Sermon: Easter 3 Year A*
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
April 26, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Karl Barth, one of the twentieth century’s most famous theologians, was on a streetcar one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lived and lectured. A tourist to the city climbed on and sat down next to Barth. The two men started chatting with each other. “Are you new to the city?” Barth inquired.
“Yes,” said the tourist.
“Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?” asked Barth.
“Yes,” he said, “I’d love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth. Do you know him?”
Barth replied, “Well as a matter of fact, I do. I give him a shave every morning.”
The tourist got off the streetcar quite delighted. He went back to his hotel saying to himself, “I met Karl Barth’s barber today.” (1)
The tourist was in the presence of the very person he most wanted to meet, but even with the most obvious clue, he never realized that the man with whom he was talking was the great man himself. It reminds me of Mary’s reaction on Easter morning. In her grief, she thinks the man she is speaking to is the gardener. Until he called her name she did not realize that she was talking to the risen Jesus. On the road to Emmaus later that same Easter day, two of the disciples walk for a while with the resurrected Jesus, and they, too, had no idea with whom they were talking.
Each of the Gospel writers tells the Easter story in a slightly different way. For many of us this fact adds a note of authenticity to these ancient stories. These were the jumbled reports of eye-witnesses to the most dramatic moment in human history. No one tried to reconcile the differing accounts. They had no desire to convince us these events happened, only to report what they had experienced.
In Luke’s account, on that first Easter Sunday, the women took spices and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, but they didn’t find Christ’s body. Two angels ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
That is why the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus is so important to Luke’s description of the first Easter. Evidently the two men were among those to whom the women shared their story of the empty tomb. These men were on their way to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
We don’t know precisely who they were. The name of one of them was Cleopas. It has been suggested that the other was Luke himself, and that he omitted his own name out of modesty. We don’t know why they were headed toward Emmaus. Maybe, in their disappointment, they had concluded that their grand adventure of following Jesus of Nazareth was over, so they were packing it in and heading back to the lives they had before they met Jesus. As they walked and talked with each other about their experiences, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but, Luke tells us, they were kept from recognizing him.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? They had been followers of Jesus, but now he is walking along with them and they do not recognize him. Maybe, as with Mary, their despair and their disappointment with the way things turned out blinded them. That can happen. You lose hope, you discard your dreams, and you are blinded to the good things that still surround you.
Pastor and author Leith Anderson, as a boy, grew up outside of New York City. During those years he was an avid fan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers. One day his father took him to a World Series game between the Dodgers and the Yankees. Anderson was so excited, and he just knew the Dodgers would trounce the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Dodgers never even got on base, and his excitement was shattered.
Years later he was engrossed in a conversation with a man whom he describes as “a walking sports almanac.” Leith told this man about attending this World Series game and added, “It was such a disappointment. I was a Dodgers fan and the Dodgers never got on base.”
The man said, “You were there? You were at the game when Don Larsen pitched the first perfect game in all of World Series history?”
“Yeah,” Anderson replied, “but we lost.” He then realized that he had been so caught up in his team’s defeat that he missed the fact that he was a witness to a far greater event: the first perfect game pitched in World Series history.
Leith Anderson writes, “I wonder how often the same thing happens to us. We get so caught up in the defeats, disappointments, and trials in... our lives, the times when things don’t turn out the way we want them to. So we’re depressed because an illness continues to linger, or when people don’t treat us the way we think they ought to, or when we face financial difficulties. (Or, I might add, even more seriously, we experience a once in every hundred years pandemic.) But we are often so blinded by the pain and disappointment of our experience... that we fail to appreciate the fact that we might be witness to something far greater that God is doing in our lives.” (2)
An important truth surfaces: Don’t assume that any disappointment or trial is God’s last word on any situation. The followers of Jesus certainly thought their dreams had turned to dust. The last thing they expected was to discover that he was alive. Perhaps this is why they did not recognize him. They were blinded by their disappointment and discouragement. Jesus asks them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. Cleopas asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” the stranger asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.”
And the men recount to Jesus all that had happened after the crucifixion. Then this stranger begins to admonish the two followers of Jesus. He says to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
Then we come to one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the other disciples and those with them, assembled together and said, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread.”
There are likely some of you today who are distracted from your faith by disappointment or defeat or fear. Maybe you are blinded by circumstances. You don’t realize that you, too, are in the presence of the risen Christ. But as Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with you.”
There is much in our world and much in our faith that we do not understand. However, understanding is not the key to life. Faith is. Trust in God is. Sometimes we can’t see why we are going through a certain situation, but the scriptures and our prayer life allow us to see what step we should take next. And they assure us that whatever the future holds, the One who holds the future will not forget us or forsake us.
You’ve heard the expression that “seeing is believing.” Well, I also believe the converse: there are some things that have to be believed to be seen. There are two ways to look at life. One is through the eyes of skepticism and doubt. The other is through the eyes of faith and hope. The only people to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection were his followers, people who already believed in him. In other words, you had to believe in order to see him.
When something happens, either good or bad, some people see a mere incident, or perhaps, a remarkable coincidence. Others, however, see a miracle or the hand of God. It makes a difference whether you are seeing through the eyes of faith or the eyes of skepticism.
What I find amazing is how often when you are looking through the eyes of faith you see the handiwork of God. Seeing His handiwork, in turn, increases your faith and your recognition of God’s presence in your midst.
I believe it was no accident that Jesus asked these two men to recount all the events of the week just past. He wanted them to focus on all they had been through together and all he had meant to them, so that they would be prepared for him to reveal himself to them.
Friends, this is the value of gathering each week in worship to put on once more the glasses of faith. I have no doubt that those who make the effort to be here every week see God’s hand at work in their lives much, much more than those who are casual or negligent in their worship.
That’s the way it works. In order to see the living Christ, you need to believe in him, and you need to regularly be in Christ’s presence.
I also suspect it was no coincidence that these two men became aware of Christ’s presence when they broke bread together. “This is my body which was broken for you,” they heard Jesus say.
And people have discovered Christ in their midst for over 2,000 years every time the bread is broken and the cup in shared in Holy Communion.
While you are not able to physically receive the sacraments today, there exists a belief in—what we call in the Church—“communion by desire.” I invite you today to take and eat; to take and drink. And see through the eyes of faith.
Cast off skepticism and doubt, despair and defeat, and let life take on new meaning and new wonder. Even those who were closest to Jesus did not recognize him until they shook off their disappointment and despair. But when they finally saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and realized he was in their midst, their hearts burned within them with joy and peace that the Lord Jesus Christ was alive and revealed himself to them.
Today I invite you: Take and eat. Take and drink. And believe! And rejoice that Jesus the Christ of God is Risen and alive among us. Alleluia!
1. John Ross, Surrey, England, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 4.
* Sermon Resource: Christian Globe Networks, Inc., Dynamic Preaching Sermons, Second Quarter 2014, by King Duncan.