Where do you go when life overwhelms you and you just have to get away? Do you frequent a local coffee shop or corner bar? Do you escape to the beach or the river? Do you get lost in the latest video game, novel, or movie?
In our text this morning, the two travelers on the road are getting away. Their trip to Jerusalem for the Passover had turned into far more than they had bargained for and they needed an escape. Although these two were not among Jesus’ twelve disciples, they had been a part of his larger group of followers for some time. Just a week before, they had joined the crowds laying palm branches at his feet and crying, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
But things had deteriorated quickly from Palm Sunday. The religious leaders, tired of being threatened by Jesus’ radical teachings and his large following, conspired with the civil authorities to have Jesus arrested. After appearances before Pilate and Herod, Pilate was ready to release him (it was customary to release one prisoner before the Passover), and it looked like things might be okay after all. But then the crowd turned on Jesus and demanded that Barabbas be released instead. Jesus was beaten and crucified and, just before the Sabbath began, his body was laid in a borrowed tomb. The disciples, who fled when things turned violent, had spent the weekend locked in the upper room for fear that the authorities would come for them next.
On Sunday morning, according to Luke’s Gospel, the women slipped away to anoint Jesus’ body for burial; but they found the stone rolled away and the body gone. They rushed back and reported that two angels had appeared to them, proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead; but everyone dismissed their reports as the tales of grieving women. Everyone was dazed and confused, immobilized by grief and disappointment. This was certainly not what they had expected from their Messiah.
Walking back home, the two weary and disheartened travelers were discussing what had happened, trying desperately to make some sense of it all. Not too far down the road, a stranger joined them and asked them what they were discussing. Although they could hardly believe that anybody in Jerusalem had not heard about all that happened, they quickly filled the stranger in. Then, surprisingly, he in turn interpreted for them all that the Hebrew prophets had said about Jesus.
Arriving at their home, the travelers offered the stranger the hospitality of a warm meal and a good night’s rest. As they gathered around the table, their guest took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. Suddenly they realized that they had been entertaining Jesus, unaware; but by then he had already vanished from among them.
Their grief and fatigue forgotten, the two individuals jumped up and nearly ran back to Jerusalem to report to the disciples what they had seen. “The Lord has risen indeed!” they exclaimed. Before they had even finished telling their story, Jesus again stood among them. The disciples were terrified, but Jesus’ very first words were, “Peace be with you.” After assuring them that he had returned in the flesh and after eating a meal with them to finally dispel their doubts, he opened their minds so they could understand, at last, all that the scriptures said about him. When he was done he told them all, “You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Not long after, the two travelers departed Jerusalem again. But this time, their steps were light with joy and their purpose was clear. Once again they were intently processing all that happened in Jerusalem.
“I can’t believe we were so blind,” one said. “We thought we were telling Jesus all about what had happened, and in reality, we were the ones who still didn’t understand.”
“Indeed,” the companion replied. “We saw Jesus’ death as the end of all of our plans, not part of the fulfillment of his plan. Even after he explained everything to us, we still didn’t see him for who he was.”
“I know, we really did miss it. When we got home, I was so tired and dejected, I only extended him hospitality out of obligation, I sure wasn’t up for company. Although Jesus was trying to get us to see who he was, even then he wouldn’t have imposed himself on us. He always waits for an invitation.”
The companion pondered this for a minute and replied, “We should have gotten it at dinner when Jesus, who was our guest, became the host. We were both stunned when we finally realized who he was, but by then he was gone!”
“As I’ve thought about this, I’ve realized some things. A week ago we were leaving this city in defeat, retreating back home. Jesus met us right where we were—in the middle of our escape. I’ve learned that the Lord can come to us in unfamiliar ways and often when we least expect him.”
“That’s true,” the other replied, “we can’t put Jesus in a box. He’s not predictable—elusive sometimes, just at the edge of our awareness and our perception.”
“I agree with that, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t here when we don’t see him. I know this journey won’t be an easy one, but now I truly believe that he is alive and always with us. From now on, I’ll always see him whenever we gather around the table, at worship, at the soup kitchen, at home, or on the road. Although he may never appear to us again, we’ll see him everywhere good works are done in his name. I pray that we can help others believe, so that they can see him too, and say for themselves, ‘Christ is risen, indeed! ’”