Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

In the resurrection God redefines home. We had thought that our final resting place was death, was a place where life was at an end. We thought our final home was death. But Jesus lived and loved and died that God might enter even death and bring life there.

Jesus was in the grave for three days. In Jesus’ culture, and in the scriptures, this piece of time, this “three days,” has great significance. When a visitor comes to stay in Jesus’ time and place, they are viewed as belonging after three days. It is at that time that they seen no longer as a visitor. Jesus, therefore, is at home in death. There is no doubt about this. Jesus has died. His story should be at an end.

And for two disciples, walking along a road to Emmaus, a road away from Jerusalem, the story is at an end.

Now on that same day 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?’ (Luke 24:13-19)

Jesus finds himself, as he found himself all his life, in the company of sinners, in the company of the ones who do not manage to let God be God. These two disciples have given up. They have heard about the empty tomb and the folded linen clothes and they have heard that Jesus’ body has disappeared. They have been reminded that Jesus himself spoke of his death and spoke of his rising after three days. They have heard these things but they cannot engage with it. They are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the heart of their faith. And they are struggling with what has happened. But for them it remains a story without hope.

God, though, will not let them go. Jesus comes near and walks with them, and in words that are very strong in the Greek, “their eyes were being held” from seeing who he is.[1] It is as if God is not going to let them realise straight away who is with them. This reality is too great to be faced straight away. This realisation has to happen slowly. It is as if these disciples need to tell their story first, and hear Jesus’ response, before they can know who he is. It is only in the midst of our story that we can hear the whispers of God’s own. This is what the incarnation is about.

Jesus, as he did all through his earthly life and his encounters with people, treats these two disciples with great integrity. He gives them time to tell their story. The writer of Luke’s Gospel revels in the irony of this encounter. Jesus asks the disciples what they are discussing as they walk along this Emmaus road. ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ They say. Jesus, the only one who does truly know the things that have taken place, is the only one who is not a stranger to Jerusalem.

Jesus listens to these two disciples. Allows them to tell their truth, their truth of Jesus, a “prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people” (24:19). These two disciples’ lives have been transformed by their encounter with Jesus. They have witnessed his teaching, his healing, his meals with many different and often unacceptable people. In some way he has transformed their lives, has accepted them, has forgiven them. And then “the chief priests and the leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.” (24:20) This one who has brought healing and hope, this one who has brought life, was ruthlessly executed. And they cannot understand it, they cannot remember that he had told them it would be this way, they cannot find anything but hopelessness in it. And they tell him too of the strange accounts of his missing body and of an angel who said he was alive. But they cannot believe it. They cannot allow it to affect them. And so they are walking away.

After Jesus has listened to all they have to tell him, he places their story, their truth, their loss of hope, in God’s story.

‘Oh, how foolish you are, [Jesus says,] 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?’ (24:25-6)

Jesus places his own story too in God’s story, the story of the scriptures. This is where our lives belong. This is where his life and death and resurrection belong. In God’s story. It’s just that when we are in doubt, as the disciples on the Emmaus road were in doubt, we don’t see it.

As Jesus finishes his storytelling he walks on ahead as if he is going to leave them.

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?’ (24:29-32)

Their hearts were burning within them as Jesus spoke to them, they sensed something of the presence of God and life and hope, but they couldn’t pin that presence down, couldn’t identify it. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that, in Luke’s resurrection account, in the gospel that so often portrays Jesus as bringing life to people in the context of a meal, it is when Jesus eats with those two doubting disciples, when Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it, that their eyes are opened and they recognise him. And then he vanishes, his work is done. Hope is restored; Jesus is brought to life in the lives of two disciples.

The other side of death, we see Jesus doing all the things he did in his life. We see him keeping company with sinners. We see him hearing the story of their life. We see him teaching from the scriptures and we see him blessing, breaking, sharing bread. We see him alive.

We have kept watch through Good Friday this year as we do every year. And we have known our own Good Fridays. Those times in our lives or the lives of those we love when all seems dead, all seems lost. Those times, so often it seems, in our world, when hope seems lost. We walk our Emmaus roads. I guess what matters is that we allow the telling of our story. I guess what matters is that we sit with the truth of it. For he will be with us. God will not let us go. That stranger who is at home even in the darkest places of our lives will walk with us. And he will remind us that our stories, with all their pain and all their struggle, and all their joy, too, belong in a great story. A story where death is not the final destination. That our story finds its home in the loving and redeeming life of God.

[1] Brendan Byrne The Hospitality of God p187.