April 23, 2023
As Luke tells his version of the Resurrection, we have to remember that in his Easter story the women have reported the empty tomb, and Peter has gone to see the tomb opened but seen nothing else. There has been no Resurrection appearance. In fact, the apostles we are told, think the story of the angels appearing to the women and telling them that Jesus had been raised is “An idle tale”.
So, in Luke it is a very grief stricken, couple who are walking back home from Jerusalem to Emmaus this Easter afternoon. We assume that since Luke says one of the pair was Cleopas, and John says that the wife of Cleopas was there at the Crucifixion with Mary and other women, that this is a husband and wife, Cleopas and his wife, who is another Mary.
They had to be weighted down with grief and disillusionment. They had been a part of that larger group of followers and may have been relatives of Jesus. When you picture them walking it must have been with their heads down, in a very dispirited journey home. They had thought God was with Jesus, that he was the Messiah, but now they wonder. They can hardly believe what has happened. Everything they believed has come crumbling down around them.
There have been a few things that have happened in my lifetime that have caused me to have that stunned disbelief when I first heard it. You know, that kind of shock that almost makes one say, “Can that be true”? –For me it was when President Kennedy was shot… when I heard of the Oklahoma City bombing, when I saw the pictures of the Challenger explode and break apart as it launched, and when I saw the planes plow into the Twin Towers in New York. One had to ask “How can this be! -Is it real?” I was shaken by the impact of those images.
That has to be what was going on with these two as they walked that Emmaus road. There would have been no spring in their step.
So, when this stranger comes walking up to join them and asks what they are talking about, it stops them in their tracks. They couldn’t help but wonder where he had been the last few days.
“Have you not heard?”, they ask. “All of Jerusalem has been in an uproar, we thought Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet of God, the Messiah, but our leaders turned him over to the Romans and they crucified him. This morning someone had moved the stone from in front of his tomb and it was empty. Some of the women had an angelic vision that he was alive, but no one has seen him, or found his body.
They continue their walk along together, towards Emmaus. -It takes most of us more than two hours to walk 7 miles usually, so there was plenty of time to discuss bible prophecy and interpretation, as well as the week’s events, which they did. They were trying, with the help of this stranger, to put some understanding and meaning around what had happened.
As they approach the couple’s home, they ask this stranger to stay with them since it was getting towards sunset. He joins them for the evening meal. Luke clearly intends it to have allusions to the Last Supper. The stranger blesses the bread and gives thanks. It is then that they realize this is not a stranger, he is the Risen Christ.
Luke pictures this as a mysterious revelation of the Risen Christ, but also a reminder, of Jesus saying, “Where two or three of you are gathered in my name I am there in the midst of you.”
We live in a world where “stranger” seems to be synonymous with danger! We’ve just recently had four young people shot because they went to the wrong house or went to the wrong car, or the wrong driveway! -Someone immediately feels threatened and because they have a gun -they shoot. Fear overruns common sense! None of those shooters were expecting to meet Christ in the form of strangers safe to say, or had any plans to invite the stranger in certainly. I have to wonder, are people living with a constant sense of threat, or with this lingering paranoid feeling that anyone they don’t recognize, especially if they look a little different, is out to get them? Maybe all the vitriol and violent language, as well as images that have become a part of our culture have scarred the American psyche.
But Luke invites us to see the stranger in a sacramental way. Imagine, an hours long conversation over religion and politics, as they walked, and it ends with diner and the Risen Christ being seen in a stranger!
It’s no surprise I guess that Luke would be the one to give us this exploration of the Resurrection story. He is the one who tells of the Good Samaritan, who rescues a stranger on the road, and the healing of a Roman Army officer’s servant by Jesus. He is the one who tells of the Spirit of God coming to another Roman army officer and his family and an Ethiopian eunuch being baptized. In Luke the Risen Christ and the Spirit of God bridge all divisions.
Change gears with me for a minute. We just had the Boston marathon last Monday. I used to follow it more closely than I do now. In 1982 the race came down to a duel between two Americans, Alberto Salazar, and Dick Beardsley. Salazar won down the home stretch, by a mere second and a half, one of the closest races ever. Both men were under the American record.
Beardsley returned to his farm in Minnesota after the race and continued to run well on the national scene for a while. But in 1989 he suffered a tragic accident. While getting set to hook a piece of equipment up to the power take-off shaft of his tractor his pant leg cuff got caught in the shaft. Before his son could run over and shut off the tractor it had literally wrapped him around the shaft and splintering his leg in multiple places and slamming him into the ground several times. Doctors weren’t sure if he would ever be able to walk again without crutches. -Surprisingly two years later he was running again, though not so prominently. Dr.’s said it was a miracle.
Beardsley himself felt blessed by God in his recovery but even more said how moved he was by acts of love friends and neighbors and even strangers. He had no medical insurance, but funds were raised to pay all his medical expenses. People chipped in volunteering their time to help keep his farm going for almost a full year while he was recovering. Early on in one of the moments of crisis and despair he said he felt the presence of Christ in the embrace of those contributed in so many different ways to help him and his family survive. Unfortunately, that was not the end of Beardsley’s troubles. He was involved in three serious car accidents in the early 90’s plus had a fall while hiking that hospitalized him. He’s had three back operations. He wound up getting hooked on pain medications for a while but now is a nationally known motivational speaker, has written a book and has even ran several sub 3 hour marathons in his 50’s. Beardsley says: “Every morning when I wake up, I try to wake with a Smile on my face, Enthusiasm in my voice, Joy in my heart and Faith in my soul.”
Luke might ask us: Do you think, per chance he saw the Risen Christ in both friends and strangers who helped him survive? Is it too simple to say that the Christ revealed to him through those who helped him was an expression and experience of the Risen Christ? May the power of that Christ inspire and bless your lives.