I don’t know about you – it’s been a couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind! Christ is risen! The resurrection of Jesus is maybe the most significant event in human history. It changes how we all think about life and death. That’s the moment when God was thinking completely outside the box. You realize: if the resurrection of Jesus had not happened, if Jesus had not come out of the tomb alive after a brutal death, the New Testament would not have been written. And I promise you, we would not be here, gathered like this.
Jesus is alive. Right now. What does that mean to you? Jesus was a great healer, so the stories go. He was an amazing teacher, among many teachers who have lived throughout history. Except for Jesus, there are no great healers or amazing teachers who rose from the dead.
In the gospel stories, there are 10-12 times that Jesus appeared to people after his death, depending on how you count them. Sometimes, it was just to one person. Sometimes he appeared to a group. There is one story of him appearing to hundreds of people.
When you think of Jesus, alive outside the tomb, when you think “resurrection,” there are a few images that come to mind. You might think of Jesus by the side of the road talking with Mary Magdalene, the first person to see him. She didn’t recognize him at first – she thought he was the cemetery gardener. On Easter Sunday morning, that’s the story – from the Gospel John – that I think we hear most often. Or you might think of him with his disciples when he appeared to “doubting” Thomas.
Luke 24:13-35. 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?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
It’s another case of before and after. This is how we were, now this is how we are, and the magic ingredient is Jesus. Before meeting the risen Jesus, if anybody has had a right to be depressed, it’s these two people. Jesus was grabbed in the middle of the night, “tried,” and executed. They had such hopes, and God had let them down. Have you ever felt that God has let you down? This had not gone the way we hoped it would. We’re walking, and then this guy comes along. You don’t recognize him at first. Watch how this works. First,
Jesus comes as a stranger. Jesus always starts out as a stranger. There’s casual conversation. Jesus doesn’t want to be intrusive. He comes up to these two as they walk along and says, “Hey, what are you talking about?” They talked about how Jesus had been crucified. It was still fresh in their minds and they were pretty upset about it – as I think any of us would be.
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (v. 27)
Jesus opens up scripture. That’s one way major Jesus comes to us, especially for those of us who didn’t have a chance to meet him in the flesh. This book is called “God’s Word” for a reason. Jesus is called the “living word” for a reason. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” as John puts it. I’ve heard many people say that it was a moment of faith in the living, resurrected Christ that opened up the Bible to them, when they were able to say, “Oh, now I get it!”
You will always have questions, and there is so much to absorb. There is so much God wants to say to us in the Bible. So much more than the little bits we get in church from week to week. And as this story shows, God will help you understand. And as you understand, God is at work. I believe it’s something you can even feel sometimes. ‘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?’” (v.32) You really don’t need to a theology degree to get good things out of the Bible. At the moment, reading the Gospel of Luke then the Book of Acts is a great way to start. Pray: “Jesus, show me what you need me to know.”
They’re walking and talking and at that point in the story – must have been for a few hours – they still didn’t know they were hanging out with Jesus. Jesus had come to them as a stranger, and stayed a stranger until he became their guest. After walking and talking, they invited him to stay.
Jesus is our guest. In this story, Jesus waits to be invited. He does not barge in. He waits to be your guest. Jesus was walking on, until they insisted that he stay. It might seem like some small point in the story, but it’s a huge thing. Nothing happens for these guys until they made this stranger welcome. What God needs from all of us is an attitude of welcome to the stranger, God needs us to be finding ways to invite strangers. In another place, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35).
Jesus is our host. But the main desire of Jesus is to become the host of the party. He took bread and broke it for them.
Look at how this relationship is working: Jesus comes as a stranger and is welcome. He opens up scripture to us, and becomes our guest (we say, “stay!”). Suddenly we realize who he is – the host of this party!
Jesus used scripture to help these two people understand who he was, but they didn’t really see who he was until when? It was when they ate a meal together.
For them, it wasn’t the marks in his hands or feet, or his side where he was stabbed by the Roman soldier. It was when the host served the food.
Food is a ministry tool that any Christian and any church can use and needs to use. Why is that? We share something we need. Barriers are broken and bonds are made. God uses food over and over in scripture as a tool to save people. We might disagree about a bunch of things, and when our relationship gets tested, it might be time for prayer and a meal. This is why I think church meals are so important – the more the better. Because the more we eat together, the stronger we are, the more love we share, and the less we are strangers to each other, and the more God will use us to reach the strangers who need to know him.
When Jesus reveals himself, we get a little picture of how to do ministry. You could call it… spiritual hospitality. This is what he meant when he said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.”
We move from meeting the stranger (the God we don’t recognize), to welcoming Jesus the guest (inviting God into our lives and on our journey), to opening scripture (where God communicates with us), allowing God to be the host, the Lord of our lives and of our church. We sense him in the midst of us. We didn’t recognize him at first, but it’s not long before we realize who brought us together. Christ is risen!
O God, settle us down, open our eyes, especially to strangers, because we know that you are among them. Help us know how to do hospitality as believers, as your people. Help us extend our time of worship into our time on the road, our time with family, and especially our time at the table. Warm our hearts as we have faith in the living Jesus, we believe in him, Lord. He is our guest today, and it’s in his name we pray. Amen.