Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Third Sunday in Eastertide – Sixth Sunday in ZOOM Church
April 26, 2020
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
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. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 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?’ 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Seven miles on a fine spring afternoon. In this era of isolation and pandemic precautions, when people are confined for their own safety, and urged to stay home for everyone’s benefit, the idea of a very long walk sounds wonderful. If you are lucky you have been able to get out for a walk lately, and if you aren’t allowed, you may have been longing for it. The swinging of your legs one after the other, or the whirr of your wheels if you are using a wheelchair, is a soothing rhythm. And just by keeping at it, you move along. Even when things in your life are very difficult, or very stuck, a long walk can bring a new perspective and settle your thoughts.
This is what seems to be happening to Cleopas and the other unnamed follower of Jesus on the day that they set out for Emmaus, just after the most harrowing few days they have known. They need a chance to talk over all the confusing details and begin to imagine their lives going forward. The gospel writer conveys a sense of their relief to have escaped the tension and anxiety of Jerusalem. But as they begin to unwind, a stranger joins them and asks what they are talking about. They wind up again, full of the story of their friend’s arrest and terrible death, and of these new stories that just this morning he had been seen. When the stranger reminds them of the prophecies and Biblical insights that do make sense of it all, they are entranced. As he walks with them, Jesus helps them find a rhythm that will make it possible to go on.
Even so, they do not recognize him. Neither the sight of his face, nor the sound of his voice, nor the drift of his meaning tips them off. It seems clear that they are not looking for him. The way they tell him the story of himself, it sounds as if they haven’t quite made up their own minds about what they have heard. 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. They are scratching their heads and wondering, neither doubters nor believers – they are just wondering.
But they are open-minded and interested in what the stranger says. As the sunlight fades and the evening birds begin to twitter, they hope to prolong the conversation. In hospitality and kindness, they reach out to him. Stay with us, they say, for it is almost evening and the day is far spent. They invite him to share their meal. It is nearly sunset – in the Jewish reckoning of time, almost a new day. Almost the day after the resurrection.
For the Christian church, the whole season of Eastertide has the same quality – it is almost a new day. Almost, but not quite. This is a time to walk along together and ponder the story. To ask ourselves what it might mean to say that this is a world in which death has been defeated. To look around and see where risen life lives. How will we live on the day after the resurrection? If you could be as open as Cleopas and his companion, what would tip you off about the stranger? How would you recognize him? The Easter task of the church is to cultivate that openness, that willingness to see.
In this story, it is the shared meal. Something about the way he breaks the bread that they have offered him and says the blessing. And the moment they grasp it, he is gone. His presence as fleeting as a spring blossom. But that is all they need. As they hurry back up the road to Jerusalem and their friends, they have moved from wonder to conviction, from helplessness to hallelujah. And as we know, the rest is history. The new day has begun, and for this we give God thanks.