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“Eyes Wide Open”

April 23, 2023 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: Luke 24:13–35


13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We are in Year A of the church liturgical calendar.  Since Easter Sunday our gospel readings have been from John, and with him we will remain until Pentecost; except for today.  This morning we read Luke’s telling of the story that takes place “On the Road to Emmaus”; and this encountering of Jesus by two otherwise unknown disciples appears only in Luke’s gospel.  On Easter, as John writes, Mary went to the tomb to find it empty.  Angels appear and she ultimately recognizes the risen Jesus standing before her.  She rushes back to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”.  Last Sunday’s reading invited us into the room where the disciples were gathered, behind locked doors.  It’s much later in the evening when Jesus suddenly appears among them proclaiming, “Peace be with you!”; “Shalom aleichem!”  Early morning before the sun has risen and in the darkness of late evening; these are the times that John recounts for us what has transpired on that first Easter.

So here is where Luke fills in the gap in the narrative.  Sometime between Mary’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb and his appearance to the eleven behind closed doors, Jesus meets two other disciples on the road from Jerusalem.  We have not encountered these two before and in truth, they appear only in this passage in Luke’s gospel.  One is introduced to us as Cleopas, his companion remains unnamed.  However, it’s clear that they were intimately involved as followers of Jesus; they mentioned Mary going to the tomb that morning, and that “some of those who were with us” also rushed to confirm what was told to them.  These would have been Peter and John, the ones who raced to see for themselves what Mary had told them.  So, we can with confidence assume that these two men walking on the road to Emmaus were also closely involved in the Jesus movement.  In fact, Luke refers to them as “two disciples”; they are just not part of the original twelve.

They were aware of Mary’s proclamation that she had seen the risen Christ, yet when Jesus first walks alongside them it’s painfully obvious that they have abandoned all hope of the resurrection.  Like “Doubting Thomas”, neither have they perceived the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes. 

In fact, Luke writes that, even as Jesus walks beside them, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him”.  We could easily forgive them for their lack of recognition, for we don’t really know if the resurrected Jesus looked exactly as he did before the crucifixion.  Yet even after he told them they were foolish and slow to believe all that the Hebrew Scriptures had prophesied about the Messiah; they still didn’t realize that it was Jesus walking with them.  So, what might we conclude was the cause of their eyes being kept from recognizing Jesus there beside them?  Rather than some outside force at work “keeping” them from recognizing him, it’s most likely that Jesus’ post-crucifixion presence simply didn’t correlate with their expectations.  They “had hoped” that Jesus was going to be the Messiah, come to free them from the tyranny of Roman occupation, to reestablish Israel as a great Jewish state.  Instead, he was rejected by the religious authorities, betrayed and executed.  

Since the outcome they had hoped for didn’t come to pass, it must be that this wasn’t Jesus walking alongside them.  Their promised Messiah didn’t stand at the front of a conquering army, leading the Jewish people in overcoming the despised rulers from Rome.  These two travelers making their way to Emmaus know only that Jesus, their Rabbi and teacher was executed on a cross and that his body was missing from the tomb in which it was laid.  Their eyes were kept from recognizing him, not because he wasn’t the Jesus of Nazareth they knew, but because he wasn’t the warrior Messiah they expected.  Often, we are kept from perceiving what is right in front of us because what we see doesn’t correspond to what we expect; or want; or like the two on the Emmaus road, hope for.  It is only when Jesus sat at the table with them, blessed, broke, and offered them the bread, that they recognized their risen Savior; it was only through this action of Jesus that their eyes were opened.  After he vanished, they acknowledged to one another that their hearts were burning when Jesus spoke the Scriptures to them.  “Oh, yeah, now we get it!”

Jesus instituted the Eucharist, Holy Communion as he dined with the disciples on Passover, during his Last Supper with them.  It might be fair to refer to this meal with Cleopas and his companion as the “First Supper”, the first time Jesus broke bread with his followers after his resurrection.  And this is what it took for them to finally recognize the risen Christ.  He was the One who had told them, “this is my body” during that Passover seder.  And now they perceive him, in his resurrected body; now they remember what he said and did; now they believe.  The Messiah has come, after all; not as a conquering military leader, but as the One who has risen as God has promised; as the One who will take away the sin of the world.

And as these two despondent travelers did, we too recognize the risen One in the breaking of the bread, and in the drinking of the wine.  Our eyes may not physically “see” Jesus in the Eucharist, but he is with us each time we share in his Holy Supper.  Martin Luther tells us that Jesus Christ “is present in, with, and under” the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  By this, in a mysterious way that is difficult to comprehend, Jesus is able to walk alongside us as we make our way through this world.  And the Good News of Jesus, the resurrected Son of God, is the message that ignites the fire that sets our hearts burning.  The truth of the Gospel as we celebrate it with Holy Communion opens the eyes of those who were “kept from seeing” the Savior who nourishes our souls with his very self.  This same Jesus who walked with the two on the road to Emmaus walks with all those whose hearts and eyes are open; all who are willing to acknowledge his rising and see the truth.  Those who share in the blessed and broken bead share in the miracle of Easter.  Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed.  Alleluia!             

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, we yearn to have our hearts burn with the with fire that is fanned by your holy Word.  We pray that our eyes are always opened to the presence of your Son.  We hunger and thirst for the bread and wine that proclaim that Jesus is among us.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who walks with us on every road we travel.       

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.