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Glencairn Methodist Church

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May 2017


THE ROAD TO EMMAUS – Luke 23: 13-36

 Along with the parable of the prodigal son, this story about two disciples meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus ranks among the best loved stories in the Bible.

 It has all the elements of a great short story – sorrow, suspense, puzzlement, gradual dawning of understanding, unexpected actions, a flurry of excited activity. It is the sort of story that we ourselves, in our imagination, could join in, being there and participating in it all. It gives us a model for a great deal of what being a Christian today is all about.

 What have we got? Well the story or the play could be divided into two parts – Part 1, the Journey of Sorrow, and Part 2, the Supper of Joy. In Part 1, we have the slow, sad dismay at the failure of human hopes; then the sharing of this lost hope with a third person who was willing to listen and who might or might not have been able to help us cope with this sad time. Then we make the new discovery that Scripture itself contains hidden truths that we had not seen before. In Part 2 we suddenly realise that Jesus is present with us, making himself known in the Breaking of Bread.

 In the late afternoon of Easter Day, two of the disciples were going to Emmaus. One of them was named Cleopas. So clearly they were not counted in the twelve, but they were, nevertheless disciples and followers of Jesus. Now this is all we know about Cleopas, unless you are prepared to accept that a man called Clopas (different spelling) is the same man. He is mentioned in St John’s gospel, chapter 19, v 21; “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, and Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of ….Clopas.”  Could it be that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were Cleopas or Clopas and his wife Mary? At least one scholar suggests that it is a possibility.

 They were sorrowing. They had seen that Jesus was more than a prophet, and they had hoped that he would be the Messiah, the one sent by God to redeem Israel, that they would be liberated once and for all from pagan domination, and would be free to worship and serve God in peace and holiness.

 And that is why the crucifixion was so devastating. It wasn’t just that Jesus had been the bearer of their hopes for the future and was now dead and gone. It was sharper than that. If Jesus had been the one to redeem Israel, he should have been defeating the pagans, not dying at their hands. Cleopas’s puzzled statement only needs the slightest twist of words to turn it into a joyful statement of early Christian faith. “They crucified him – but we had hoped he would redeem Israel” would shortly become, “They crucified him – and that was how he did redeem Israel”. And it was, of course, the resurrection that made all the difference.

 They like everyone else had been looking at the long story of God’s redemption through the wrong end of the telescope. They saw it as God redeeming Israel from suffering. But it was instead the story of how God would redeem Israel through suffering, although the suffering would have to be borne by Israel’s representative, the Messiah.

When Luke says that Jesus interpreted to them all the things about himself throughout the Bible, he doesn’t mean that Jesus collected a few or even a few dozen, isolated texts, and strung them together into a story. No he meant that the whole story, from Genesis to Malachi, pointed forwards to a fulfilment which could only be found when God’s anointed took Israel’s suffering, and hence the world’s suffering, on to himself. He died under its weight, and rose again as the beginning of God’s new creation, God’s new people. This is what had to happen; and now it just had.

 But they still could not recognise Jesus because they couldn’t recognise that the events that had just happened are indeed the story of God’s redemption. Luke is saying that we can only now know Jesus, can only recognise him in any sense, when we learn to see him within the whole, true story of God, Israel and the world.

 And so we need to learn how to read the scriptures, and for that we need the risen Lord himself as our teacher. This passage gives us powerful encouragement to pray for his presence and guidance whenever we study the Bible, individually, or in pairs or groups. We need to listen for his fresh interpretation so that our hearts will burn within us, and lead us to see him face to face. 

And there is more we can learn from this story. Think about the first meal in the Bible. (Where and when was this?) The woman took the fruit, ate it, gave it to her husband – and then their eyes were opened. They were naked, and they knew it, and so began the sad story of man’s disobedience. Sin and death were the consequences of this. The whole of creation was subject to decay, futility and sorrow.

 Now think about the first meal of the new covenant, the Meal of Joy which Jesus shared with Cleopas and Mary. These two were not present at the Last Supper but they would have shared other meals with Jesus, and as Jesus “took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them” their eyes were opened and they recognised him. And they knew that the long curse has been broken. Death itself had been defeated. God’s New Creation, brimming with life and joy has burst upon the world of death and sorrow.

 Jesus himself, risen from the dead, is the beginning and the sign of this. Jesus is alive but in an entirely new way. Others like Lazarus, Jairus’s daughter and the widow of Nain’s son were brought back to life and would eventually face death again. But Jesus had gone through death and out the other side into a new world, a world of new and deathless creation, still physical but somehow transformed – the same only different, and would never face death again. And this is the Christian Hope, our hope, that when we die we too will be resurrected into God’s new creation.

 Our Holy Communion service looks back to the Last supper and remembers. But it also looks forward to the resurrection of all who die in Christ.

 So in the Journey of Sorrow and in the Meal of Joy, Cleopas and Mary saw how Scripture and Sacrament were both necessary to help them properly “to see Jesus”. Scripture without Sacrament is just an intellectual exercise, detached from real life. Sacrament without Scripture becomes just a piece of magic. Put them together and we have the centre of Christian living.

 We meet Christ in Scripture as we study it day by day, in an attitude of expectation that we will gain further insight into Jesus and who he was and what he did and why. And we meet Christ in Sacrament by believing that through participating we are fed spiritually by the Spirit of Christ.

Ken (8 May 2017)

This Message was inspired by Tom Wright's Luke for Everyone.

  NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at