Walking the Easter journey, a sermon on Luke 24

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

The challenge of the Easter message is not just that it is sometimes difficult to believe.

Jesus rose from the dead, and put an end to death forever.

Our sins are forgiven and we are raised to new life in Christ.

The challenge is also that, sometimes this Easter message doesn’t feel like enough to get us through the struggles of our day-to-day lives.

It doesn’t always feel like enough for Jesus to show up at the empty tomb at Easter, with a “There, there, everything will be okay.”

Because we know, in our life experience, that often those who die stay dead, and it is sometimes difficult to trust in the promise that we will live again.

And sometimes, in our lives, we struggle to feel forgiveness for our sins or the sins of others;

sometimes the pain clings to us, or we feel like humankind keeps committing the same sins again and again, over and over.

Even if we believe Jesus’ Easter promises, they don’t always feel real to us, as we live our lives.

Which is why, I believe, Luke’s gospel includes the road to Emmaus, because this story is emblematic of the way in which we often experience Easter.

As a difficult in-between space, between God’s promises and our reality.

Now, as today’s gospel says, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is seven miles long.

In the broad scheme of journeys, particularly journeys walked by ancient peoples, that seven mile road isn’t actually that long or difficult.

But we can get a sense of the emotional difficulty of the journey, by the quality of the Greek words used to describe it.

When today’s gospel describes the two disciples talking with each other on the road about all the things that have happened in Jerusalem…

the narrator uses three terms: homileo (from which we get homiletics or homily) and antiballette (a term from rhetoric and forensics, literally, “to put” or “place against”),

translated in today’s gospel in its gerund form, “discussing” (reflecting in its etymology the sense of a “concussive” exchange of words), and an “emotional” syzeteo (dialogue).

You have probably had this type of conversation…I know I have, when the stakes of my conversation feel especially high.

This is an emotionally intense barrage of words, where you and your conversation partner….

almost feel like you’re wrestling, rather than talking.

And that’s because these two disciples are wrestling.

They are struggling with that in-between place in the Easter message, between the promise and hope of resurrection…

…and the painful reality of the world they live in.

Are these things really true? What does it mean that the Messiah that we’ve longed for has died?

And even if he has been raised, which is difficult to believe, it means that things still have not turned out the way that we believed they would…

It is into this difficult conversation, this disillusionment that Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus.

And Jesus doesn’t appear announcing his presence and declaring to these two the things that have taken place.

Instead, Jesus appears as a stranger.

And, instead of saying, “There, there, he has been raised and I am he…”

Instead of offering immediate, and perhaps unbelievable comfort and reassurance, Jesus asks a question:

“What things?”

This is a real question.

Because at the root of this question is not willful ignorance but instead a desire to know,

What’s bothering you, what is causing you pain?

And it is in answering that question, sharing that pain, with a stranger, that the two disciples draw closer to their risen savior.

For those of us who struggle in the in-between place, between the Easter message and the reality of our lives…

I think perhaps this is the most helpful thing about today’s gospel.

If the simple announcement “He has risen!” doesn’t always feel like enough to raise our hope and trust in the Easter message,

…then an honest conversation with God about our struggles might serve us better in our lives of faith.

Jesus, you’ll notice, doesn’t sweep in, and as soon as hears of the disciples struggles, announce himself as the risen Christ.

Jesus doesn’t immediately alleviate their doubts, their struggles, their fears.

No, instead Jesus walks beside them on the journey.

And Jesus listens to them, asks them questions.

Maybe swift assurances isn’t what will help us in our day-to-day journey…

Maybe it is simply walking beside our savior in our in-between struggles, carrying on a conversation.

Sharing our struggles, and not always immediately expecting an answer or solution.

Today’s translation, sometimes makes it sound as though Jesus admonishes or criticizes these disciples for their struggle…

“Oh how foolish you are, and 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 glory?”

In the original Greek, however, Jesus’ words carry a tone of gentle endearment, which one biblical scholar has paraphrased as being more like,

“Oh you sweet sillies! How did you miss this?”

What if the Easter message is not always a bold pronouncement of resurrection, and is instead, a loving invitation to look, to ask, to explore, where God is in the places we might miss?

What are we not seeing, that God is doing in our midst?

Where is resurrection and new life, in the places that we do not always notice?

In our day-to-day struggles, those are the questions the road to Emmaus invites us to ask.

And perhaps, in asking those questions, in walking that journey of faith, we will arrive at a deeper understanding of what God is doing in our lives and in the world.

Many scholars have pointed out the Eucharistic overtones in the fact that Jesus is finally revealed to the disciples in the breaking of the bread.

And we do believe, as people of faith, that in our shared communion meal Christ is somehow present with us.

And yet, I wonder if today’s gospel is less about Eucharist and more about the fact that it is only after walking the journey,

after sharing their struggles, asking questions, and really paying attention to the answers…

that the disciples come to recognize the risen Christ in their midst.

Perhaps it is simply because these two disciples have taken the time to walk these seven miles with a stranger…

… to share honestly their struggles, to pay attention to their questions and answers,

…and then invite him to stay, to be a stranger no longer, that allows God to be seen.

Perhaps in all the ways we walk our journey of faith, sharing our struggles, asking questions, and growing ever deeper in relationship with God and one another…

…we become witnesses to the resurrection.

Perhaps that is how Easter becomes ever more real to us in our lives.

Because we really live it, rather than simply believe or pronounce it.

Easter, it seems, is a journey, and not a one-time event.

The life of faith can be a long road, but we walk in conversation and in the company of our fellow disciples…

…and our savior.