Acts 2:14a, 36-41 | Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 | 1 Peter 1:17-23 | Luke 24:13-35
There’s something about traveling with someone and the conversations that ensue. Whether it’s a road trip, or a hike, or just a walk around the block. We live in a day and age where there are constant distractions everywhere, but there’s something about travel that cuts those distractions out and prompts conversation. You can’t watch TV or check Facebook (at least you shouldn’t!) when you’re on a hike, and definitely not while you’re driving. Even in a car, where there are radio channels and podcasts to listen to, you can only go so long on a road trip before you need a break and start talking with whoever your with. One of the best ways to get to know new friends (and occasionally end old friendships) is to go on a road trip.
Brie and I have spent quite a bit of time traveling together. During college we drove back and forth from Portland to Idaho together, we road tripped across the country together, and we have done a lot of hiking and camping together.
A lot of times, when we’re traveling together, our conversations turn to our hopes for the future, especially in the early days of marriage. We’d dream about where we might live or what careers we might have. It’s kind of cool that we had multiple conversations about if me becoming a pastor and Brie working for a foundation, and now that’s what we’re both doing! Sometimes things work out alright.
Of course, traveling is also a time to discuss things that aren’t working out. On a road trip, a hike, or a walk, you might talk with friends or family about things that didn’t work out, you might start strategizing for the future in light of dreams that never came to fruition.
The two disciples in our Gospel reading from today are headed out on the first century equivalent of a short road-trip. 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. According to Google, the average person walks 3.1 MPH, so it’s a 2-2.5 hour trip. That’s about the amount of time it would take me to get from New Meadows to Boise growing up. I did that drive a lot with friends in high school, usually to go to shows. We had some great times and a lot of laughs. We shared a lot of life together on those trips. 2.5 hours is enough time to get into some deep stuff.
These two disciples don’t waste any time getting into the deep stuff. Right from the get-go they start a conversation about “all these things that had happened.” They’re conversation doesn’t fall on the hopeful side, but on the reworking/restrategizing side, after their hopes of Jesus’ Messiahship had been dashed. They say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” For them, the future doesn’t look bright and full of promise, but dark and foreboding. They’re not sure where they’ll find hope now, because the place they previously found hope is gone.
They’ve heard conflicting reports about what has happened, especially in the last few hours, since that morning when some women from their group reported that Jesus’ body was gone and that angels had told them that he had risen from the dead. Other disciples also saw the empty tomb but not the angels. Others, like Thomas, who we read about last week, flatly refuse to believe anything significant has happened. Jesus is dead.. These two disciples have heard various reports, and they aren’t sure which ones to believe.
Does that sound familiar: conflicting reports, troubling news, difficulty discerning what’s true? In the world of fake news, alternative facts, and social media echo chambers, we find ourselves constantly confronted with the question, is this true? We see “news” reports pop up on our friend’s and family’s newsfeed that make us cringe. Can they really believe that? And it’s not just the conservatives and not just the liberals, but both sides are guilty of fake news these days. I know I’ve fallen victim to it myself.
An article just came out in the New York Times this last week titled “Can Facebook Fix its Own Worst Bug?” The article is about Facebook’s role in disseminating fake news, especially in the previous election. Much attention has been brought to the way Facebook caters news to different users based on their political leanings. The news a liberal reads on Facebook is very different from the news a conservative reads. This creates what’s called an “echo chamber,” where people only read stories and reports that support their own views, without hearing the other side.
It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, and, hopefully, as Christians, we do our best to transcend such crude, oversimplified terms as conservative and liberal, although, I must admit, I often fall into the trap of using these easy, polarizing terms. But either way, we should recognize that echo chambers are unhealthy. Only listening to those people and news stations that agree with us is irresponsible and definitely not a pursuit of truth.
The point is, it’s difficult to know these days what and who to believe. And no matter what news we hear, it’s usually not good. I think we can all relate to Cleopas and the other disciple. It seems like many of us find ourselves having similar conversations to the one they had on the road to Emmaus. We show up to work or meet up with a friend or come to church and the conversation quickly turns to “all these things that have happened.” I don’t really feel like I need to list them all now. There’s so much that seems wrong with the world, from violence on the other side of the country, to political divisions here in the United States, to interpersonal disputes in our own lives, health problems, etc. And there’re things I don’t know. There’re things in each of our lives that represent hopes that never came to fulfillment. You can insert whatever it is in your life that’s causing you anxiety.
Whatever the case, we often find ourselves uttering the words of the disciples, “But we had hoped…”
But then, going back Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus, Jesus shows up. (Notice, once again, that Jesus comes to them!) The story doesn’t end with “But we had hoped…”
Jesus shows up and says, “So, uh, whatchatalkinabout?” And they begin to tell him. And let’s be honest, we’d all be saying the same things! After all they’d been through, it makes sense that they’re feeling pretty down.
And this is what happens next. Read Luke 24:25-33a.
There are a few things from this passage, from Jesus’ response to the disciples, that stand out to me.
The first is that Scripture is powerful. Jesus’ first impulse is to take the disciples through the Scriptures to assure them that they testified to him and all that has happened. There are probably a variety of views about Scripture within our church, but regardless of where we fall on the spectrum, this passage shows us that the Scriptures are important, at least Jesus thought so.
Jesus argues that they testified about him thousands of years earlier, and he thinks they’re worth defending.
He quotes them all the time throughout his ministry, and
his first move in this passage isn’t to just simply reveal himself and say, “Well, I’m Jesus, look at me!” That would have solved all their doubts then and there,
but Jesus thinks it’s important to show them that Scripture can be trusted, and that his life is, indeed, the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
He reinforces trust and reliance on the Bible.
On the other hand, and this is the second thing that stands out to me, the Scriptures aren’t enough. Jesus begins with Moses and the prophets and interprets them all for these disciples – What I wouldn’t give to have a transcript of that conversation! – and yet, even with the interpretation of the risen Christ, even with God explaining it to them, they don’t believe yet. Scripture alone is not enough. They need revelation. We need revelation.
The risen Christ is experienced, not reasoned into being. Even with Jesus’ own explanation of the Scriptures, the disciples don’t get it until he breaks bread with them and “their eyes were opened.”
This is both a huge relief and a point of great anxiety for those of us who want to share our faith with others. On one hand, it takes some of the pressure off, we’re not responsible for making anyone believe, and yet, on the other hand, it means we have to trust that God really will show up in other’s lives. We have to let go of our desire to control the outcome, and trust that God will do the work.
Even if we could somehow prove Christ’s resurrection, proof will never be enough for belief. Jesus himself says at one point that there are those who will not believe, even if someone they know rises from the dead and appears to them in person (Luke 16:31).
Jesus basically “proved” the resurrection through interpreting the Scriptures for the disciples, but that wasn’t enough to actually open their eyes. They need to have their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, by God.
So we might as well share our stories with anyone and everyone who will listen, not because we need to convince them of anything, but because we are filled with joy by all that Christ has done in us and for us. Like these two disciples who, out of joy and excitement, run the 7 miles back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples that they have seen Jesus. The rest is in God’s hands, not ours.
The third thing I want to point out is that human agency still matters. Yes, God’s the one who opens these two disciples’ eyes, but their eyes never would have been opened if they didn’t invite Jesus to stay with them. “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.”
Later the disciples will say that when Jesus spoke to them “their hearts burned within them.” That reminds me of another story, when Jesus spoke some really coded, difficult words about eating his body and drinking his blood, and a lot of his followers left him. He turns to the disciples and asks if they are also going to leave him, and Simon Peter responds for them all, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Essentially, Peter is saying, “What you just said makes no sense, but there’s something about you, something about what you’ve said, that we know is true. So even though we don’t get it, we trust you.”
In both cases, Jesus words triggered something in the disciples, and they had to choose what to do with Jesus. Peter and the rest of the 12 who heard Jesus talk about eating his body and drinking his blood had to decide if they would they keep following or turn away like the others? Cleopas and the other disciple had to decide if they would invite him in or let him keep going his way?
I think that’s often how it goes with Jesus. Before we fully know what he’s about, before we’re ready to sign up and say we believe in things like the Trinity or the resurrection or the divinity of Christ, we start first by hearing about this Jesus, and our “hearts burn within us,” we recognize that he “has the words to eternal life.” We are drawn to Jesus by the words he spoke and the life he lived. But we have a choice (we always have a choice), do we invite Jesus into further conversation, or do we stop where we want to and let him keeping going his way? He won’t make us take him in, but he’ll also never refuse a warm meal and some good conversation.
And once we’ve begun this conversation with Jesus, once he’s peaked our interest and we’ve responded, the revelation will eventually come. Maybe not right away, maybe not suddenly…but maybe right away and maybe suddenly…we never know. It’s always different. Jesus’ revelation to Mary Magdalene two weeks ago was different than his revelation to the eleven last week, which was different than his revelation to these two disciples today.
If Jesus and his resurrection can’t be proven, and if everyone experiences him differently, it kind of makes sense that he disappears as soon as these two disciples recognize him, doesn’t it? If he didn’t, Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple could drag him around and show him to everyone. They could prove him. But Jesus doesn’t want to be proven, he wants the freedom to meet people where they are, whether it’s in a crowded room behind a locked door, at the mouth of a tomb, looking like a gardener, on the road to Emmaus, or wherever it is Jesus met you or maybe will meet you in the future: at summer camp, in a church, out in the woods; in an instant, or over the course of months or years.
In a world fractured by fake news, the Gospels present us with “the Good news,” news that’s the most unbelievable of all, and also the best of all, and also, we are assured, the truest of all: that Jesus has come and God is with us through the Holy Spirit. That we are meant for the abundant life, life in God and with God. That through Jesus, in the words of our reading from 1 Peter, “we have come to trust in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave him glory, so that our faith and hope are set on God…that we have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”
When the two disciples’ eyes are opened, they get up and return to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about their Jesus experience. They can’t help sharing how Jesus revealed himself to them.
I’d like to end today by asking if one or two people here would like to share their experience of when and how Jesus first revealed himself to them?