Psalm118:19-24; Luke 24:13-35–Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: “What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?” The first of the friends said: “I would like them to say: ‘He was a great humanitarian.’” The second said, “He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow.” The third looked at his friends and said, “When my friends look at my body I would like them to say, “Hey look, he is moving! He is alive!”
We are here to celebrate life and say, “Jesus is alive.” The scripture happened on the afternoon of the day when the resurrected Jesus appeared to some of his disciples. The writer of Luke has a way of telling extraordinary things in a manner that makes them seem ordinary.
He tells us that two followers of Jesus were shuffling along the road to Emmaus, a little village outside of Jerusalem. It was late in the evening, and the sinking sun reflected the sinking feeling they had inside them. As they walked along, a stranger joined them intruding upon their private moments of grief and commiseration. When they wanted to be alone and get away for some quiet time, here comes this stranger butting in to their conversation. He looked oddly-familiar. He asked them what they had been discussing. They replied that they were talking about Jesus of Nazareth, a mighty prophet, and how he had been put to death. Then with a note of disappointment, they said, “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”
“We had hoped…” What a note of tragedy in those words.
Reading this story, two things come to my mind. First, the Emmaus story is the story of a God who will not leave us alone even when we are hurting and disappointed, even when it seems that the brightest and best in life has been destroyed, and even when we are left with the thought, “We had hoped…”
It is said that Emmaus was west of Jerusalem. Thus, the two men were walking towards the sunset. And this could be the reason why they did not recognize Jesus. Aside from facing the sun, they were so distressed that they did not recognize the stranger.
You and I have had to go to Emmaus many times. It is the temporary hiding place when things are not going well in our lives. Sometimes when the hurt is so deep, when we are confronted by a debilitating illness, or someone whom we love so dearly dies, or when we are facing a seemingly-insurmountable problem, one just has to get away for a while.
Others will take a walk into cynicism when we discover that the noblest ideas — about love, freedom, justice, and even concepts of who Jesus is and what he wants for us and from us –are twisted and destroyed by deluded, selfish people.
And during those moments of disappointment or anger, it is difficult to see the risen Christ. Just like Mary, we may only see a gardener. Like the two followers, we may only see a stranger.
However, this story tells us that even when we do not see the risen Christ, He is still there, walking with us.
Whenever we hear that still small voice within us, that voice assures us that no matter how dark things may seem right now, whatever trials and tribulations we may have to endure today, whether we understand the tragedies of life or not, through all our fears and doubts, right up to the moment when suddenly we know for certain that everything really is in God’s hands, Jesus has been right there with us through it all.
Has your life been filled with nothing but sunsets, when all you ever wanted was a little bit of sunrise?
Perhaps for whatever reason, some of you today may be traveling on a long and lonely road. Family concerns. Problems at work. Anxiety about your health and your future. The loss of someone you love.
Easter promises us more than the stars in our darkness. Easter promises us that in the midst of our deepest darkness, the Son of God rises to overwhelm the darkness forever.
Today, the risen Christ stands among us, and promises to meet us on the roads we travel, and in the midst of the darkest night, he promises us a sunrise. That is the glory of our faith.
A man and his little grandson were out walking down the beach one afternoon. They saw a crowd of people gathered around a man who had been overcome by the heat of the sun, and had suffered sunstroke. The grandfather was trying to explain this to the boy. The little fellow looked up at his grandfather, and said, “Grandpa, I hope you never suffer from a sunset.”
We gather to meet the rising of the sun to remind us that even though we face many sunsets, there is always a sunrise.
Second, the Emmaus story also tells us that whenever a person encounters Christ, his or her life is never the same again. It transforms our living.
When Cleopas and his companion sat down at the table with the stranger for a meal together, the stranger blessed the bread and broke it. There was something strangely familiar in all of that. And then Luke writes, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Suddenly, everything was transformed. Nothing would ever be the same again.
You and I have seen the God of resurrection at work, raising people from the death of despair to the joy of new life. When I see people helping the typhoon victims which we experienced a few months ago; when I see some members of our church giving to support the ministry of our church; when I see members giving their time to participate in Bible studies or teaching Vacation Church School, or when I see you wake up early to worship with others, I feel the presence of the resurrected Christ. Whenever I see members of the church reach out to families who are grieving, I see the resurrected Christ.
Yes, Christ comes to us in worship as he appeared to the disciples in the upper room; he comes to us in our solitude as he came to Mary in the garden; he comes to us in the hospital as we face surgery or some illness; he comes to us in our joy and celebration. He comes to us as we journey through the dark valleys of grief, and gives us the courage to face our deaths when the time comes.
Sometimes God sends angels to remind us of the risen Christ as he sent angels to tell the women.
I remember of the time when I was so discouraged when the church I was serving wanted to leave the UCC-USA because of a certain issue. When this was going on, a family invited my wife Fe and me to join them for lunch. During our conversation, they mentioned that every Sunday after Church, they share with each other what they learned in worship. They said that it had blessed their lives. As I listened to them, I felt they were angels sent by God to remind me not to worry, for the risen Christ is in our midst.
Tony Campolo tells in a book a story of a young preacher who, on a Good Friday service, preached a good sermon that at the end, the congregation broke loose shouting, “Hallelujah!” As he sat down, he turned to the older pastor who was to preach next, and said, “Are you able to top that?” The older pastor just smiled and stood to preach. He started preaching, repeating one line over and over again: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” Then one deacon yelled, “Preach, brother! Preach!” Then he came on louder, “It was Friday and Mary was cryin’. The disciples were runnin’ in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd. But that was Friday, and Sunday’s coming!” The congregation was getting into it. The preacher continued, “It was Friday, Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees thought they were back in charge of things, but they did not know that it was only Friday! Sunday’s coming!” The place was now rocking for an hour and a half. “Friday! But Sunday is coming. Friday. But Sunday is a coming.” “The sisters and the brothers are suffering. It just isn’t fair…all they have to go through, but it’s only Friday. Sunday is coming.” Finally, for almost two hours, he just yelled at the top of his lungs, “It’s Friday!” and all 500 of the congregation yelled back with one accord, “But Sunday’s coming!”
Well, friends, it is Sunday. That is the good news on Easter morning. “Christ is risen!” Let the people of God say, “Christ is risen indeed!”