Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 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?” He 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and 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. Some 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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.
“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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Today’s scripture is one of my favorites. It is the oldest cliché to have a sweaty old minister up front starting off a sermon that way, but believe me that this really is one of the scriptures I hold closest to my heart. The story seems almost to be a continuation of what we talked about last week. People of faith, wandering in the midst of something awful, knowing that God is doing something but completely unsure what that something is or how it is going to bring something good out of all the mess around them. Two believers, leaving the disciples who were proclaiming the resurrection in Jerusalem, unsure if the words spoken to the women at the tomb were really as true and as incredible as they seemed.
Like many of us, the two in this story Cleopas and the other disciple, were forced into a place where they had to wrestle with what they thought they knew about God. For them the Messiah had always been taught as a savior, riding in on a white horse to save his people from the empire that oppressed them. That great warrior would establish a kingdom on Earth, one where God’s people were treated with the respect they deserved, and the rest of the nations would be forced to accept just how great God really was. This show of force, this great comeuppance to Rome, never happened. Jesus died, some say he rose again, but Rome lived long enough to die of the national equivalent of natural causes.
The disciples are confused, shocked that the world continues to be an unfair place to live in. They met Jesus, they knew what people could be like, and were told what the world could one day be. Yet, that Jesus was not with them anymore. Without the benefit of Upper Room appearances and lakeside dinners with the risen Christ, these two were likely never to know what really happened in that tomb and where Jesus really was. Not unless Jesus himself were to walk up, tap them on the shoulder, and tell them how it was.
Luckily, that exact thing happened. Jesus sought these two out. Chance meetings are a feature that defines a lot of stories in the Hebrew Bible. A protagonist will be making their way from one place to another and suddenly find themselves talking to just the right person. This is more than just a piece of narrative convenience, but a sign that God is active even when we least expect it. Every chance meeting, every time that something lines up just right… These chance meetings are so much more than random collisions of particles in the void.
The meeting they have with Jesus begins on a rough note. Not realizing who they are talking to, the men launch into explaining the events we recount during Holy Week. They tell how Jesus was arrested, killed, and how some are now saying that he has risen again. The summary they give is tinged with regret, however. Jesus was supposed to be a savior, but he died instead of rising victorious over the enemies of God’s people. This expectation again goes to ideas of who Jesus was meant to be, ideas that fell short of the really amazing thing about what God did on the cross. This reality is revealed in Jesus’s words to the two men immediately after they tell the story, Jesus looks at them as asks them to start from the beginning of God’s story, before they conclude Jesus was not really from God.
The story Jesus tells is of God’s continued deliverance of God’s people. From slavery, from Babylon, from all trials that came in their way. Jesus identified himself with the plight of Israel and Judah in this retelling. The prophet’s continual stress that the suffering of God’s people is seen by God is confirmed in what Jesus sets forward here. The Messiah, the Savior of all things and people, could only save them through going through what they did. In simple terms, it is not possible to get people unstuck from the mud without jumping down into the mud yourself. Jesus had to suffer for God’s people, because God’s people had suffered. The Messiah was always meant to take on the hardest parts of human life, and Jesus shows that clearly.
If this story was just about a lecture Jesus gave, then I do not think it would have made its way into scripture. Instead, I think that what Jesus does is much more important. The two men talk to Jesus and are enraptured by what he says. They latter describe it as being a conversation that sets their hearts aflame. They are brought to life, reminded of the passion they have for God and what God is doing, because of the words that Jesus gives to them. The conversation begins to make clear to them that this is more than just some stranger, something confirmed after they ask Jesus to stay and he blesses their evening meal.
It is that final idea, that they asked Jesus to stay, that stands out to me. Jesus was going somewhere, ready to keep walking after he had told the men what his suffering really meant. Before he can say goodbye and start on to the next leg of his post-Resurrection journey, the two men beg him not to go. Then what does Jesus do? He listens to their request and stays with them. The men were not done yet, Jesus had set a fire in their heart, but that fire was not going to stay lit until they had their fill of what Jesus had to offer. That fulfillment came when bread was broken, and the strange man they were talking to suddenly clicked in their head as the one and only Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only Son, and savior of all.
We talked last week about how faith gets us through the hard times, but I want to say that when the hard times come to an end, we usually find it is because of something a lot like what we just read about here. Jesus walks with us, in the hard things of life and in our moments of celebration. In the hard times Jesus ministers to us, his life of suffering and his death testifying that the Spirit works through even the darkest of days. This rekindles the flame in our hearts, it lets light emerge from within us to dispel the darkness. We could stop there, with that simple hope, but more than anything I want what the disciples get here. When Jesus begins to take steps to go to something else, to take action somewhere other than with us, we can say, “Lord, stay with us a little longer,” and Jesus will.
Now, as I said a moment ago, Jesus is always with us through the Spirit – not locked to any physical location, but always present with God’s people. To say that we can ask Jesus to stay with us may seem superfluous then, but I promise it is not. When we are making our way through life, our commitment to our faith is a continual request for Jesus to stay a little longer. The moments of intense trust in God, when all the world’s troubles melt away and we see Jesus at work here with us, are the moments when the word speaks to us most clearly. It is when we see that immediacy of God’s presence, the awareness with have of God, start to fade, that we call out, “Jesus, stay a little longer,” and find that prayer answered.
You see, God could have saved us and called it a day. Retreating to the Heavens, Jesus would have died for our sins and left us with a ticket to Heaven, and that would be more than enough. However, Christ was not content with a long distance relationship with the Church, not happy with just a future date to begin eternity. Instead, Jesus was determined to free us from every vestige of sin and fear. No longer do we have to do what we know is wrong, we are now given complete freedom to choose what is good, and to trust what God is doing. Why do we do that? Because Jesus got down in the mess of life and pulled us out of it. Because Jesus walks the long road of faith with us, setting our heart aflame again and again with passion for his Kingdom. Because when hope seems gone, and life seems to be trickling away from us, we can call out, “Jesus, just a little longer,” and know we will be given all the time in the world.
People of God, ask Jesus to stay with you, not just to walk with you. To sit and celebrate and remember and praise God. We do this, because we will always find God, if we are willing to ask God in. So do just that, and ask Jesus to tarry just a little longer. – Amen.