Second Lesson: Luke 24:13-35
Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015
Here’s the story before the story. Some very good scholars have looked carefully at all the Biblical evidence about this story and done a whole lot of research, trying to figure out who Cleopas was, and who his companion on the road was. And we can’t be positive of any of this. But it turns out that the most likely scenario is that Cleopas’s wife was his companion on the road to Emmaus, and that her name was Mary. And that on the day Jesus died Mary stood watch at Jesus’ cross with his mother and his aunt and other women. We understand that both Cleopas and Mary were both faithful followers of Jesus. So now here is their story.
Two members of the congregation, as Mary and Cleopas come down the middle aisle and stand in the front of the sanctuary.
My name is Mary. This is my husband Cleopas and we are part of a large circle of people who have known a man named Jesus. We have just had a remarkable experience that I want to tell you about.
We live in Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and we had been in the Jerusalem for Passover. You probably know that all good, able bodied Jews do their very best to be in Jerusalem for Passover, and that has always been our custom as well. Jews come from all over the country, walking, mostly, to the city. Thousands and thousands of extra pilgrims come into the city to remember that night in Egypt when our ancestors escaped from slavery. They come for days ahead of time, and all the possible hotels and rooms in the city are filled with guests and the streets are clogged with people. Vendors in the streets sell all kinds of food that people need for Passover but they couldn’t have brought with them on their trip. Live sheep are bawling in the markets and people are selling wine and the spices in little booths all over the city. You can imagine the commotion. We came to Jerusalem, too, my husband and I. We rented a room where we could celebrate Passover and we did that, with a group of our family and friends. Jesus was there, in Jerusalem, too, with his twelve disciples. Several of us had warned him about coming, and told him it was dangerous to come to Jerusalem at Passover time. We knew that the tension between him and our religious leaders and between him and the Romans was coming to a dangerous point, but he was determined. As it turned out, we were right – and three days ago, on Friday of this past week, our religious leaders handed him over to the Romans. They accused him of being the King of the Jews and trying to overthrow the Roman government and they executed him – crucified him.
I was one of the women who stood beside his cross and watched and waited all that day as he died. The men had all left and gone into hiding because it was too dangerous for them to be seen anywhere near Jesus, but there were several of us women who stayed. I stood there with his mother Mary and his aunt, and Mary Magdalene and another Mary and Salome. We stood right in his line of vision, right where he could see us for the hours that it took him to die. I was there as he struggled to breathe and struggled to speak in those last hours and I heard his last loving words to his mother before he died. It was the last loving thing we could do for him, and it was all I could do for his dear mother.
You might be aware that people who were accused of plotting against the government were not allowed to be buried. Their bodies were left on display as a warning for others. Awful things happened to those bodies when the animals came out at night.
But our friend Nicodemus and some of our other friends got special permission to bury Jesus and they took him down off his cross after his death. We gave him a royal death. We wrapped his body in linen cloths and surrounded him with expensive, sweet smelling spices and buried him in the grave of another friend named Joseph.
Early on Sunday morning Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome went to his grave with more spices. They found that he was not there and they reported that they had seen a vision of angels, and that the angels had told them that he was alive. Of course that was hard to believe, if not impossible. So others of our friends went to check for themselves, and they found that what the women had said was true.
On Sunday afternoon Cleopas and I went back home to Emmaus. All the others who had also come to Jerusalem for Passover where also leaving, some going north, others going south and others going east and west of the city. The road was clogged with people, walking together and talking about the amazing events of the past days – mostly about the death of Jesus, whom we had all loved. And as we were talking about all these things among ourselves on the road back home to Emmaus, a man joined us on the way – a man we did not recognize. He seemed not to have heard any of these events of the last week and asked a great many questions about it all. So we told him everything – all that had happened from one Sunday to the next and how we were grieving. And then another amazing thing happened, in a week of astonishing events. This man whom we had never seen before started telling us all about Jesus, and about how he had to die, and quoting scripture to us all about our Messiah. We soaked in every word he had to say, amazed at it all. As we came into the outskirts of Emmaus I invited this man into our home for a simple supper and to finish the conversation, and he came. He bowed his head over the food, and took a loaf of bread, and broke it into pieces and blessed it. And in that moment, we recognized him. We had seen those hands break bread before. We had seen that head bowed over food before and we had heard that voice bless it. And we knew that it was Jesus, come back to life again, in our very home, sitting at our very table, speaking to us and explaining to us the incredible events of the week we had witnessed. And as we lifted our heads from prayer and opened our eyes, he was gone.
We got right up from the table, Cleopas and I, and we raced back to Jerusalem seven miles in the pitch dark and told the others what we had seen and heard and how Jesus had spoken to us on the road. And while we were still trying to catch our breath and as we were trying to convince the others of our incredible story, there was Jesus in the room with us, suddenly. He talked with us and ate in front of us, and showed us the holes in his hands and feet where the nails had been and he walked around in front of us. And as incredible as it was, we knew that he was Jesus, come back to life again.
The two members leave the sanctuary.
That is the eyewitness report of a woman named Mary and her husband Cleopas.
But you and I are living in Michigan, in 2015 and we do not see Jesus. We have not walked and talked with him up and down the countryside and not been eyewitnesses to his resurrection. We have not eaten a meal with him. We do not hear God speaking in our ears, in English. In complete sentences. And yet. I say this humbly but I do say it. And yet, we know God. We experience the risen Jesus.
It is my habit to sit at 5 o’clock in the morning in my dining room, in my lovely condo in Grand Rapids – long before it’s light at this time of the year. I sit in the silence and darkness and I wait for God. I breathe in and out in front of God. I clear my mind of all my lists of things to do and all the traffic running through it and I gently flick away stray ideas that come to me. I sit there quietly in that mode until I feel God with me in the utter silence. I read scripture. I let the beauty of it soak into my soul. I pray the day ahead. And I revel in the presence of God with me. As sure as if I could see God with my very eyes.
As long as I live, I will probably not be able to describe the power of Holy Communion. But I know with all my heart that Jesus comes to us in a little hunk of bread broken and given and eaten. And a little sip of juice shared with others who love him. We can read scripture over and over and we do. We can talk for hours on end, and we do, about just what it means that Jesus died for us, and how was it possible that he rose from death again. We do all that. We talk and talk about that.
But when I taste that little piece of broken off bread, and when I sip that ordinary juice, I know in my heart that God loves me unimaginably. I feel in my bones the grace and goodness of Jesus whom I serve with every breath in my body. And I feel the deep companionship of the Holy Spirit who walks through every second of my life with me.
It’s not that I see with my eyes and am convinced. It’s not that I read something and understand with my head. It’s that I know, deep in some very sacred place in me – I know the love of God for me in Jesus Christ.