13Now on that same day [that is Easter] two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then 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?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
It’s technically still Easter but the story has already been told. We have heard the readings, and songs, and acclamations and now it’s over. The candy is on clearance, the flowers are wilting and those of us who attempted a nice Spring Easter dress have given up and gone back to snow boats. And maybe snow boots aren’t the only things we’ve been resigning ourselves to in the past days and months. In our national life, but also our personal and communal ones, I have lately felt a tired sense that we have heard this story through. That for all the sound and fury of change, the deep down stories of who we most fundamentally are, the harm we do to one another, and what we expect God to be able to do amidst and within us have basically been told before and now are done.
Cleopas and his friend were also facing a story that was over. They set out on the road to Emmaus because there was no longer much need for them in Jerusalem. Jesus had died, and in spite his body being missing and some women having claimed to see angels, there wasn’t really anything left to stay for. Jesus was gone, they’d waited a couple days while the dust settled, and now it was time to go back to whatever they had been planning to do before all this drama and tragedy. So they set out on the road, still trying to make sense of what had happened, and how it was that their hopes had been so completely dashed.
Verse 25: 25Then [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
This response seems like an odd way to go about comforting your grieving disciples, but I suppose it’s good to see that even in resurrection Jesus has not lost his characteristic bluntness. I like to think though that “Oh how foolish you are” was spoken with some affection, rather like saying to someone who thinks you don’t care anymore, “Oh darling, you could not be more wrong.” Then Jesus starts again with the beginning of the story, God’s strange and complicated love story with humanity, and tells it all from his side. All of the care, grief, anger, delight and longing of God’s long and troubled relationship with humans pouring out as the three of them walk along. It must have been marvelous to hear scripture exegeted by the one who was in and through it all, and who could recount not just the words but the memory hanging behind each of them. But still Cleopas and his friend don’t see the connection to their own story, and the story of a dead man who had claimed to be the son of God.
Verse 28: 28As they came near the village to which they were going, [Jesus] walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?”
It was Jesus next to them, Jesus telling his own story, close enough to touch, and they had no idea. Until he sits down to eat, and in the familiarity of a gesture they’ve seen a hundred times across a table there’s a flash of recognition. Frederick Buechner has a beautiful little book on preaching that illuminates the gospel as a tragedy, a comedy and a fairy tale. Here in the microcosm of this story we have all three. What a tragedy to be next to the one you are mourning and only recognize them at the end. What a comedy to spend hours on the road with an old friend who is talking about himself the whole way and mistake him for someone else. What a fairy tale for the dusty stranger on the road to be revealed as your heart’s desire. But whatever type of story it is, suddenly it’s not over! Jesus has walked with them right past the end of the story. Jesus has walked with them past what they know to be the way the world is, past who they thought themselves to be, and past who they thought God to be. Resurrection, this strange Christian belief that life can come after death, has broken into the end of the story.
We praise Jesus’ resurrection because it “burst the chains of death,” because our God is a God of abundant life and cannot be held by even the worst of what we could do. But we also praise it because we know that it is for us as well, and that through Jesus we also are drawn into new life, not only at the times our death but daily in ways personal and communal, mundane and dramatic. Because we have been buried with Christ in baptism the end of our stories is not the end.
So when you have reached the end: the words spoken that can’t be taken back, the grief of a loss that changes life forever, the quiet resignation that this is how things are and how they always will be, or even death itself, God will be with you to tell you that you have not in fact reached the end. Jesus will walk with you past the end of all those stories. Jesus will walk with you in landscapes colored by grief in which there is still beauty. Jesus will walk with you past the death of who you thought you were and into the slow resurrection of abundant life. Jesus will walk with you in the midst of love tested and hope lost. Because for God that is never the end of the story. With God life can come from death, hope can come from despair, and beauty can come from the worst life will throw your way. You are traveling with God, and God is not done with the story of the resurrection.
Verse 33: 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The gospel of the Lord.