Memories of Easters past.
1972—Schoolgirls at Matopo Secondary dressed in white, singing “Namhla Uvukile” [Today He has risen!] before the African Autumn dawn. dressed all in white, they sounded like angels!
1991—My parents shaking Lois and me awake with the news that Dad Heise has just died; the cancer had finished its work. We meant to spend the day with my parents. Instead, it was the last time I saw my mother.
Easter is our invitation to remember all that has happened in our lives. It is also our own invitation to reinterpret all that happens to us.
This congregation has also experienced the losses that make Easter a bittersweet time. As we sing and rejoice, we hear echoes of trumpets playing and voices singing from those who have gone before. We know well what I describe when I think of Lois’ Dad singing in Heaven’s choir on Easter morning.
The scene on the road to the village of Emmaus gives us a way to remember, showing us the path to joy that lies buried in all our griefs. Jesus invites us to see our lives, to see our world, in light of the cross, and to discover that “the way of the cross [is] none other than the way of life and peace.” I will speak primarily from Luke’s account, with the words from Acts 2 and 1 Peter 1 echoing in the background.
Listen to the Text Again
Two disciples walked the seven miles home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Presumably they had been in Jerusalem for the trial and execution of Jesus. In any case, that is what they were talking about. On Friday they saw the Messiah killed, and then the sun set. Today we refer to the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Holy Saturday, a time of waiting for the celebration to begin. The first “Holy Saturday” was the Sabbath Day, a time of waiting in God’s presence for renewal through hearing God’s Law, the Torah.
That Sabbath was a strange day of resting. Because it was the Sabbath, they were unable to go to the tomb, unable to return to their home in Emmaus, unable to do anything in response to the terrible events they had witnessed. Finally on the first day of the week, they could go home. They headed off about the middle of the afternoon, and as they walked they also talked over all that had happened in Jerusalem. A leisurely Sunday afternoon walk home.
Jesus joined them on the way. They didn’t recognize him, even when he asked what they were talking about. I have wondered why they were “kept from recognizing him”. Perhaps they needed to remain in a time of questioning and searching longer, so that they could deal fully with their grief. Perhaps they wanted to move on to resolution too quickly; we often do so. As a matter of practice in the church’s year, this is a good reason for the length of Lent, and for length of the Easter Season—to allow us to dwell in grief and joy as long as we need to. I doubt that this thought was in Luke’s mind, but it is true nonetheless.
Without realizing it, they were talking to the man who was in the middle of those events. Ironically they said, “You’re not from around here, are you!” Then they told him what had happened to him—the humour of God at work. The interaction that follows is vitally important for us to grasp this morning.
“He was a prophet. We thought he was the Messiah! But the religious leaders had him killed. We don’t know what to do! (We had hoped … !)
“He did say something about the third day, and today is the third day.
“We heard something this morning. Some women [you can almost hear the doubt in their voices: women will say anything …] said that they found his tomb empty. Some of our close friends [this is more promising] say that they have seen him.
(A point in all of these accounts is the place of the women—unreliable witnesses in Jewish tradition, but last at the cross, and first at the empty tomb.)
After they finished, hear Jesus’ response:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Obviously he did not pull out a Torah scroll and show the passages of Scripture. Rather, he took them to passages that they knew well, passages read often in the synagogue, passages still read today at Shaarey Zedek and other synagogues here in Winnipeg.
They reached their home and invited Jesus in. he sat down at the table with them, and picked up the bread. Then he broke it [just as he had done at the Last Supper], and they recognized him. They hurried back to Jerusalem, never mind the onset of night. They hurried through the dark to find the Eleven and tell them that the light of their lives was alive!
I have wondered what Scriptures he quoted to them in this process of reinterpretation.
In the passage we read from Acts 2, last Sunday and this Sunday, Peter preaches to the assembled Jews at Pentecost. He applies Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 directly to Jesus. I wonder if that identification goes back to this walk to Emmaus.
At the beginning of the sermon Peter refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit, who continued the work of Jesus, as fulfilling Joel 2.
The Gospel writers apply Psalm 22 (verses 1 and 18) to Jesus.
In Acts 4, the disciples apply Psalm 2 to Jesus.
Probably the most important passage was Isaiah 53. In John 12:37-38, John applies this passage to the ministry of Jesus. In Acts 8:32-35, Philip applies the prophecy to Jesus. In 1 Peter 2:22-23, Peter identifies the suffering servant with Jesus. All of these uses may go back to this walk to Emmaus, as well as to Jesus’ own ministry—see Luke 22:37, in which Jesus applies the prophecy to himself.
One could go through all of the OT passages quoted in the NT (I think of Jeremiah 31:31-34, for example, or Mark 4’s use of the prophet Isaiah), and I suspect that many of them go back to this conversation between the two disciples and Jesus. Jesus took what they thought they knew—the terrible events of the weekend and their Scriptures—and re-interpreted their Scriptures and re-structured their lives, changing them from a source of death and despair to a place of life and hope.
The Basic Point of the passage is this truth: That Jesus re-interpreted their Scriptures so that they could know the truth about God and about God’s Messiah, and he re-structured their lives so that what they had experienced as loss and death became the source of life and eternal hope. So also for us, God teaches us to read our Scriptures through the person of Jesus Christ, who reinterprets and restructures our very lives. Our lives begin to make sense as God speaks into our experience.
Excursus: I locate the basic point of the passage in the preached word. My OT colleague at Providence locates it in the way that two disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, so that the church reads this passage as a call to the Lord’s Table, where we again meet Jesus. Perhaps we are both right—the preached word, and the bread and cup. She is Anglican, and I am Mennonite; we may reflect our own traditions as we read the passage.
A Story of Reinterpretation
I told you last week that I have been reading the memoirs of Leoda Buckwalter. She was born in India to missionary parents and served for over 40 years with her husband, Allen, in India. A story from the last year of their time in India shows how God uses the events of our lives to do what God wants to do. God works, even through those parts of our lives that don’t make sense.
In the final year of their service they were asked to provide leadership to a small congregation in New Delhi for one year. They moved from their home, about 15 miles away, to that neighbourhood, where they rented the back rooms of a Hindu homeowner. For a year they served the congregation, while continuing their daily work in the offices of the Far Eastern Broadcasting Association (FEBA). Leoda describes the new setting in which they found themselves for their last year in India. They were surrounded (not for the first time) by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, who saw them as foreigners and outsiders, in spite of their 40+ years in India. They welcomed their new congregation and friends with a gathering at their new home on the first evening there. Here is Leoda’s account:
About nine o’clock we heard a car outside. Allen stood up, took several steps, then sat down again. I glanced at him. Did he sense evil as I did? He said nothing and the moment passed. Half-an-hour later he went to take Shirin home, and the car was missing! He came back in and said quietly, “Someone has stolen our car. Mr. Sharma and I will have to inform the police.”
Our neighbors gathered quickly to investigate another car, same make and color, that sat across the road. Our landlord and Allen sped off on the motorcycle to the police station. Shirin turned to me and said, “Auntie, this wasn’t an accident. That car is out of gas. The thieves unlocked yours, then pushed it. That’s the evil that I felt.”
“You did? I felt it too …”
“Uncle must have also. I wondered why he turned back and sat down. That wasn’t like him.”
“The Lord prevented him from going.” Quick tears stung my eyes, even as she murmured, “Yes.”
For three weeks Allen and I rode the motorcycle forty-five minutes each way to the office. Biting January winds whipped our faces, and we pulled our coats closer. We heard nothing until the day when our names appeared in the Prayer Challenge. “Ask the Lord to supply their need,” he read, then prayed, “Today we need the car!”
That afternoon the police caught the professional car thieves, involved in six other car thefts. To the amazement of our Hindu neighbors we received our car back intact. It had been abandoned in the next state!
“It never happens!” our new friends exclaimed. “Thieves always strip stolen cars.
What are you teaching us, dear Lord? I cried again and again throughout that first month in the Greater Kailash. One morning I heard the Lord say in my inner spirit, “My child, I know what I am doing. When Allen and you became victims, you took up a role that every Indian understands. Otherwise, your being foreigners would have dominated. Now your neighborhood is reaching out to help you.”
Hear me carefully. God does not always explain events to us. Rather God restructures our lives and gives them meaning—not that we understand each event, but that the whole fits within God’s will. Paul puts it this in Colossians 1:
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
We use two words at the end of this description: In Christ all things hold together. The Greek uses one word: sunesteken. Some translations give this as “all things co-inhere” or “fit together” or “cohere”. One idea within this word is that when all things’ “hold together” or “cohere”, they begin to make sense. When nothing fits together, nothing makes sense. When life fits together in Christ, we can see that it is right, even if we can’t explain a particular piece.
We must be careful as we talk about God restructuring our lives so that they make sense. Some things about our world defy explanation this side of the grave. I was present at Shaarey Zedek some years ago for Yizkor—a remembrance service that occurs several times a year within the synagogue. We remember parents, siblings, and children who had died. Then the Rabbi said, “Now we remember the six million.” Some things will never make sense to us, and we should not pretend that they can. But all that is given to Christ does fit together within God’s reality, within the Cross and Resurrection: As someone has said, Reality is cross-shaped. What Jesus did for the two men on the road to Emmaus was help them restructure their lives through the cross and the resurrection. Jesus wants to do the same for us today.
Like the two disciples walking to Emmaus, we are trying to make sense of our lives. We have experienced loss—the death of a spouse or a parent, the loss of relationships, a miscarriage so that an anticipated child never arrives, dreams that have died, hopes that have failed. As we walk through life we wonder what has happened to us, and where God is to be found. Then we notice Jesus walking with us. He begins to re-interpret and re-structure our lives and our losses. We meet Jesus again as (in C.S. Lewis’ words) “the One who was so full of life that, when he wished to die, he had to ‘borrow death from others.’” Jesus borrowed our death, our sins, our losses, our pains, our very selves; and he gives us back our selves alive with the resurrection.
Having learned the way of the cross, we then can pray the Resurrection Sunday prayer of victory:
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Grace Bible Church
30 April 2017
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
On the Road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles 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.