Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41 | Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 | 1 Peter 1:17-23 | Luke 24:13-35
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?”
Our Gospel passage today starts on a pretty low note: Two of Jesus’ followers were leaving Jerusalem. They were heartbroken by the sudden, cruel death of their beloved master, and confused by the strange, unbelievable story told by Mary Magdalene and the others. It was all too much… too disorienting, too overwhelming to take in. The horror of the cross still fresh in their minds… their hopes that Jesus was the Redeemer sent by God so visibly dashed and hung high for all to see… how could anything good come from all these ‘things that have taken place’. Their world was shattered, and they were going home, alone it seemed, to pick up the pieces.
But then, we find they are not alone. A stranger shows up on the road and joins them on their journey, and when he asks they share with him their sorrowful story.
After listening, we’re told, this stranger then begins to share a story with them. The same story, actually… one which also told about these horrible ‘things that have taken place’, but then suddenly, instead of a tragic failure and the end of all they’d hoped for, these ‘things’ were becoming the climax of the story of God’s redeeming love. The stranger, “beginning with Moses” and the very first Exodus… the grand rescue of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, “and all the prophets,” who shared the message of warning, yes, but also the message of hope that the Living God would ultimately end Israel’s sufferings, and rescue them again from their enemies and their sins… the stranger unpacks God’s Story for them, helping them see that the Messiah, the Chosen One, had to “suffer these things… and then… enter into his glory.”
It was a story they had heard the pieces of probably hundreds of times before, but now this stranger was putting the pieces together again in a whole new way; helping them to see a unity and purpose, which had always been there, but which until that very moment they had not recognized. Listening to him, their peoples’ Scripture Story was connecting with their own, and their hearts began to burn with a new sense of hope and expectation.
By the time they had reached the village, they were not ready to say goodbye to the stranger. They urged him to join them for dinner, and to spend the night as well. They opened up their home to him and invited him to stay with them, and found as they did so that their whole world was about to be upended again, this time for good.
As they sit down and share a simple meal, this stranger took the bread… he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them.
Suddenly they recognize Him! Suddenly they see! It’s Jesus, their beloved Master, now living once again! All this time He had been with them, but now He’s made His presence known! And then, just like that, He vanishes right before their eyes. He was gone, in a way… but now they knew to be true what that had just before been unbelievable: He was back!
Despite the late hour, and with their hearts still burning with hope powerfully rekindled, they race back to Jerusalem to share their joyful story, and find that others too have found “The Lord is risen indeed!”
This part of the story of the appearance of the Risen Lord may be fairly familiar. It is read and talked about each year, on the Third Sunday of Easter, taking its part in the regular rhythm of our annual journeys through the Scriptural Story in our worship.
But like the two sorrowful travelers at the beginning of the passage, sometimes we fail to see how this Story all fits together, and all we can see are the shattered pieces that we had hoped would help us, and we find ourselves discouraged, disorientated, and overwhelmed.
But even then… even now… St. Luke wants to remind us, that like those two travelers we are not left to journey on alone. We are reminded that this is our story too… that even when we cannot recognize the presence or purposes of our Redeemer, the Risen Lord remains with us, and is eager to open our eyes.
The two travelers could not see Jesus at first, only the confusion and pain they were experiencing when their hopes in God’s rescue had seemed to fail. But like them, we need to be reminded of the heart of the Story of the people of God. As one scholar puts it “[t]hey had been seeing it as the long story of how God would redeem Israel from suffering, but it was instead the story of how God would redeem Israel through suffering; through, in particular, the suffering which would be taken on himself by Israel’s representative, the Messiah.” The suffering of Jesus on the cross, His crucifixion and death are the means by which the Living God ultimately redeems us, and in His rising from the grave to new and everlasting life, Jesus draws us in to God’s new creation as well: sharing with us the final hope of resurrection from the dead, as well as lives transformed and freed to serve Him without fear today.
So we continue to turn to all of Holy Scripture and seek the face of our Redeemer, letting our own small stories find their proper place within its message of hope and joy. When we can gather together in worship, we will again break blessed bread in remembrance of Him, and find ourselves rekindled and nourished by His gracious presence. In both word and sacrament, in story and mystery, we find that Jesus is right here with us. And we are reminded that He is present, even when we cannot see or feel Him near.
Even in those dark, confusing, painful times, when we feel like we are travelling alone, there is always one more thing we can do: we can simply cry out in prayer. We can share our sorrowful stories with God, inviting Him into the ‘things that have taken place’ in our lives, and trusting that He has taken on Himself our sufferings too. And that in time, He may rekindle our hope, and help us see His redemption at work, putting even the most shattered pieces of our world back into place, as surely as Jesus Christ our Lord is risen from the dead.
 Wright, N.T. (2004). Luke for Everyone (p. 294). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Italics in the original.