Third Sunday of Easter
TEXT: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. (Luke 24:13-14)
Have you ever noticed that some of the saddest words in the English language begin with the letter “D”? I call them, “the deadly D’s.”
Disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, despair, and death; all of these words sum up the feelings of Cleopas and his fellow disciple as they trudged down the road toward Emmaus.
They had left the frightened and confused band of disciples, who were still in shock from the events of Good Friday. Cleopas and his friend must have been in shock, too. They were leaving Jerusalem because, for them, Jesus’ death was an unmitigated disaster.
The Master they had loved and followed had been brutally executed—subjected to a cruel and degrading death upon a cross.
Jesus had been made a public spectacle, exposed to the jeers and taunts of passers-by.
Only a week before, their hopes had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds welcomed Jesus with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” But now …
Now he lay dead—as dead as all their hopes and dreams. Even the report of the women that Christ’s tomb was empty did not raise their spirits; it only served to confuse them more.
On Emmaus Road, the sad pair of disciples summed things up quite well when they said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”—the one who would set their nation free.
Their despairing words reveal something about their Messianic expectations. The very expectations that Jesus had tried so hard to dispel: that he was going to be a great military leader like King David—one who would raise an invincible army to drive the Romans out of the Jewish homeland.
Now everything had fallen apart. The empire had crushed Jesus beneath its heel. Cleopas and his travelling companion were devastated. They must have felt that they had been wrong about everything—especially Jesus. Even as they grieved for their carpenter-rabbi, they were also bitterly disappointed in him.
“We had hoped …” That’s what Cleopas and his friend had said. “We don’t expect it now, but a week ago, we did. We had high hopes for the future, but now those hopes are gone and all we have left is disappointment.”
Can you identify with that? I can. I think most of us can. None of us can remain forever untouched by the “D” words.
As the two disciples trek along, a stranger joins them. They don’t know it yet, but this is going to be the most significant walk they will ever take. The stranger asks them what they are discussing.
And so they pour out their story to someone who seems willing to listen. They tell the stranger all about their hopes and their disappointments.
Of course, we know that the stranger is Jesus; but for some reason, they do not recognize him. They share with him the news they had received that very morning—unbelievable stories about Jesus’ tomb being empty, about his body gone missing.
Notice that Jesus does not give them a brisk pep talk. He does not tell them to “get over it.” No. At first, he simply listens. He provides a sympathetic ear, and walks along with them.
As their journey continues, Jesus takes the initiative and, in effect, begins to tell his own story. Exposing their lack of understanding and faith, his main point is a rhetorical question: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
He reviews the Old Testament scriptures. It’s all there in the tradition, but their minds and hearts have been blinded to it.
The picture Jesus paints of the events in Jerusalem is radically different from theirs. As he interprets the story, it ends—not with failure—but with glory, with triumph over death.
Isn’t that a great picture: Jesus walking along the road with his despondent and confused disciples, sharing their troubles?
Suddenly this 2,000-year-old story is brought into the present—into our time.
When disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, and despair fill our lives with death… Jesus is the unseen stranger who walks alongside us, listening to us, and—if we are willing to hear his voice—revealing himself to us.
As Cleopas and his friend talk about the cross—about their bewilderment and sorrow—Jesus reassures them and helps them.
He places their sad journey in a new frame: the journey of the Messiah as mapped out in the Bible. As Luke tells us, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Jesus must have given the Emmaus travellers the best-ever exegesis of the Old Testament, reminding them how sin came into the world through human disobedience, and how the prophets foretold a Saviour who would be obedient … even to the point of death.
He might have reiterated something he himself had said before … that, just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man would be in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40). No doubt, he would have referred to Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant of God who “was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
You see, it wasn’t that these two disciples were ignorant of the scriptures. The problem was that their understanding was clouded—clouded by preconceived ideas; especially the idea of a Messiah who would come with might and power and destroy their enemies.
The two-hour walk to Emmaus must have seemed like five minutes. The two disciples could feel their despondency and sorrow melting away, being transformed into understanding and hope as the “stranger” explained that Jesus’ death was a part of God’s great plan of salvation.
When the “deadly D’s” oppress us—when disillusionment, depression, and defeat overshadow our lives—Jesus walks with us just as he walked with those two on the Emmaus road. He points us to God’s Word of promise—the Word that tells us, over and over again, that we are God’s dearly beloved children and that he will stand by us—no matter what. Jesus turns our despair into hope.
When the two disciples reached Emmaus, they asked the stranger to stay with them for the night, and he agreed. Then, at the evening meal, he “took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.” Suddenly it dawned on them just who the “stranger” was. It was their Master—raised from the dead, just as the women had told them.
Jesus himself had ministered to them in their distress. Now they knew why a change had come over them as they walked on the road. Now they knew why their despondent hearts had been refreshed—filled with hope and renewed faith. Jesus had revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.
The road to Emmaus is, I think, a symbol of the Christian life. This story is about ordinary despair—and ordinary, Monday-morning drudgery. It is a story about meeting a stranger, hearing his words of comfort, sitting down at the table and sharing a meal.
This is a story—for us—about the meaning of Easter. It assures us that the risen Lord is able to give us hope and joy—even when all we see around us is disappointment, discouragement and despair. It urges us to see the world—not as a place of death, decay, and defeat—but as a place of waiting, as we press onward toward God’s final victory.
This story about the walk to Emmaus is a story for everyday life in the year 2020. It’s a story for me, and it is a story for you.
Perhaps you are walking the Emmaus road right now. Or maybe you know you’re going to. Rest assured we will all walk this road someday—this boulevard of broken dreams, this thoroughfare of “deadly D’s.”
When that day comes—as it surely will—when you find yourself staggering under burdens of disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, and despair … when your life seems filled with death and decay … I hope you remember that you are not walking alone. The unseen “stranger”—the risen Jesus—is walking with you.
Christ is risen from the dead! Christ Jesus—the Saviour and hope of the world—is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.