Dinner in Emmaus
Dearly loved people of God,
When I think of Easter morning and Easter sermons, my mind usually goes to the garden: the women’s early morning visit, the angels, and the open tomb. But this walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus also took place on Easter.
And can I say it? On an Easter morning when the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection falls on April Fool’s Day, can we resist the irony and beauty of Cleopas and his companion walking for 11 km beside Jesus without recognizing him?
I’ve heard, but haven’t confirmed, that in some Christian traditions, the Easter service begins with some jokes. The idea being that God pulled a good one on the evil one when Jesus rose from the tomb. If the empty tomb is a joke on the evil one then surely Jesus appearing as a stranger beside these travellers to Emmaus is a joke on the church.
It’s also a very hopeful picture of the renewal we enjoy in the new creation. Cleopas and his companion were kept from recognizing Jesus. But their failure to recognize Jesus is not too surprising.
They knew Jesus had been flogged and crucified, that Jesus had died and been buried. They had heard the mysterious news of the empty tomb, yet they had no reason to expect Jesus to join them on their trek across the Judean hill country.
It’s not an easy hike. These are serious hills and valleys. And consider what Jesus has suffered. After Jesus had been flogged by a Roman soldier, he struggled to make the short walk outside Jerusalem to the place he was crucified. After hanging on the cross for 6 hours, Jesus gave up his spirit – he died. Now it’s the 3rd day since his crucifixion and in the rebirth and renewal of his resurrection, Jesus makes a 11 km journey, walking and talking with Cleopas and his companion.
And all the while, their hearts were burning within them. Sure, this stranger rebuked them for being foolish and he challenged them for being so “slow,” but wow, did he ever know Scripture! Starting with Moses and working his way through all the prophets, he explained to them why the Messiah needed to suffer.
In the presence of a resurrected Saviour, the prophets all begin to make more sense. It was Moses who described the whole problem with creation. God made Creation good. Before the fall, our first parents, Adam & Eve daily walked and talked with their Creator in the cool of the day. But the first meal recorded in Scripture was an act of disobedience. Instead of building relationships, when Adam & Eve ate together, it destroyed relationships.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Their eyes were opened and they experienced shame.
That’s where they led all humankind. Disobedience, mistrust, and broken relationships within families and neighbours, broken relationship with God. You and I are trapped by a sinful nature and a broken world where we don’t naturally love God nor neighbour. We need help.
But even as God is pronouncing the doom of judgement on our first parents, he mentions his redemption plan. The offspring of Adam & Eve is coming who will crush the serpents’ head.
All through the books of Moses, the Lord reveals both his anger at sin and his merciful love. Through Moses, the Lord brought his people out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. It wasn’t because Israel was stronger, better, or more faithful than other nations that God rescued them. They weren’t. God rescued them because he had bound himself with promises to Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, Jacob & Rachel and Leah.
And the prophets in the OT go on and on and on in their description of God’s justice, his holiness, and his disappointment with sin. The Lord holds people accountable for their actions, even though we’re trapped in systems and relationships stained and knocked off kilter by sin.
But God’s faithfulness to his promises, his love for unlovable people, and his quickness to rescue and forgive are also themes you find throughout the prophets and the psalms of God’s covenant people.
And when you look for a passage that speaks of the suffering the Messiah, one of the first to jump to mind is God’s word through the prophet wonder if Jesus mentioned during his walk with Cleopas:
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Suffering isn’t something anyone hopes for. We’d rather avoid it. And if we need to suffer, we hope that some good will result.
God’s word through the prophet Isaiah reveals that the Messiah would suffer to bear the sins of many. His life would be an offering for sin. God the Father would put the guilt of humankind on God the Son at the cross. God’s righteous servant will justify many.
So there was Jesus, shielded from being recognized on this trip to Emmaus, unpacking everything that the OT said about his suffering for the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of the world. No wonder their hearts were burning while he talked and opened Scriptures.
But these two were not Jesus’ disciples for nothing. They had learned hospitality. When Jesus made as if to go farther, they pressed him to join them for dinner in Emmaus. After all, it was almost evening, the day was almost over.
I don’t know if they had witnessed some of the meals we discussed throughout the season of Lent. I don’t know if these two were counted among the 5000 who ate with Jesus near Bethsaida. But they recognized Jesus at the breaking of the bread.
The action was so simple. Suddenly, in a way totally different than Adam & Eve, these two had their eyes opened. Finally, they could see. They were able to eat and drink with Jesus at the dawn of the renewal of all creation!
Dearly loved people of God, I’ve got three things:
1. Jesus was raised to life. His body was glorified. This long walk between Jerusalem and Emmaus is evidence that Jesus had really died and risen. If he had merely been close to death when he was taken from the cross, there’s no way he could have made the trek. Christ rose and has a glorified body!
2. Through the risen Saviour Jesus, all the OT prophecies find their meaning. God’s servant came and suffered for our redemption. Every word on every page in the OT point to a suffering, yet victorious Saviour.
3. The renewal of creation has begun. It is possible once again to walk and talk with our Creator, just as Adam & Eve enjoyed daily. It is possible to enjoy Communion with God – in all his justice and holiness – for in Christ Jesus, we’ve been forgiven, renewed, and restored.
This is the beginning of a whole new way of life.
The kingdom of God has come and all things are being made new. We get a taste of that here in the church: restored relationships, permission to try and to fail and to try again, safety from shame, and the opportunity to eat and drink together. In fellowship with our risen Lord, we read Scripture together and see how all of it points to a Messiah who suffered for our salvation.
Jesus died, but rose so he could raise us to be with him and be like him forever!