On the Road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He 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.”
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 explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
Jesus was recognised when he broke the bread. Isn’t that amazing? We are told that God works in mysterious ways.
The two men on the way to Emmaus were trying to solve a mystery, and even more mysteriously, the identity of Jesus was made clear to them through another mystery, in the breaking of bread. Of course, Jesus is made known to us in the breaking of bread through the mystery of Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.
Holy Communion is one of the two sacraments of the LutheranChurch. These are Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Sacramentum literally in Latin means “mystery”.
Holy Communion and Holy Baptism are ways that God works in us that we can’t understand. They are mysteries, sacraments. In fact one of the titles I have heard for Pastors is that we are stewards of the Holy mysteries.
Now, these are the things that make a sacrament: they are instituted by Christ, they work forgiveness in us, and have a physical element used together with God’s word. They are objective means by which the Holy Spirit works in our lives.
They are the means that we have observed that the Spirit uses. At Luther’s time, there was all sorts of speculation about God. Could he work like this, could he do this? And Luther and the reformers went away from this mental speculation, to very concrete observations about things we can be sure of: God works through these means. We know he does. We call them the Means of Grace.
These simple means are the preached word, so a sermon that is based on Scripture, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, (which is why we preach based on a bible reading, not a poem of a song) Water in Holy baptism, together with God’s word, and bread and wine in Holy Communion, again together with the word of God.
We do them because Jesus said to, he told us to go and do them, and we simply take him at his word. We also don’t know how the Holy Spirit works through these, but we simply see from the bible and throughout the history of the church that he does. Remember, they are holy Mysteries.
There are other means by which it is claimed that the Holy Spirit works in us. Do we deny these? No, of course not. But the most important thing is how we can be sure that it is God’s Holy Spirit working in us. Messages that we hear apart from these means of grace are subjective in nature, they mean different things to different people, and can lead to doubt and confusion, even at times over who the message comes from.
But remember, The Holy Spirit does not confuse. The Holy Spirit does not cause doubt.
That is why we come back again and again to the word, read, spoken and preached, and the Spirit builds our faith. That is why we come back again and again to Holy Communion, and just like he did for the two men on their Emmaus walk, Jesus makes us see. He builds our faith. We don’t engage in endless speculation, we simply come to where God has promised to be found. Even if we don’t understand how.
Luther had a great and simple way of looking at the things in scripture that don’t make sense to our human reason. He called them “articles of faith”. He said we need simply to believe, and rest in God’s promises. Is it really so important that we understand how The Spirit works forgiveness in us through Holy Communion?
We also take our Lord at his word when he said “This is my body”, and “this is my blood”. This means that we are a church that believes in what is called the real presence. Jesus Christ is really present here, in , with and under the bread and wine.
There are many who don’t. There is a whole tradition of churches who see bread and wine and think with their own reason “these can’t really be body and blood, they don’t look like it, they’re just bread and wine!”, and “how can Jesus be here in this bread and wine, he is up in heaven?”. This doctrine we call the real absence, and how sad it would be to think that Jesus were not really here among us, but only distant up in heaven?
If we worked that way, saying that Jesus can’t be present because it doesn’t make sense to my rational mind, what is to stop us from saying: “In all of my experience, no-one has ever risen from the dead either, I have seen that death is absolute, so therefore, using my reason, I believe that Jesus didn’t rise.
Isn’t that the only logical conclusion that you can come to? And your faith is gone, replaced by the scientific, need-to-prove-it god of this age, who Paul tells us has “blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they can not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
How can you trust God’s word on some things, and your reason on others?
That is not having another God except God until it matters to you. That is not the way we work. The first commandment is not conditional on our circumstances.
It is an article of faith. We simply believe.
And this is the God who is made known to us in the breaking of bread. A God who doesn’t expect us to understand it all.
This is the God who doesn’t work the way that we expect. This is the God who showed in the Old Testament that he can come in the spectacular pillar of fire, or in the still, small voice.
This is the God who destroys evil and saves the world in a show of power that looks to our human reason like the biggest weakness ever, as he is hung up to die on the cross. Would any of us have thought to do it that way?
How wrong is our human reason? Why do we still put any faith in it at all?
Rest in God. A marvellous mystery is ours when we, too, break the bread with our Lord. It is the mystery and the glory of sins forgiven- completely. Of not having to pay for them ourselves any more. It means that we don’t have to suffer to feel like we have earned forgiveness. Our sins are gone.
This mystery was made known to the men going to Emmaus, not in the discussing, not in the doctrinal theological conversation, but after all the ideas of human reason had been exhausted, Christ was made known in the breaking of the bread, which is done because of his word and his promise.
Our hearts can burn at the word of God, and sometimes we hear the message that is just what we need to hear, as God explains the scriptures to us, and his Spirit makes us understand. But the wonder of the sacrament is that it is the word of God enacted. It is in Holy Communion that Jesus moves from our heads, and is acknowledged, to our mouths, and our hearts, and is recognised by us, as we come into his presence and believe.
And this happens, objectively whether we feel much like anything happened this day or not.
The Holy Spirit will work in you today, as you come to the Supper instituted by our Lord. Christ will come to you physically, and in the presence of the risen Christ your sins will be washed away. These things will all happen even if you don’t understand it, even if you don’t feel it, because they don’t rely on your understanding or your emotions. They rely on God and his promises, not on us. Because in this mystery, God is at work, not you or me.
In the words of the Lutheran theologian and musician Robin Mann:
“Peace of bread, cup of wine, who can understand, how his mercy works in these? Yet, Lord we believe.”