Texts: Isaiah 61:1-4; Psalm 92; 1 Peter 1:20-21; Luke 24:13-35
Sermon: "Stay with Us"
The Road to Emmaus can be anywhere. The road may be to nowhere or somewhere.
But it is a journey begun in sadness and confusion but ending in joy and understanding.
The Road to Emmaus can be a one-time event; or a lifetime journey.
What makes the difference is the heart of the seeker, how the heart yearns for truth.
What makes the difference is Jesus Christ and how he is welcomed as a companion on the journey.
Sometimes this walk to Emmaus happens in the middle of the night. It does for me. Wishing I might sleep a little more, I find myself walking down a road instead. Is that something you have experienced, too?
Walking along, feeling alone, looking on both sides of the road, behind and ahead, searching for the answer to some difficult challenge, I search for God in this journey in the darkness, this challenge that I want to answer in a faithful way.
Sometimes when we have such an experience, it will suddenly dawn on us -- I have not prayed enough about this matter. I have not searched the Scriptures to find inspiration or direction. Once we remember that, things begin to unfold in a different way.
When Christ has become our companion on the journey, he will shine that light of his directly on our needs. For any of you who might not have thought of this as an answer during a time of crisis, I invite you to try it. And if you want or need a little push to do this, call me and we'll talk about it.
Do you see what happens on the road that day when Jesus joins the two disciples who were sorrowful and confused? He opens the Scriptures to them. He tells them the old, old story of Jesus and his love that goes back not to the starry night in Bethlehem when he was born, but to the beginning of time.
The two companions in the Scripture we read this morning, Cleopas and another disciple, probably are not power walking that day -- though that is a fun thing for friends to do. I picture them ambling, strolling, that is, walking slowly -- which is indeed a spiritual exercise. Try it. They walk slowly enough that they can have a deep conversation. They walk slowly enough that the invitation is open for a stranger to join them on their walk. The conversation then rises to another level.
By the time the trio reaches the village where Cleopas and the other disciple were going to stay for the night, the two friends must have realized the power of this stranger's words. Their hearts perhaps already are burning, though it will be a little while before they acknowledge it.
Who is this stranger, they wonder, and why do they seek his presence as he turns to go?
When they realize that the stranger is walking on from at the end of the road, they press him to stay: "Stay with us," they say, pointing out that it is late and the day is ending. He accepts the invitation. He always accepts the invitation.
And as they sit at the table to sup together, the stranger takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to them. In the breaking of the bread, they recognize him. Their eyes are opened, and they know that Jesus is there in their presence and has opened Scripture to them as they walked along that road together.
Jesus then vanishes. But his sudden disappearance does not seem to startle the disciples, who by then are simply thrilled to know that their Lord is alive.
And then the two disciples realize that he has made their hearts burn as he opened the Scripture to them along the road; he has reassured them about the death and resurrection that was God's plan for the world from long years before this day. And he has revealed himself to them as their companion and friend.
They do then what any disciple would do. They run to tell the others. They run to spread the good news that indeed God has raised Jesus from the dead. He is alive and through the power of his Holy Spirit, their hearts have burned with desire, with love for the Lord, with understanding of the great story of God's redemption of the world that was unfolding before them.
What a comforting story for us now. With questions about today, yesterday, and tomorrow buzzing around our heads and troubling our hearts, what a helpful reminder that the story of our life today is part of a much larger story, a much larger story.
The great comfort of the story of Emmaus for us begins as the story opens, when Jesus simply shows up. The disciples are confused, heart-broken, and weary. They do not know where to turn to find answers to their many questions. Why did the one whom they believed to be the messiah turn out not to be? They were so sure that he was. But now he was dead, and it is the third day since the crucifixion of Jesus.
They do not recognize their Lord when he steps into their journey -- much as we, too, often have a hard time seeing Jesus at work in our life. But all along the way, he teaches them and comforts them. And then when they stop for the evening, he blesses them with the bread of life.
Maybe we can listen and truly hear that same very Word of God that makes the hearts of those two disciples burn within them.
Maybe that same word, the story of God's redemption of the world, will move us as never before, hold us, change us -- giving comfort and assurance, maybe even setting one or two hearts on fire today. I challenge you to read this story again later today.
How about it? Is there a little bit of burning going on in some hearts this morning -- a flame that is flickering or a new spark that is about to set off a fire inside one or two or three of you? Or ten or twenty or a hundred hearts?
What a wondrous thing that would be -- a burning that means we are yearning together for the presence of the risen Christ in our life together.
As we worship from separate places again today, we know that in this place and in every place where you are worshiping, God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit has come to be among us right here and right now. As all who are participating are looking at a screen instead of at each other here in the pews, God in Jesus Christ is in your midst as we worship together and call upon God's name in word and song.
We worship together as people seeking truth and beauty as only God can reveal it.
This is what Peter tells the church in the words we read from his first letter. The words remind us that the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was planned by God before the foundation of the world. Peter's words tell us that it is through the one who, though God, came to live among us in human form, that we know that we can trust in God, we can set all of our faith and hope on God. Here again is how Peter says that:
"He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God."
Cleopas and the other disciple had walked the road in loneliness and despair that day. Jesus in the guise of a stranger appeared to them and warmed their heart with true stories of God's grace and mercy. Jesus as Lord blessed them on the way and fed them the bread of life, the true word of God.
And here we are today, needy and hungry. Christ will fill our needs.
Journeying together is a grand metaphor for the life of a Christian people. Together, no matter the circumstances, we are always walking toward a destination that ends in God's heart. And with beautiful stories like the story of Emmaus, we learn that we can rely on God to provide his gracious care, comforting us, helping us to grow together and rejoice together.
"Stay with us," the two disciples say to the stranger.
"Stay with us," we say to the risen Christ.
Stay with us and teach us your truth -- your way of the cross, the way of suffering and redemption that is the greatest story ever told.
We learn from the story of the Emmaus Road that God is with us along the way, no matter the ruts and bumps in the middle of the road or the distractions on either side.
Does an Emmaus-like experience in the middle of the night mean that I've had an Emmaus moment and everything is certain to be clear? Not necessarily. But it does mean that I'm on the road, on a way to get some question answered or problem explained; and that I've chosen to make Jesus my companion because sooner or later I'll probably figure out the answer to the challenge if I listen to what he tells me.
In our busy world, we have many encounters with people, simply meeting and talking with them. But when we urge, "Stay with me," we are opening ourselves to deeper relationship, meaning, and perhaps revelation. Remember, Christ comes often in the guise of a stranger.
Friends, my brothers and sisters, the risen Christ will never fail to come when you need him. Let us not fail to meet him when he comes. He is here. He is there with you. And we are blessed by his presence.
Give glory and honor to our great God, the One, the Only Lord of All, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.