Weekly Preaching: Road to Emmaus

April 24th, 2017

Easter 3: the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35. Here is a sermon I preached on this text three years ago; and here is another sermon I preached on it four years ago. Of many great paintings of this story, Caravaggio’s continues to move me; more on him below!

What a rich text. Don’t do what I often do with a text that is so rich — namely try to cram my dozen lovely ideas into one sermon. Leave some for another day, just pick three or four. The emotions in this text are raw. The disappointment (“we had hoped”) which must be, as Raymond Carver suggested, the predominant mood of North Americans in our century. And it’s not just individual disappointment. The nation is disappointed Jesus wasn’t the one… and maybe our nation is disappointed just now (surely it is). Or maybe it’s the church that is so very forlorn, as we walk down a road with our heads hanging down.

I would commend to you David Lyle Jeffrey’s Brazos commentary on Luke, which is unfailingly helpful (to me, at least). Some things he points out about this story:

The word translated “conversation” (which the two disciples are in on the road) is homileo — like homiletics! It means “intense discussion," making me wonder how a sermon is that. Jesus inquires about their debate (antiballete), which is (Jeffrey again) “a term of forensics, harboring a warning for theologians. For us too, it is possible to be so engrossed in our wearied debates that we fail to know Jesus as he is.”
 
Ouch! This reminds me of what Oswald Chambers wrote repeatedly in My Utmost for His Highest: that it’s not about successful buildings or programs or even faith or sanctification, good works or evangelism; the real end of things is oneness with Jesus.
 
Jeffrey shows how there is this amazing dialectical tension between seeing and understanding, the drama of which reaches a fever pitch in verse 24 when they sadly report that the guys who went to the tomb “did not see him” — just as the two on the road right now cannot see him!
 
Jeffrey favors us with wisdom from St. Augustine, who loved this passage: “The Teacher was walking with them along the way, and he himself was the way… Because they observed hospitality, him who they knew not yet in the expounding of the Scriptures, they suddenly know in the breaking of bread.” The hospitality angle is fertile for preaching.
 
Then Jeffrey suggests what had never occurred to me (at age 61, after preaching this many times, I’m embarrassed to say). Verse 30 says Jesus “took bread, blessed it, and broke it.”  Jeffrey: “Perhaps he had done this in the presence before…” Yeah, like the previous Thursday night! And then he adds, exploring how they recognized him, “Perhaps they saw his nail-pierced hands.” Caravaggio’s painting of the scene depicts just this: when they recognize Jesus, they jump up, “but their eyes are fixed on his hands.”
 
Richard Rohr imagines Luke responding to this question: “Okay, it’s the year 80 already, we don’t see Jesus any more, so how is he present to us? Luke responds, “He’s present in the Eucharist. We know him in this celebration, in the ongoing appropriate of the story. We can’t sit down at the table like the first disciples did. I wasn’t there myself, but we can sit at a new table in our town and experience the Lord’s Supper just as they did, and know him just as they did — and our hearts will burn within us.”

This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission. 
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