of strangers who are in need. And may we remember the tremendous sacrifice that Jesus made for us, every time we fellowship and break bread together.