Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter 26th April

My wife and I walk for half an hour most days. I have no doubt that many of you walk that far every day, sometimes tying your shoelaces together to make it a bit more of a challenge. Of course, in Jesus’ day and for long after there would be many people who never went anywhere except on foot. I note in the history of the dissenting chapel here in Yardley Gobion it says that people walked to and from Towcester every Sunday to hear the preacher. So there was nothing unusual in two people who had gone to Jerusalem for Passover now having to walk seven miles back to their village, and as they walk they talk.

We hear that they describe all the things that happened while they were in Jerusalem, and they are so engrossed in this that they do not notice Jesus coming up behind them until he joins in their conversation.

The first thing that strikes most of us is that they do not recognise Jesus, and we have a little giggle to ourselves that they missed that key point. I can’t put on airs on that. I frequently have to ask Gillian “Who was that I was just speaking to?” But set that aside a moment and listen to what they say. They profess Jesus to be a prophet who had the ear of God and who preached and performed miracles in public; they say that there is abundant evidence of his greatness, and plenty of witnesses. Next they describe his fate and they apportion blame. They do not blame the Romans; he was put to death because the chief priests and leaders willed it.

It is a sad story. It would be so whoever the man was; but now they describe in more detail who this Jesus was. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. They thought he was the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel, but decide he cannot have been because this Jesus is dead, and who can kill God’s Messiah? But that’s not all.

Some of the women went to the tomb and did not find Jesus. Instead they met angels who said Jesus was alive. The two travellers have no reason to doubt the women’s word, and they would be delighted if the angels were proved right, but they have not seen it for themselves; and that is often a barrier to really believing something, isn’t it? How often do we say “I’ll believe it when I see it!” The apostle Thomas said it, as we heard last week.

Now, if they had faith, they might have recalled that Jesus had predicted this, and that he would rise again, so in some respect their failure to recognise him may be a deficiency of faith, though it is equally true that if we are not expecting to see something we may not see it or believe it.

However, Jesus addresses this directly. He says 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?

Why necessary? Jesus gives them a lesson about the scriptures and all the things that were said about him. We do not, of course, know exactly what he said, but we can imagine that he pointed out that the Messiah had to appear just like them. He had to live their lives. He would be rejected, despised, he would suffer unjustly but in the end he – and they – would be triumphant. That is what the scriptures taught.

This lesson has taken some time, for they are almost home and dusk is approaching. Jesus makes as if to walk on but they invite him into their house; and here is one of those tantalising ideas that makes the bible so rich. You see, I have always thought that the bible talked about two men walking to Emmaus, but in fact the Greek does not mention the word men. It simply talks about two of them – duo ex auton. Cleopas was undoubtedly a man, but his companion need not have been; and since they apparently live in the same house it is surely more likely that the other is his wife.

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.

Well, now they know! This is news too good to keep to themselves, so they immediately head off back to Jerusalem. If it was growing dark when they arrived at the village, it must be gloomier by now and they have a two or three hour walk ahead of them. Not only that, but at sunset the gates of the city will be shut and they will not be able to get in, so they must run much of the way, but they are happy to do so. A great thing has happened and they are witnesses of it. To know Jesus is to be thrilled at the prospect of sharing news of him with others.

After his recognition by the disciples, Jesus disappears. That Jesus is alive is all the disciples need to understand. They can now appreciate that he is with them. Suddenly the entire discussion on the road makes sense. Because of this new awareness, the disciples recall their recent scriptural review in a new light: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" Their words point to how emotional this had been for them.

Good news travels fast, and news of the verification of the resurrection was no exception. Jesus has, in effect, been everywhere. The two returning disciples are greeted with a report like their own: "The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" It is becoming clear to all in the community that the women were right after all. Jesus is alive, and their hope remains as firmly in place as ever.

We can imagine the flood of emotion in the room as these stories of Jesus' appearances flowed in. It must have been like a newsroom full of reporters collecting facts on a breaking story. The room was probably buzzing.

What is more, though it is late and much has already happened, Jesus' appearances are not over quite yet. Despite his "physical" absence, he has actually been with all of them all along through resurrection—a very crucial message for the disciples to learn about how Jesus will be with them in the future. To say Jesus is risen is to say that he is with us now.

Resurrection is hard to believe, but be assured that it took place. Its reality means that Jesus' claims are true. He was more than a teacher and more than a prophet. He was the promised, anointed one of God.