Easter at Emmaus

Published: Monday, 17 April 2017

Caravaggio Supper at EmmausThis sermon was presented by Geoff Pound at Ashburton Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2017.

Scripture Reading: Luke 24: 13-35

On the wall at the church where I grew up was this large painting. It’s called The Road to Emmaus.[1] It was painted by Robert Zünd, a 19th century Swiss painter. You can see that his fondness for painting oak trees makes the scenery look more like Switzerland than Palestine. It depicts this stranger falling in step with two grieving disciples who don’t recognize him. It captures verse 27 in today’s reading where Luke says:

27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

You might be familiar with this painting because Christian Education departments printed it and sent it to churches, for if ever you want to market the Sunday School, here’s the inspiration!

If ever you want to construct a comprehensive curriculum for your Sunday Club or your church’s teaching menu, model it on this School of Emmaus. This painting highlights the wonderful truth in this story, that Jesus meets us on the way. He meets us in the midst of our real lives, bang smack in the midst of blinding pain and overwhelming grief.

Another well-known painting is Caravaggio’s life-sized canvas entitled, ‘The Supper at Emmaus’.[2] He takes us from encountering the Risen Lord on the road, to communing with him at the table. He points up the possibilities when we offer hospitality to strangers.[3]

Don’t these characters look so ordinary? They’re not two of the big 12 disciples—the originals. Cleopas is named (and this is the only reference) but the other isn’t. They’re nobodies. The furniture and setting are so plain. There’s not the formality and ceremony of a church. The encounter happens in a home or eating place in ordinary old Emmaus. We don’t know where Emmaus is located but maybe the vagueness is a virtue because Emmaus can be everywhere—Ashburton, Glen Iris or where you live. See how the table fosters intimacy and that space at the front—that’s our space! That’s our invitation to join and eat with the Risen Christ.[4]

This painting depicts that moment described by Luke in v31:

31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. 

It’s their resurrection moment when the penny drops. They’re frightened and interested at the same time. They’re drawn forward. Our vision goes with them—towards the guest who’s become the host.

It’s fascinating that years later, after great turbulence in Caravaggio’s life, he paints this other painting of this same scene of the ‘Supper at Emmaus’.[5] There are no longer vivid colours. Objects are muted. Our attention is drawn to different things.

Today we hear and see this resurrection story again. As we do, what is it that might speak powerfully to us this time—Easter 2017? At what scene, at which verse, will we click the shutter and capture the divine moment?

And like Caravaggio painting this scene again, how will the things recently happening in our lives give colour and contrast to this eternal story?

One of the themes in Luke’s Gospel is that of following Jesus on the road.[6]  We often talk here at ABC of faith as a journey and this story illustrates that theme. There’s physical movement here which makes us reflect on the change that’s hopefully going on deep within. I say ‘hopefully’, because we should never mistake motion for progress.[7]

Just as the Lord’s Prayer provides us with the scaffolding as we build a life of prayer, this story gives us a pattern for our prayer and deepening relationship with the Risen Christ.

Let me highlight the seven phases in this seven-mile walk and, because we might be praying as we walk and walking as we pray, I’ve named these headings alphabetically from A to G and later I might just test your memory.

Here’s the first phase:

A: Awareness

Our story starts abruptly in v13:

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 

A traveller once arrived at a monastery and begged one of the monks for some wise words. It was their Day of Silence, so the monk took a sheet of paper and wrote on it a single word, ‘Awareness.’

“Awareness?” said the traveller. “That’s far too brief. Couldn’t you expand on that?” So the monk took the paper back and wrote: ‘Awareness, awareness, awareness’.

“But what do these words mean?” the traveller queried. Finally, the monk reached for the paper and wrote, ‘Awareness means . . . Awareness!’[8]

As we begin to pray it’s good to be aware of how we are. Do we feel like praying? These two disciples are blinded by grief. Their leader has been executed. They’re confused. Exhausted. But they’re talking about all these things that had happened.

How do you react in a time of crisis? Do you just want to flee the brutality of the city and get home to the familiar to eat lots of comfort food? Do you appreciate people who crash your crisis with their presence or do you prefer to be alone like a wounded cat under the hedge?

These disciples are dragging their feet. They’re plodding. They’re trudging. How are you walking at the moment?

I love the way that the Eastern Palliative Care in Melbourne, offers support to people for 13 months after a bereavement. They offer care in the form of two main programmes: Talking through Grief (face to face sessions with others acquainted with grief) and Walking Through Grief.[9] They arrange bush walks every month.

There’s something about walking alongside, that makes it easier to handle when we’re wracked with grief. Many have found that a problem can be sorted by going for a walk. As the Latin saying has it: ‘Solvitur ambulando’- ‘It will be solved in the walking’.

Awareness, awareness, awareness. Start your prayer. Start your walk by being aware of what is happening in your life. Honestly, how you are feeling? Prayer begins with where we are.

B: Be Open

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 

These two disciples were open enough to know that a stranger was joining them but they’re blinded by grief, just as our spiritual vision becomes blurry when we’re bereaved, when we’re struggling with abuse or in the pit of depression.

There’s also a hint of divine blinkering: but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. This is concealment until it was the right time.

Seeing is a major theme in this Gospel.[10] There’s so much distraction around us. So much static. To see Jesus, we must be open. Be intentional. Be consciously seeking to connect which is what prayer is about.

Those two disciples didn’t recognize Him but Jesus recognized them! He treated them as if they were the only two people in the world. And the reason why the resurrection is more than an extraordinary event that took place 2,000 years ago is that resurrection keeps on happening.[11] Christ keeps on Eastering in us.[12] We’re all somewhere on this Emmaus road.

 and even as we hear this story this morning, we might be sensing Jesus coming alongside us. Jesus recognizing us. Jesus being aware of our pain. Jesus walking with us on the journey of openness and change.

Note the theme of openness in this story:

They were open to the stranger as he talked.

They referred to stories of women at the tomb who had a vision of angels that he was alive (v23).

They talked of others who went to see for themselves: 24 … but they did not see him.”

These Emmaus disciples opened their home, they opened their table and they opened their hospitality to this stranger.

Luke says later: 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?

Luke says later: 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

Finally, these disciples after the meal hit the road back to Jerusalem and their mouths were opened to tell what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

So in prayer we’re invited to Be Open with open ears, open eyes, open Scripture, open table and open mouths. To open all our senses to the One who joins us.

Pray the Psalmist’s prayer, ‘Open our eyes that we might see wonderful things from your word.” Psalm 119: 18

Pray Samuel’s prayer: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:9) My ears are wide open.

So, we can see these are not like scenes of a play that start and then stop. They are themes, and actions that must continue.

C: Converse with the Stranger.

17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?”

As we observe their gait, we see the question of Jesus that stopped them in their tracks.

This reminds me of the interchange when an exasperated person says: “Why do you always answer a question with a question? To which the person replied: “Why shouldn’t I?”

Jesus shows us that our questions are much more helpful than our answers. Questions open conversation. This conversation on the road is a letting go and giving room for the risen Christ to enter, to surprise us and to transform us.[13]

Isn’t there such a delicious irony in this conversation?

“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place.”

The One who has been at the centre of the action, the only One who does know what has happened now asks: “What things?”

When a person is grieving, you’ll notice how often they repeat the story surrounding the death of their loved one. They probably ask, “Have I told you these things before?” And instead of shutting them up by saying, “I’ve heard you say that a million times”, learn to ask this question: “What things?” We talk out our grief.

After telling the story to this stranger about Jesus the prophet who was crucified they move from the factual level to the realm of feelings, when they say:

21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

The writer, Ernest Hemingway, was talking with friends about short story writing. One of them supposedly challenged the author to see how short a short story he could write. Hemingway took a napkin from the table and penned a short story in these six words: “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used.”[14]

Easter brings into focus not only the tragedy of what happened that hurts, but the gaping hole of all that could have happened but won’t.

“But we had hoped…” These are heart-breaking words and while there’s lots of wonderful things in our world, these two walkers remind us of disappointment, heartbreak and failure.

The things we hoped for in our own lives that never happened. The job that didn’t materialize. Our child who went off the rails. Our loved one who died. The dreams we had for our church that never came to fruition.

Before rushing to the joy and victories of Easter, these disciples urge us to talk out these painful matters in prayer and conversation with this stranger.

Further along the road is the next theme:

D: Discover Christ through the Scriptures

The two on the road had almost berated the stranger with his lack of knowledge:

“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know..”

Yet they are the ones who don’t know.

Now the stranger is equally robust with his rebuke:

25 “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 

In other words, where have you been all your life? Which Bible have you been reading?

Don’t you know your own story? You numbskulls![15]

In his inauguration address as US President, Jimmy Carter, held a Bible before him and he paid tribute to one of his teachers. He said, “As my high school teacher, Miss Julia Coleman, used to say, “We must adjust to changing times and still holding to unchanging principles.”[16]

This is what the stranger is doing in this open-air, mobile class room. He’s putting these turbulent and tragic Easter events into the unchanging perspective of the Scriptures.

He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

He’s encouraging us to weave the Scriptures into our prayer as we reflect on all the things that are happening to us. See the change that the Scripture is making to them deep within their heart—the core of their being. The word ‘heart’ is another major theme in this story.

We’ve already talked of the Risen Christ coming alongside these two who were heart broken.

Now, while compassionate, he is able to confront them: How slow of heart to believe…” (25)

Then hear what they said at the table: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

This is the heart burn you don’t mind having!

What a transformation that listening to the Scriptures makes, from heart break to heart burn![17]

Look what comes next:

E: Extend the Invitation

 28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

This is one of the best pictures of what can happen when we pray. The walkers come to a fork in the road and Jesus is acting! Acting as if he was going further! It looks like Christ is indifferent. They’d been pouring out their hearts about their loneliness and loss, and now He looks to deliberately abandon them.

He doesn’t barge into our lives. But he wants to be wanted. He yearns to hear them urge Him strongly: “Stay with us!”

Does your prayer get to this level of urgency and intensity? These two travelers nearly force Jesus to stay. They were nearly twisting his arm and compelling him.[18]

This Emmaus prayer and the strength of our invitation give us an insight into why we pray: We can have as much of God as we want. If God leaves us, it’s often because we’re quite willing that God should go.

Then,

F: Fellowship with Christ

Luke says: So he went in to stay with them.

 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 

See the deepening intimacy from the road to the room,

from the trail to the table,

from the walking to the eating.

From stranger to the friend.

From words to being with Him.

Fellowshipping with him. Communion. Contemplation.

And at the breaking of bread and eating, their eyes are opened and they recognized Him.

Finally,

G: Go and Tell

 33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

They got up and returned!! They’d earlier said to the stranger, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” Stay with us because it’s dark and dangerous out there.

But no, they’re up for another 11k walk and as we see them bounding along the way to the city of tragedy and shattered hopes, we can see resurrection in their stride. They have a new spring in their step! When they get to this early Christian gathering we see that “The resurrection is not a fact to be believed but an experience to be shared.”[19]

Here’s the connection between prayer and life,

worship and witness,

the Eucharist and the Emmaus Road.

"All genuine (discipleship and) service should be an outworking of an Emmaus-like experience in which the Scriptures are opened and we recognise Christ, and with the excitement of discovery we share the things that happen on the way.”[20]

Let’s remind ourselves of the actions and the movement:

Awareness, awareness, awareness

Be Open—all of our senses

Conversing with Christ about the things that have been happening

Discovering Christ in the Scriptures

Extending the Emmaus Invitation—Lord stay with us!

Fellowshipping at the Table—moving towards intimacy

Getting up, going and sharing what’s happening

Let me finish with the Easter Emmaus poem written by June O’Donnell, the NZ poet:

I have knocked down the walls!

See?

There is not one stone left standing,

As I told you.

Come out and walk with me,

I am in my world

My name is Stranger,

And all my roads are called

Emmaus.

This Easter, hear the good news of Jesus:

Come out and walk with me,

I am in my world

My name is Stranger,

And all my roads are called

Emmaus.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us.

Forgive our slowness of heart to believe.

Forgive our closed hearts, our closed Scriptures and our closed tables.

This week may we find ourselves in this story. May we sense your presence on our familiar roads.

Illumine our lives through the Scriptures.

Transform our sadness and our dashed hopes.

Easter in us.

Easter in our church.

May the risen Christ Easter in our world

AMEN

 

[1] Robert Zünd, Wikipedia.

[2] Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio, London), Wikipedia. Click on the two paintings to enlarge them.

[3] See this paper, Andrew Arterbury, Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts, Baylor University.

[4] See how the detail draws us in? The guy on the left has a rip in the elbow of his jacket. There’s fruit, an apple (is this a reference to the temptation of Adam and Eve?). There are pomegranates, figs—grapes that might speak of blood and wine. The lamb that might suggest Passover and always there’s bread. Christ’s hand is raised to bless the bread. Is this a last Last Supper? It’s all so appetizing. So inviting.

[5] Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio, London), Wikipedia. The reference is to the later one now displayed in Brera, Milan.

[6] Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is described in Luke 9:51-19:28.

[7] This is a variation of the quote by Ernest Hemingway, “Never mistake motion for action.”

[8] Joan Chittester, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 68.

[9] ‘Bereavement Programs’, Services, Eastern Palliative Care.

[10] See Luke 9:45; 18:34; 23:8, 35, 47-49. Now Jesus articulates this theme in vv.23-24, 31, 32 and 35.

[11] This thought is enriched by Frederick Buechner in A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), 77; Frederick Buechner, Now and Then (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 86-7. ‘There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not recognize him … See [your life] for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, and smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace’.

[12] We talked about this idea in a recent sermon that referenced the line in the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Let him Easter in us.” Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, Poetry Foundation.

[13] Conversation and conversion share the same root. Conversation is really a process of conversion that requires a willingness to be turned and to turn. See John E Lawyer, ‘Conversatio in the Rule of St Benedict’, Cistercian Studies (1992:1). This is referenced in Frank T Griswold, ‘Listening with the Ear of the Heart’, Cross Currents, Winter 1998-99, Vol. 49 Issue 1.

[14] There are many references to this story but start with this one: ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn, Wikipedia.

[15] Check out Jason Goroncy’s illuminating reflection, ‘Living Easter Faith: A Reflection on Luke 24: 13-35, Jason Goroncy.

[16] Jimmy Carter, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1977, The American Presidency Project.

[17] Susan R Andrews uses this word in ‘Holy Heartburn’, Christian Century, April 7, 1999, 385.

[18] The verb (parabiazo) is used only one other time in the New Testament. Luke uses it in Acts 16:15 where Lydia has to practically force Paul and Timothy to stay at her house.

[19] Walter Wink, “Resonating With God’s Song,” The Christian Century (March 23, 1994).

[20] I think this quote comes from the Lutheran pastor, Richard Neuhaus. Source unknown.