On the road to Emmaus

On the road to Emmaus

Preached at 9am Worship on Sunday 27th May
Bible Readings: Luke 24:13-35
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

Today’s reading is the traditional Sunday after Easter Sunday reading – the Walk to Emmaus.  There is a lot in the passage that we can explore … but it’s the Sunday after Easter, it is the end of the school holidays – and to be honest, I haven’t really had the energy or desire to put into researching and writing a full-on 20 minute sermon this week.  So instead I offer you a shorter sermon in which I want to explore one question and to share one piece of encouragement.  That sound ok?

Here is my question … why didn’t Cleopas and his travelling companion recognise Jesus?  Luke tells us that they were “two of them” … or two followers of Jesus – not part of the inner 12 but probably one of the next circle of followers.  Close enough that they were hiding with the disciples during Easter Saturday.  Close enough that they would have know what Jesus looked like … so why did they not recognise him?  What kept them from recognising Jesus?

There are plenty of ideas:

  • The book that we as a church gave all the kids last Sunday suggested that Jesus was wearing a scarf on his head, and that’s why they didn’t recognise him.
  • Some translations hint that God used some sort of a spiritual blind-fold that kept Cleopas and his companion from seeing what was right before them
  • Or maybe, they just weren’t expecting to see Jesus, so they were not even thinking that way.

All those are valid … but I want to share one idea that I hadn’t really considered until I stumbled across it.  It has to do with the hurt and the grief that they were feeling…. 

Sometimes when we are not in a good place – emotionally or spiritually – it is hard to be really aware of what is happening around us.  John Powell, a Jesuit speaker and writer, talks about the sore tooth principle.  He says when a person has a sore tooth it is really hard for them to notice or think about anything besides their sore tooth.  When someone is hurting or suffering – whether that is physically, emotionally or spiritually … it is very hard for them to be aware of anything beyond their immediate hurt and suffering.  Can you relate to what I am talking about?

Cleopas and his friend were hurting.  You can tell by their words in verse 21 of our bible reading… “but we had hoped that he would be the one”.  But we had hoped… My guess is there’s not a one of us here that hasn’t at one time or another said a phrase similar to that.  But we had hoped that it would have turned out differently, but we had hope that this relationship would have worked, but we had hoped that healing would come.  But we had hoped … it speaks of pain, disillusionment, sadness, hurt…  Cleopas and his travelling companion were hurting so much that maybe this is why they didn’t recognise Jesus, maybe they couldn’t see past the pain.

But going back to the toothache example … John Powell would argue that while a person with a toothache finds it hard to think beyond themselves, there is one other person who they do think about … do you know who that is???… a dentist … the person who can help with the pain. 

And that is the irony of our bible reading.  Cleopas and his travelling companion were hurting, they were grieving … and one person who could help them with this hurt … the risen Jesus was there, he was right with them and yet I wonder whether they couldn’t see beyond their hurt and grief to notice that the dentist was there to help.

Which sort of leads into my one point of encouragement…    

What is interesting is how Jesus responded when the disciples didn’t recognise him.  He could have just jumped out and said … I’m alive and rushed off to the next people … but Jesus isn’t like that.  Rather he just starts walking with them along the road and simply asks them, “What are you talking about”

Jesus invites them to talk about how they are feeling, to be open with their hurt, their disappointment, their grief and pain.  And as Cleopas and his companion share all of this, Jesus doesn’t interrupt, he just listens as they walk.  Remember, this is Easter Sunday – there are so many people to share the news that he is alive … and yet Jesus takes the time to listen as they walk and talk.

When they could speak no more Jesus then starts speaking…  He then tells them “THE STORY”.  Starting with Moses and the prophets and going right through to himself he explained what God was doing.   It was like a sermon or a bible study while they were walking.  Jesus explained to them who he really was and how his death and resurrection were central to everything. 

As they travelled along with this mysterious travelling companion … something changed in these men.  Instead of feeling loss and pain, they began to feel an inner warm.  Instead of feeling hopeless and disillusioned, they could sense a new hope breaking out.  What was going on … the men described it later as their hearts were burning.

When Jesus hinted he was travelling further … Cleopas and his friend begged Jesus to stop with them.  Can you see – it had become not about the journey but about the companionship that they craved.  And when he broke bread, they realised that Jesus was with them.  That Jesus was alive.

Jesus does the same for us.  Each of us has a life story … some happy times, some really hard time.  Some of us have also felt the broken hope and shattered dreams like the disciples.  Jesus draws near to us too – offering to be a companion as we travel through life.  But then again, isn’t that the story of Easter?

It was in the process of the journey that the real learning happened.  In was the discussion of scripture that the two understood.  It was in the breaking of the bread (communion comes from the same base word as companion) that Jesus was revealed.

I told you today’s sermon is fairly simple – but it doesn’t make it any less profound.  Just in the same way as Jesus journey with Cleopas and his companion, the risen Jesus draws close to us too.  To listen to us as we share our highs and lows, our joys and our hurts.  Jesus genuinely wants to know you and what you are going through.

And then Jesus offers to weave our story into THE story … the story of God’s love for you, the story of salvation, the promises of scripture, the offer of companionship, and the revelation that comes through his presence.

Hear the good news.  The Jesus we love and serve is not dead … he is alive and is journeying right beside us.