Welcome to Easter Sunday! We have been traveling together these past eight weeks with Jesus who had set his face toward Jerusalem, toward his destiny.
None of Jesus’ disciples who walked that journey with Jesus had any idea of what was about to happen to Jesus, them, or the world.
No one understood the full meaning of Jesus peacefully entering Jerusalem upon a donkey only to then turn over the tables in the Temple and drive the merchants out with a whip.
No one understood the testing Jesus underwent at the hands of the best and brightest minds of Israel trying to trap Jesus in his own words or pit the words of God against him.
At the time, none of the disciples could fully appreciate Jesus washing their feet or given them bread as his body and wine as his blood.
None of those with Jesus fully understood what it meant to be a branch upon the true vine, Jesus, and bear the fruit of God’s plan.
None of the disciples understood Jesus’ prayers of anguish in the garden seeking God’s intervention to remove the cup Jesus was about to drink. What was in that cup and why was Jesus so upset by what it meant?
And none of the disciples understood the agony of Jesus’ trials before the religious leaders, Herod, and the Romans.
And none understood the unthinkable, the unimaginable horror that the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem had become as he hung on a cross. Naked. Bloodied. Barely able to breathe. Then dead.
Those who had been with Jesus grieved his death. Each hour of each day seemed like an eternity as those who loved Jesus played and replayed in their minds Jesus’ last words, his last look, and their role in his death. For three days they suffered the all-consuming death of Jesus, their dreams, and their hope. All of it had been buried behind in a rock tomb.
Three days had passed. It was time to begin sorting out the shock and trauma of the grief. In that shock, two disciples of Jesus were walking home to a village near Jerusalem named Emmaus. “14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.” Their grief conversation was probably no different than ours when someone dies unexpectedly, tragically. “If only I had…” “I should have…” “then things would be different.” 15 As they [the disciples] talked and discussed these things with each other, [something unexpected, something that could not happen, happened]. Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He [Jesus] asked them, “What are you discussing [together as you walk along]?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus” (Luke 24:15-24).
In these a few verses, there is a poignant mirror reflecting the disappointment of what might have been, what was expected to be, and the loss of the future. We understand the disciples’ feelings and sense of sadness. When life is not working out the way we had hoped it would or someone important to our life’s story dies, we can become disheartened and discouraged.
Augustine, a 4th century theologian, observed that when we place our hearts desire on things which can be removed from us, then we become fearful of losing them. We fear the loss of someone, the loss of health or wealth, status in the community, or whatever we may value, then we can become discouraged when we they are lost. Augustine thought that there was a better life. He believed if we placed our heart’s desire on God, something, someone who could not be taken from us, then we would not live through fear.
The Apostle Paul saw this idea and acknowledged that life can be difficult and have its disappointments. But that Christians, believers in who Jesus is and what God accomplished in sending him, “8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
These disciples walking along the road to Emmaus felt crushed, in despair, abandoned, and destroyed. They felt this way because they did not truly see Jesus as the Son of God and thought too little of God. They saw God as the giver of a nation not the giver of life. They did not see God as the one who supplies love, forgiveness, and mercy.
Jesus decided to speak in a way that would shake up these disciples. “25 He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).
Jesus was trying to get the recognize him not in the person but in the enduring Scriptures, the Word of God. Jesus was pointing these weary disciples back toward God and to see what God had accomplished in front of their eyes through the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. These disciples would later describe these moments of teaching with Jesus as though their hearts were burning within them while Jesus talked with them on the road and opened the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:32).
This was the effect Jesus desired. Jesus wanted these downtrodden disciples to become flaming disciples, burning witnesses, with such joy for God that their lives would never be the same.
There remained only one more thing Jesus needed to do to complete the transformation of these disciples. Luke said as they [the three] approached the village of Emmaus, the disciples asked Jesus to stay with them. “30 When he [Jesus] was at the [dinner] table with them [the disciples], he [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them [the disciples]. 31 Then their [the disciples] eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31).
Jesus now completed the teaching of the Scriptures through the sharing of the bread, the bread of life. In that moment of sharing, the blinders that preventing these two disciples from seeing the Scriptures come completely alive within them was removed. The bread, which Jesus had said was his body, which Jesus had said gave immortal life, made all things understandable. These disciples were transformed by joy. The suffering was over, the grieving was over, the fear was over, there was only joy because the disciples recognized Jesus in the bread.
With this uncontainable joy, these two disciples ran into the night to find the Eleven apostles. When they arrived, the disciples from Emmaus “35 [Then the two] told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (Luke 24:36).
The breaking of the bread was and is key for us to see Jesus and understanding the nature of God. The breaking of the bread was and is key to joy, hope, and life.
In times earlier, Jesus said, “35 ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:35, 38, 40).
Jesus then repeated, “48 ‘I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world’” (John 6:48-51).
Jesus lifted the disciples from Emmaus and became visible in the breaking of the bread and he can do the same for us. Jesus called us to pray that we would receive bread daily; seek Jesus daily. Jesus called us to eat the bread and drink the cup in memory of him but not just the memory of his life, his teachings, but the memory of him in the whole of Scriptures. He invited us to eat the bread in memory of his death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem that in doing so we could see him, know him, remember him, and find the God he knew and loved. Jesus’ journey was an ordeal, but it ended in victory. Jesus victory, his resurrection on Easter morning and his walk with his disciples that afternoon, gives us the ability to be joyful people and flaming witnesses to the goodness of God.
This Easter Day let us come and celebrate with great joy the wonders of Jesus as we too will see him fully in the breaking of the bread. Amen and Amen.