April 23, 2023
Dr. John A. Terry, Interim Pastor
This third Sunday in the season of Easter, we have the third story
of what happened that Easter day. The first story was of Easter morning
at the grave. The story last week was set in a room behind locked
doors on Easter evening with disciples sheltering in fear. This story is set
outside Jerusalem later Easter afternoon.
Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, their day of rest and worship.
Jesus and most all of his followers were Jewish. They kept the Jewish
law and customs. This story is set on Sunday, which for them is like our
Monday. It was the day to go back to work, back to whatever is normal
after the Saturday Sabbath.
Here on the road to Emmaus was Cleopas and a second unnamed
person. This is the only time Cleopas is mentioned in the Bible. We
know nothing more about him or his companion. Many scholars assume
that this was a husband and wife because of the hospitality they offered
and because they shared a home. Also, because the other person is
unnamed it is more likely a woman than a man.
We can assume these two had been followers of Jesus. They had
come to Jerusalem for Passover and knew what had happened to Jesus.
They had felt the soaring hopes surrounding Jesus in his triumphal entry
on the day we call Palm Sunday, then watched their dreams crumble as
he ended up tortured, instead of triumphant, crucified instead of
conquering. They had heard that some women reportedly had visions of
angels at the grave who said he was alive, but for reasons unstated these
two had left town, maybe in confusion, maybe in fear.
On the road to Emmaus, they tried to make sense of it all. It was
there, heading out of town when a stranger walked with them, but they
did not recognize him. They were on a journey though they did not
realize who journeyed with them. It was here with their hopes broken
that Jesus became known in the breaking of bread.
It says in this lesson that Emmaus was about a seven-mile walk.
On flat ground wearing sandals, that would take maybe three hours. If
the path was rough, it would take even longer. As can happen on such a
long walk, a third person came along. The two explained to their fellow
traveler how Jesus was killed, and how they are so troubled by it all.
That is why these two explained, “We had hoped.” They had
hoped Jesus would free Israel. They had hoped that Jesus would kick out
their Roman captures. They had hoped that Pilate would be out, and
Jesus would be in. But now, they believed, Jesus was finished. Their
hopes were crushed. It was exactly at the point they felt most hopeless
that Jesus came and met them, on the road, facing what was broken, then
became known in the breaking of bread. This is the Gospel lesson.
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village
called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with
each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were
talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16
but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other
while you walk along? They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of
them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only
stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken
place there in these days?”
19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about
Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before
God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed
him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had
hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things
took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They
were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his
body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a
vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were
with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but
they did not see him.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how
slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it
not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter
into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he
interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus
walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly,
saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now
nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the
table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he
vanished from their sight.
32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us
while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the
scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to
Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered
together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has
appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the
It is not said just why these two were on the road. Perhaps they
feared for their lives if they stayed in Jerusalem. Perhaps they could not
stand the humiliation of their leader’s violent and shameful death.
Perhaps they were ashamed they did not stick up for Jesus when it
counted. Perhaps they just wanted to get away from all the conflict.
Perhaps they were just heading back to home and to work. All we know
is that they were on the way to Emmaus.
A biblical scholar by the name of Dr. Marcus Borg once took a
pilgrimage to Israel with this wife including a visit to Emmaus. They
went to the town of Emmaus to visit the church that says it stands on the
site were Jesus accepted the hospitality of the two disciples he met on
the road to Emmaus. But when Dr. Borg and his wife arrived at the
church, they found the doors locked.
They did not know if the caretaker had forgotten to open the doors,
or if perhaps he had been called away suddenly, and locked up before he
left. They did know they were disappointed until their Israeli guide
informed them cheerfully “Not to worry. We’ll just go to another
Emmaus.” And he drove them to another church that also claims to be
the place where the Risen Christ became known “in the breaking of the
In fact we don’t know a thing about the Emmaus mentioned in
this Gospel story. We don’t know where it was. There is no historical
record of a village named Emmaus at that time. But the scripture does
tell us how far Emmaus was from Jerusalem: about seven miles. It
doesn’t need to be far; only about seven miles away from your
disappointment. Emmaus is where you go when you have to get away
because something or someone you were counting on has crushed your
hopes; left you broken.
That is what author Fredrick Buechner said: “Emmaus is the
place we go in order to escape…Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever
we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred; that
even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the
noblest ideas that people have had, ideas about love and freedom and
justice, have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish people
for selfish ends. Emmaus is where we go, where these two went, to try to
forget about Jesus and the great failure of his life.”
But it turned out in the breaking of bread they found hope. It is
only as the soil breaks open that new life emerges. It is when the cocoon
breaks open that the butterfly can emerge. It is when the apple seed
breaks open that the tree can begin to grow. It is in the broken soil of
our hopes and dreams that the seeds of faith can emerge. It is in the
breaking apart that God brings life anew in a way we do not expect.
In their grief the eyes of these two were closed to the presence of
Christ. One pastor preached on this scripture with the title: “Risen but
Not Recognized.” The disciples saw Jesus, but they did not recognize
him. If we met Jesus in the grocery store how would be know? How
could we recognize him?
I remember the time someone in a grocery store came up and
started talking with me. Her face was vaguely familiar. She said, “I
haven’t seen you since the service.” I knew I had met her somewhere at
some service I had conducted but I could not remember if it was a
wedding service or a funeral service, so I did not know if I should ask,
“How is the bride?” or “How is the widow.” So, I just asked, “How is
everything?” How will we know when it is the voice of Jesus speaking
to us, especially when our greatest hopes seem to be gone?
Cleopas and his companion were sad, confused and bewildered.
Jesus had been condemned to death and crucified. But the reports were
confusing. There was a report that the tomb where his body was laid
was empty. What happened? Who took the body? Where is it?
They were trying so hard to make sense of all this that they could
not even recognize Christ as he walked with them. They remembered
how he looked before but that was before. As Christ walks with us
through the trials of this time, how do we recognize Christ with us?
Maybe it is like what happened to Dr. Karl Barth, one of the
twentieth century’s most renowned and influential theologians. Dr.
Barth was on a streetcar one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lived
and lectured. A tourist to the city climbed on the streetcar and sat down
next to Dr. Barth. The two men started chatting with each other. “Are
you new to the city?” Dr. Barth inquired. “Yes,” said the tourist.
“Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?”
asked Dr. Barth. “Yes,” he said, “I’d love to meet the famous theologian
Dr. Karl Barth. Do you know him?” Dr. Barth replied, “Well as a matter
of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning.” The tourist got up and
got off the streetcar quite delighted. He went back to his hotel thinking
he had met Karl Barth’s barber.
That tourist was in the presence of the very person he most wanted
to meet, but even with an obvious clue, he never realized that the man
with whom he was talking was the man he most wanted to meet. After
the resurrection Jesus appeared as a stranger. At the tomb Mary thought
the man she with whom she was speaking was the gardener. It was not
until Jesus called her by name that she realized she was speaking with
the risen Christ.
After the resurrection Peter thought it was some stranger on the
shore giving him fishing advice. It took a fishing miracle for him to
recognize it was Jesus who spoke to him. It was like that on the road to
Emmaus when two of the disciples walked with Jesus, but they had no
idea it was him. They learned who had journeyed with them only later
when they offered this stranger hospitality and discovered him when the
bread was broken.
Throughout scripture God exhorts us to be hospitable by
welcoming both friends and strangers. The New Testament book of
Hebrews (13:2) says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” In
their invitation to a stranger the two discovered in the breaking of bread
that they invited Christ into their midst.
If it weren’t for this invitation – “Stay with us, because it is
almost evening” – Jesus would have remained unrecognized. He would
have walked on. He would have continued to be a stranger to them.
These two would have missed him altogether. They might have heard
others tell the story, “I have seen the Lord,” but it would not have been
their story. But for the invitation; but for the offer of hospitality; Jesus
might have continued to be unrecognized.
Who knows what we will find in a genuine ministry of
hospitality. There was once a little boy who decided he wanted to find
God. He knew it would probably be a long trip, so he decided to bring
some lunch: two packs of trail mix and two cans of root beer. He set
out on his journey and went a few blocks until he came to a park. On one
of the park benches sat an old woman looking at the pigeons.
The little boy sat down beside her and watched the pigeons too.
When he grew hungry, he pulled out some trail mix. As he ate, he
noticed the woman watching him, so he offered her some as well. She
accepted it gratefully and smiled at him. He thought she had the most
beautiful smile in the world. Wanting to see it again, he opened a can of
root beer and offered it to her. Once again, she smiled that beautiful
For a long time the two sat on that park bench eating trail mix,
drinking root beer, smiling at each other, and watching the pigeons.
Neither said a word. Finally, the little boy realized that it was getting
late, and he needed to go home. He started to leave, took a few steps,
turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was brighter than
When he arrived home, his mother noticed that he was happy, but
strangely quiet. “What did you do today?” she asked. “Oh, I had lunch in
the park with God,” he said. Before his mother could reply, he added,
“You know, she has the most beautiful smile in the world.”
Meanwhile, the old woman left the park and returned to her home.
Her son noticed something different about her. “What did you do today,
Mom?” he asked. “Oh, I ate trail mix and drank root beer in the park
with God.” And before her son could say anything she added, “You
know, God’s a lot younger than I imagined.”
Jesus often goes unrecognized, even when he is in our midst. What
broke open the understanding of those two on the road was nothing
spectacular. It began when Jesus broke open the meaning of scripture
then he broke bread with them. There are times and places that still
happens. Some try to find this in TV church.
TV church is always triumphant. TV church is always a very big
production with a crowd of thousands. The choir has more members
than the average congregation has worshippers. The soloist is always
good looking with a voice of a contestant of American Idol. There is
often an orchestra for accompaniment.
The preacher always has a full head of hair. (That detail may
escape some.) And it can be a very moving experience and those
describing the services usually do so with superlatives. But the
resurrection appearances of Jesus were more like a small church
where the preacher and his family might count for a quarter of the
people there on a Sunday, and the only thing older than the lady playing
the piano is the piano being played.
During the week the preacher might also be a local schoolteacher
who felt a call to ministry and took a few courses at a Bible college.
Deeply moving moments happen in this little church, and the stories are
told in simple terms, and little noticed outside that place.
The resurrection stories in scripture only involve a few people.
What breaks open their understanding is no TV spectacular. It is
through people and at places we least expect, as happened on the road to
At Emmaus, not knowing it was him, they invited this stranger to
stay and break bread with them. In the intimacy of sharing a meal
together, Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him!”
After the breaking of bread the Emmaus couple returned to share
their story with the disciples in Jerusalem. It was seven miles back to
Jerusalem, seven miles back from their great disappointment, The hour
was late, but they could not keep the good news to themselves.
The disciples were learning that on the first Easter, Jesus was not
found in the great Temple of Jerusalem or the Court of Caesar. He was
found in a garden; he was found inside a locked door with people
sheltered in fear; and he was found on a road where two traveled.
These disciples had been painfully aware of their loss and had lost
nothing less than hope itself. It was in the walk and the lesson and the
breaking of bread that they found Christ with them. So too is God with
us in our life journeys and in hunger for the bread of life.
Emmaus is a place we have all sought to go. Emmaus is where we
go to get away from the pain, to get away from the loss. Emmaus is the
place we go to regroup, to search for a new source of hope. Emmaus is
where we go to get away from a world where cruel people do cruel
things and good people fail to stop them.
Emmaus is seven miles away from disappointment. It is often
when life seems broken, when hopes seems dashed, when normal is
gone, when our future is in doubt, when we are forced to shelter in
place, that we find that God has been on the journey with us all the time,
and God will be on the journey with us wherever our life takes us. It can
be in broken bread or broken dreams. Just know that whatever life’s
joys or sorrows are, that is where God is.