Sermon: Luke 24.13-35 -Sunday April 26th, 2020 -The Third Sunday of Easter
“Going Down to Lonesome Town…”
Geographically speaking, we don’t know too much about this place Emmaus, where two of Jesus’ disciples were on the road to in our gospel and where along a dusty road, as they were discussing what had just tragically occurred in Jerusalem, a mysterious stranger joins them on their journey.
Our most reliable and oldest manuscripts of Luke’s gospel tell us Emmaus was 60 stadia away from Jerusalem. And since one stadium was roughly 600 Roman feet, we can infer that Emmaus was therefore about 7 and a half miles or 12 kilometres, a little under half a day’s journey by foot away from Jerusalem.
And Luke’s gospel doesn’t tell us either why the disciples were heading there. Perhaps this was where they were from, having travelled from Emmaus to attend as required by Jewish law, the jewish festival of Passover and were returning home. Or maybe they were going there on business. But I think most likely, if as our gospel tells us that along the road they were discussing with each other what had just occurred in Jerusalem, and they were disciples of Jesus, chances were they were fleeing the brutal violence that had just occurred where Jewish and Roman authorities had put a violent and senseless end to the mission and life of Jesus. Like the other 11 apostles of Jesus who as we saw last week, were hiding in a locked house afraid of being next, maybe these two disciples thought it best to get out of Dodge in order to save their necks. Or maybe they just wanted to get away from all the violence and human cruelty; where they had seen their dreams and hopes for a better future crushed before their very eyes upon a Cross. Where they had seen the one whom they had believed was the long-awaited messiah -who was going to fulfill all the words of the prophets and the scriptures; who had given so much hope for others and done so much good for others in the ways that he healed others and brought people together around a common table, and stood up for justice and righteousness, and to see this great person’s life cruelly snuffed out from him, was just too much as they were tragically reminded again of just how broken the human situation is, this world of ours which seems so often ruled by acts of violence and sin – and they needed a place to escape to…
The theologian Frederick Buechner once suggested Emmaus is “that place we all go to in order to escape – whether it be a bar or a movie theatre or [a friend’s house.] – [It’s that place} where we all cry out: “Let the whole thing be damned! It makes no difference anyways…”
Because in short, Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that humans have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice or [racial equality] – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends. (Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, 85-86)
I think for all of us, I don’t have to remind you have we have all been shocked by the horrific, senseless, and tragic violence that unfolded last week all over Nova Scotia, and took the lives of so many beautiful, decent, caring persons. As a nation, we are grieving and hurting for all the families affected, who have lost loved ones like Constable Heidi Stevenson, who was a 23 year veteran of one of Canada’s proudest symbols -the RCMP, who was a loving wife who lived for her family and worked tirelessly for her community. And of course, all the others -who were teachers and nurses, and correctional officers, and retired firefighters -so many of whom like Jesus from our gospels who made it their life’s work to make life better for others by serving others.
This evil is a gut-wrenching reminder of how absolutely broken our world is and sadly how often real wickedness and violence and brokenness and other sinful actions plague us to this day!
I think no doubt, Emmaus, or the road that leads to it, is that place where we as a nation are all feeling we’re on right now. Where it’s like we’re in that place described in that old, melancholic Ricky Nelson song, Lonesome Town; where the broken hearts go to cry their troubles away and try to forget the overwhelming pain, or sadness, or even outrage that someone could be so very heinous and diabolical in their planning and do this to such loving and caring people. Where we’re just like those two disciples in our gospel who when they were going over what just happened to Jesus, maybe they were wondering, well where was God in all of this, or what is God’s response to this incredible, senseless violence? Where is your mercy, O Lord? Where we cry out like Jesus did on the cross crying: why have you forsaken me? What will be the legacy of this tragedy?
[But] what I want to share with you, especially in light of our gospel, is that through all the tears there is mercy and there is compassion. And it comes from a God who decided that someone should pay for the injustices and violence of this world; from a God whose response to our violence and brokenness is to spread his arms wide on a cross so that all people may come to receive God’s love [and mercy]…” (Paul Scott Wilson, The Four Pages of the Sermon,149) and know that death and violence do not have the final say.
Because it’s on this road, that the disciples in our gospel find themselves upon, that they meet this mysterious stranger who acts like he doesn’t know what has just happened in Jerusalem; not only with the terrible violence of the crucifixion but also with the reports of an empty tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid. And after hearing these things which the disciples have told him, Jesus opens their minds to what the scriptures since the time of Moses and all the prophets had said would happen to the messiah. Perhaps, Jesus would have shared with them the words spoken by Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy, that: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.” (Deuteronomy 18.15)
Or maybe, Jesus would have reminded them of the Suffering Servant described in the Book of Isaiah, the one who “shall be lifted up…” (Isaiah 52.13) and the one who “has born our infirmities and carried our diseases….[for] he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…[and] upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah 53.4-5)
But whatever it was that Jesus had said to them, their hearts began to burn within them, as they would later recall as they were beginning to understand what God was doing in the world and what God was trying to teach us about who we are to be in this world with each other, especially when violence threatens to destroy us, and poison us and isolate us from one another.
And when they came to the village, they remembered how they were to taught to show hospitality and care for others, because they invited Jesus to stay with them. And it was there later on in the breaking of the bread at supper, and in its blessing, and in Jesus’ giving to them the bread, where all of the sudden, the disciples’ eyes were opened to whom this stranger was because the bread he was feeding them with, was life – life-giving and life-nourishing, and reminding them that indeed it is the Lord who holds all life in his hands.
For in the breaking of the bread, Jesus was revealing to his disciples the very depths of God’s grace; where the tragic violence of Jesus’ death and the sense of their lives having no center, was suddenly being given new dimension, and direction and hope and even now a new sense of mission to tell others what they had just seen.
For in seeing Jesus again before them, they were seeing that all the death and all the violence that the world could throw at him, was nothing in comparison to the strength and power of God’s compassion and mercy and of his empowerment to us to rise above the violence and the brokenness that life throws at us by the ways that we can respond to it by coming together, and through offering support and prayer and resources – so that through our actions, we might become bread for others.
Because that is what defines how we are to be in this world with each other. And I mean, not only as Christians do we feel this is the way, but I think all Canadians and all people of good heart and conscience and faith know this to be the way and God empowers us to live and respond this way while our hearts are burning within us.
One of the ways that I am seeing our response, like Jesus in becoming bread for others is that If you check out the Go Fund Me website on the internet, you can see how already separate funds for different families have reached over $100,000 dollars from total strangers in less than just a week. And on this website, you can see also hundreds of prayers and condolences for the lives lost and for the families as people are coming together to love and care because you know that’s just who we really are as a people and as a nation and as Christians.
People who become bread for one another; who reach out to others when they are down and lift them back up even when our hearts are breaking with them, because it is our Easter hope and belief that in Jesus Christ, we have seen the God who does not let death and violence have the final word because that final word as spelled out in God’s gospel and carried out in Jesus’ fulfillment of the scriptures and in the breaking of the bread, are revealed to us as signs of his great mercy and love and forgiveness along a road that leads not to desolation but to eternal life. Amen.