Of all the people who encountered Jesus, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus are, for me, the most relatable. It is hard for me to relate to the women in the reading from Easter Sunday (Matthew 29:1-10). Mary and the other Mary were the first witnesses, after all. They felt the earthquake. They saw and heard the lightening-angel. When Jesus appeared to them, there was no doubt. It was Him and they knew it. It is also hard for me to relate to Thomas from last Sunday’s reading (John 20:19-29). Despite his initial unbelief, with which I can relate, he had the unique and disturbing experience of physically touching Jesus’ resurrected wounds (I confess that I cringe every time I see Caravaggio’s famous rendition).
Mary’s and Thomas’ experiences with the risen Lord were exceptional. In contrast, this week’s reading gives us a couple of disciples who seem, well, normal. They were among His followers, but they were not the famous ones. They encountered Jesus, but they did not know it until He was gone. They could not recognize Jesus standing in front of them and they could not understand the Scriptures even as He explained them. But Jesus made His way into their lives, nonetheless. He walked with them and sat down with them, broke bread with them and gave thanks with them. In the end, He worked the kind of transformation in their lives that He has worked in ours. Finally, on this third Sunday in Easter, we meet a couple of disciples with whom we can relate.
In a way, the experience of these disciples is the common experience of all Christians. This text sketches in broad strokes the fundamental movement of the Christian life. Your sermon might do the same by highlighting four parts to this narrative. Along the way, you will have multiple opportunities to proclaim both the commands and the promises of God to the less-than-famous disciples in your congregation.
Part 1: “But we had hoped…” (verse 21). The cameo for these two disciples began with despair. Like everyone else in Jerusalem, they had heard of Jesus. And they liked what they heard. They thought he was the one who would redeem Israel. They thought he was the one they were looking for. But then he died, and with him their hopes.
Your hearers have hoped, too. They have hoped for many things. Some of their hopes have had nothing to do with Jesus. They have also hoped for things from Jesus which He never promised. Many of their hopes have been dashed, and more are sure to come.
Part 2: “He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (verse 27). This must have been quite a Bible study. Beginning with Moses and the prophets, Jesus was giving them a crash course in Old Testament interpretation. The one whose Spirit inspired the prophets in the first place (see 1 Peter 1:10-11) was opening their eyes to see the One of whom they prophesied. Central to His lesson was the necessity of the Messiah’s suffering and glorification.
You hearers have learned something about biblical interpretation, too. Through your faithful teaching, and through the ministry of those who preceded you, they have learned to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. They have also learned to see God’s grace in suffering. But Paul’s words are true, not only for the two disciples in our text by also for us. Now we see dimly. Now we see only in part (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Part 3: “He was at table with them” (verse 30). The connections between the meal in the text and the Lord’s Supper are compelling. This was not the first time Luke describes Jesus blessing, giving thanks, breaking bread, and giving it to His disciples (see Luke 22:19). But even if Luke does not intend for us to think of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ willingness to join these disciples for a meal indicates a commitment to fellowship and community for which your hearers are probably longing in these days of separation.
Jesus has made His way to our tables, too. Is this not what we ask in the common table prayer? “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Imagine the Emmaus disciples as the first to offer this prayer. The point is, Jesus makes Himself at home with us. He joins us, ushering Himself into our lives even before we recognize Him.
Part 4: “Then they told what had happened on the road” (verse 35). It is worth noting how Jesus never told them to go back and tell the others. He did not send them to be witnesses; they simply did it. They could not help it. Their hearts burned, their feet ran, and their mouths opened. “The Lord is risen, indeed!” they confessed, because this is what Easter does: It makes confessors.
Easter has made confessors out of your hearers, too. They confess their faith with the traditional Easter antiphon to start the service. They confess the works of God with every recitation of the Creed. Through your sermon, you are equipping them to confess the good news of Jesus to people outside the Church, too. This is not badgering them to evangelize. It is proclaiming to them the promises of God so clearly and so fully that their confession comes as naturally for them as it came for Cleopas and his companion.
There are plenty of differences between those two disciples on the road to Emmaus and your hearers, but the risen Jesus has not changed. Neither has the fundamental experience of living as His followers in light of the Resurrection.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 24:13-35.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 24:13-35.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 24:13-35.