Sermon notes for the Third Sunday of Easter 04-26-20         Eye-Opening Experiences

Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But 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 happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Today is the third Sunday of Easter, and we have been talking on each Sunday of Easter thus far about persons whose eyes have been opened to recognize the risen Lord.  On Easter Sunday we shared the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and how she failed to recognize Jesus at first, thinking he was the gardener.  Mary came to the point of recognition when Jesus called her name.

Then last week we talked about Thomas, who said he would not believe the Lord had risen from the dead unless he put his finger in his hands and in his side.  When Jesus appeared to Thomas and showed him his hands and side, Thomas not only recognized Jesus, he recognized that Jesus was God himself and he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Today we have heard the story of two other disciples who came to recognize Jesus through their own eye-opening experience.  I hope their story will help us consider what it means for us to have eyes to recognize the presence of the risen Christ in our lives.

You may remember that the resurrected Jesus appeared to Thomas one week after the resurrection, so in today’s reading we are actually going back chronologically one week earlier, to the day of the resurrection, Easter Sunday.  Luke tells us two disciples were on a seven-mile journey to Emmaus.  We don’t know why they were going to Emmaus; we don’t really know anything about these disciples except that one of them was named Cleopas.  Luke had not previously introduced us to Cleopas so it doesn’t even really help us to know his name.  What we do know from the information Luke provides is that these two were followers of Jesus who had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.  We know they were among the group who were informed by the women who had visited the tomb that morning that angels had told them Jesus was alive.  But these disciples clearly did not believe the women, because they remained in a state of sadness and disappointment.

So, as these two disciples are talking about all the things that had happened, Jesus comes near and goes with them.  But at this point the two disciples do not know that it is him.  In fact, Luke says their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  We don’t know why they couldn’t recognize him.  Maybe it was because Jesus’ physical appearance was transformed.  Maybe it was because of the disciples’ sadness (they stood still, looking sad).  If you think about someone who is looking sad, they are often looking down.  Maybe they were too sad to even look into the face of Jesus.  Jesus asks them what they are talking about, and the one named Cleopas responds by asking, in effect, have you been hiding under a rock somewhere, so that you don’t know the things that have happened these last three days?  I love the rather coy response of Jesus here.  He says, “What things?’

We know that Jesus knows full well what had happened in those days, but he doesn’t want the two disciples to know yet that he knows.  He could have given them every detail, but Jesus wanted these disciples to tell their story; he wanted them to share with him what was on their hearts.

What the two men share with Jesus is that the whole situation makes no sense to them.  There is no explanation for what has happened.  Their hopes and dreams have been shattered.  We can hear the disappointment, regret and sorrow in their words, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” We had hoped, in the past tense.  These are the words of men whose hopes were in the past, dead and buried, because of what had happened to the One in whom they had placed their hopes.

I think Jesus, in his compassion for these two men, must be about to burst as they share their story and their sadness.  He lets them go on until finally it seems he can’t stand to leave them in their sad state any longer.  He blurts out, “O how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe!”  I don’t think Jesus means this as an insult so much as an expression of compassion.  He wants so much for these men to have restored hopes and believing hearts and an eye-opening experience!  So Jesus talks with them and begins to make sense of things for them.  He opens their eyes to recognize the things about himself in the Scriptures.  And their hearts burn within them as they begin to understand.  The very meaning of life itself begins to become clear to them as their darkened understanding is turned to light.

Notice then, when they arrive at Emmaus, how tactful Jesus is to these disciples.  He acts as if he will go on.  He does not force himself on them but waits for their invitation.  After he accepts their invitation, we finally have the moment of recognition at the table: Luke tells us Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened to recognize him.  And the Scripture says they arose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem.

I want us to think about that for a moment.  Luke tells us that Cleopas and his friend had just walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Earlier, they had said to Jesus, stay with us because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.  That was before they sat down for supper.  Yet, Luke tells us when their eyes were opened at supper to recognize the risen Lord, they returned that very hour to Jerusalem.  In those days the road between Emmaus and Jerusalem was rocky, rough and hilly.  In fact, Jerusalem is on a hill, so the 7-mile journey back would have been mostly uphill, and by this time, almost certainly dark.  You might think those two disciples could have waited until morning—but this could not wait.  This eye-opening news was too good not to share right away.

When they arrive back in Jerusalem they find the eleven disciples and their companions gathered in the Upper Room.  Then Cleopas and his companion share the eye-opening experience of how they recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread.

Now what does this have to do with us?  I think this story is about much more than two disciples who came to recognize the risen Lord two thousand years ago.  It is also a depiction of the journey of faith that we followers of Jesus are still on today.  It illustrates a process by which we come to recognize the risen Christ in our lives today.

I believe that what Jesus wants for us more than anything is that we are able to recognize him, so he is constantly drawing near to us in various ways in order that we might come to know him.  Jesus said in John 10:10 that the reason he came was so we might have life, and have it abundantly.  And I believe the secret of having the abundant life that Jesus came for us to have is in developing the ability to recognize Jesus all around us.  The greater we develop our ability to recognize Jesus, the more abundant our lives become.  But we often miss out on the fullness of the abundant life Jesus wants us to have because we fail to recognize him.  Like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, our eyes are somehow kept from recognizing Jesus.

And like those disciples, we need our own eye-opening experiences in order to recognize him, to see him and to know him.

The word ‘recognize’ has a couple different definitions.  It comes from combining the prefix ‘re’ with the word ‘cognition.’  Cognition has to do with knowledge and understanding, and the prefix ‘re’ means of course to repeat or to do again, so the word ‘re-cognition’ or ‘recognition’ means literally “to know again.”  In the case of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they had known Jesus before his crucifixion and his resurrection.  But when he drew along beside them on the road, they were not initially able to know him again.  Somehow their eyes were not able to re-cognize him.

None of us today can claim to have known the pre-resurrection Jesus, so we cannot know him again in the same sense as those disciples on the Emmaus road.  But another definition of the word ‘recognize’ is ‘to acknowledge the existence or validity of.’  So when we come to recognize Jesus, it is essentially to acknowledge his existence and validity as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior.

Now I am sure that every one of us watching today acknowledges the existence and validity of Jesus, otherwise we would surely have found something else to be doing or watching.  But even when we acknowledge his existence, we might fail to fully recognize Jesus.  Too often our eyes are not fully opened to the awareness of the presence of Jesus.  In the Emmaus story we are not told why or how the eyes of Cleopas and his friend were kept from recognizing Jesus.  But it is not too difficult to identify various causes or ways in which our own eyes can be closed to the presence of the risen Christ in our lives.

Initially our eyes might be closed due to disbelief.  We do not recognize Jesus because we do not believe in him.  Our lack of belief keeps us from seeing Jesus and his activity and his presence in our lives.

But even when we have come to the point of belief and we acknowledge the existence and validity of Jesus, we can still fail to recognize him.  Oftentimes our failure to recognize Jesus is because we are too busy, too pre-occupied, or too self-absorbed to see him.  Sometimes we do not recognize Jesus because he comes to us in a strange form, maybe in the form of a person or an experience that we do not realize is sent from him.  Sometimes we can even be in the midst of an experience in which we are looking for Jesus but we convince ourselves that he is not there.  Sometimes we fail to recognize Jesus because we attribute his presence to something or someone else.  I believe we often give credit to coincidence or to other people or even to our own abilities for things that are actually due to the presence of Jesus.  We fail to recognize Jesus because our eyes are not fully open to who Jesus is.  But we can develop our ability to recognize Jesus by realizing and reminding ourselves of who Jesus is.

A good place to start is the prologue to the Gospel of John.  John tells us that Jesus was with God in the very beginning, and that there is nothing that has been made that was not made by him, and that in him was life, and the life was the light of humanity.  With this understanding of who Jesus is, our hearts begin to burn within us as we realize Jesus is the source of all life, light and love, all goodness, beauty and truth, all wisdom, justice and righteousness.  And with that realization we begin to recognize Jesus in everything: in the beauty of creation, in the love and in the faces of family and friends, in the laughter of children, in the cry of newborn babies, in the ways that people give sacrificially of their time and resources to help others, in the redeemed and transformed lives of those who have learned to recognize him and live for him.  These are just a few of the unlimited number of ways in which our own eyes can be opened to recognize the presence of the risen Christ in our lives and in the world.  So friends, I challenge you and encourage you to look for him and to keep your eyes open to his presence in your life and your world.

Brothers and sisters, the journey to Emmaus is one we have all been on.  We have all had our times of walking along with our heads hanging from disappointment, sorrow and regret.  We have all longed to share what is on our hearts with someone who could understand and make sense of our lives.  Jesus has been there all along the way, walking with us, but we didn’t always have eyes capable of recognizing him.  But maybe someone who did recognize Him was a witness to us, and helped us to open our own eyes to recognize Him and realize that He had been with us all along.

I hope each of us has eyes to recognize the risen Christ all around us.  Even in the midst of these current troubling times, I hope you see him in the beauty of creation, in the flowers and trees, in the sun, moon and stars, in the perfect order of the universe.  I hope you see him in the faces of one another, loved ones as well as strangers … even if they might be wearing a mask!  I hope you recognize him in the way he is working in our midst.  I hope you recognize him when we break bread with one another.

And I pray we will each be his witnesses so that others may have their eyes opened to recognize his presence and activity in their lives, that they too may know him as Savior and Lord.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

For our response, please join in singing together, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”