New International Version (NIV) from BibleGateway.com
On the Road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “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. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
The following is a sermon I wrote for the covenanting service of my friends Adam Kilner and Dan Leaver at Dunlop United Church in Sarnia on November 3, 2013. It should be noted that this is more or less pasted directly from my sermon notes, so it’s not quite as… polished… as I feel it was when I actually preached (thanks be to God!). Anyway, I hope someone will read this and gain some insight into God’s nature and the scripture above.
Have you seen the news? The American government is probably spying on everybody on the planet but they can’t really tell us for sure unless it comes out of a leaked document; our prime minister is either proud of his chief of staff for helping a senator out of a jam and was sad to accept his resignation, or he thinks the chief of staff is despicable and was dismissed in disgrace; the provincial government back-tracked on building a gas plant to buy votes, or they heard the voices of locals who didn’t want it in their backyard; Toronto’s mayor is… well… being Rob Ford; and last, here at home, Sarnia’s government is either standing up for a neighbourhood who is struggling to maintain order, or they are sinking into classism and spending tax dollars to fight a homeless shelter which directly aids the neediest among us. This may shock you, but it appears that there are people in elected office who may not always be looking out for the best interests of their constituents. It’s difficult for a person to observe the political system and its teapot tempests, let-alone the more serious scandals which really do erode our faith in the democratic system. It’s frustrating, and can be enough to make a person lose faith in the entire system.
The disciples in the scripture today were feeling a much more intense version of the disappointment that many of us feel when we see what happens among the leaders of our various governments. This story takes place within a day or two following Easter. In Luke’s description of the event, some of the women who had been a part of the group accompanying Jesus through his ministry went to the tomb where Jesus was laid and found the stone rolled away and his body gone – Peter confirms this after no one believes the women, but nobody is quite sure what it means. This pair were probably walking back to their homes outside of Jerusalem and the two would have been discussing the events of the last week – the leader of their group had entered into the city and been killed… for what? Was he killed for speaking out against a system of injustice? For making the powers-that-be uncomfortable? Or was his death meant to fulfill a prophecy laid out in the scrolls of the Torah? No doubt it all seemed terribly unfair to these companions of Jesus – their friend was no longer with them and no action on their part would change that. The image of the Kindom of Heaven laid out by Jesus were no more than fairytales at this point – the hope which had been built up over the time of his ministry was fading quickly. The missing body was evidence that something had happened… but what?
I’m sure we can all remember times where we’ve felt like we’re alone in the world and unable to continue. In my own experience when I was learning to fly airplanes, I can recall a trip which left me realizing just how alone one can be, even in southern Ontario. One of the requirements for earning a commercial pilot license is to have completed a 300 nautical mile each-way cross country flight with stops at three different airports along the way.
The route that the flight school recommended was from Sarnia to Toronto, to Kingston, then to Ottawa where we would turn around and fly back on the same route. This is in a time before GPS was common in light aircraft, so we’re flying using charts with lines drawn on in pencil. The flight to Ottawa was fairly uneventful and the weather was good with just some light clouds and isolated mist along the way which was easy to avoid. The return trip was less splendid. After a quick break in Ottawa to get my logbook stamped, I took off again and headed back to Kingston’s airport where I would refuel for the final legs home. Leaving the airspace around Ottawa became a bit chaotic due to a level of busy-ness there that I wasn’t used to – but I was able to find some landmarks that seemed to line up and plotted a course southward to Kingston. The trick with this flight was that there’s really not much to reference as far as landmarks go once you’re a little ways from Ottawa, so a steady hand is necessary to keep yourself on course. As time went on the clouds grew a little thicker above and the visibility gradually lessened to the point that there was a general haze and I couldn’t see much more than three to four miles in any direction – that sounds like a lot on the ground, but from the air while flying low level in unfamiliar territory while still something of a novice… it’s a bit hair raising. As I got closer to Lake Ontario, the landmarks I had been using to navigate by – lakes and roads, stopped matching up with the course that I’d plotted. I knew that I’d eventually run into Lake Ontario, but the question was… do I turn East or West from there? I had reserve fuel, but it would be dangerous to push my luck. If I turned the east and needed to go west, I might end up in Gananoque or Cornwall, but if I turned west and was supposed to go east, I’d end up at Trenton… the Air Force base… where they may not take kindly to unexpected civilian guests on their runway.
At this point I am nearly at the lakeshore where I need to make a decision. I recalled that some air traffic units have the ability to figure out which direction an aircraft is transmitting from, which they can then give a reciprocal heading to follow which would get me to the airport. So, I made the call – “Uh, Kingston Radio, I seem to be a little lost out here, would you be able to use your radio direction finder to give me a heading to the airport for landing?” The sympathetic radio operator responded “Yeah, we’d love to help you out, unfortunately the direction finder went out of service yesterday and we won’t have it repaired for a day or two.” Well… that was worth a shot. Thoughts of landing at Trenton surrounded by green jeeps and lots of guys with guns began to fill my mind when my radio crackled to life and said “Cessna near Kingston, this is Tiger 424, we’re an air force Hercules transport doing practice approaches at Kingston – our direction finder sees you and we’ll fly by to lead you in toward the runway – just follow our exhaust.” a few moments later a huge lumbering gray aircraft appeared out of the grey mist passing a half mile from my nose – my hero had arrived! I can vividly remember the wave of relief that passed over me at that moment. It turned out that I was only a few miles off course and was able to land safely following the black exhaust trails from the big hercules aircraft until the airport was in sight.
The feeling of relief and excitement must have been exactly what the these two disciples felt when it finally clicked – the stranger who had approached them was Jesus! The stranger had explained to them in simple terms what had been confusing and unclear to them previously – Jesus is the Messiah! It didn’t matter what theories or explanations they came up with for the empty tomb – Jesus conquered death and is the Messiah. And later that evening, the stranger’s identity was revealed – it was Jesus risen from the dead! Living proof that God had not deserted the people who believed in Jesus.
And this is where the scripture applies into our lives as lay people and as ministers – God has not disappeared into thin air – God is with us all the time through Spirit. For those times when our neatly laid out flight-plans go out the window – we can reach out to those around us for help – and Spirit can respond through them saying – follow my trail and I’ll lead you to land.
In the times when a family crisis erupts and overwhelms all of our senses – God is there for us in the family and friends who offer to babysit our children, or bring casseroles to help ease the burden of day-to-day tasks.
In political scandals, in trials, in the moments of weakness and addiction, God is there urging us toward truth, toward justice, toward recovery.
In conflicts between great powers and the impoverished and disenfranchised – God is there and acting through those who scream and shout for a world where everyone can have their needs for shelter, sustenance, and human relationships met.
In all these times and places God IS with us. We are NOT alone.
Thanks be to God!