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The EASTER STRANGER – Luke 24: 13-35 – Third Sunday of Easter, May 3/4, 2014

Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist

When I see the large crowds that gather here for Easter Sunday I invariably work
into my welcome the simple truth: If you like the service this morning, please
remember that we celebrate Easter every weekend, fifty-two times a year. Now
this may be trite, but it is true. We need more than one festive celebration to
engage the amazing reality that Resurrection trumps Crucifixion, that God can take
the most horrific of human acts and rewrite the ending into a glorious narrative of
new life, renewal, and reconciliation … and that there is more mercy in God than
sin in us.

Last Sunday attention was focused on the disciples in the Upper Room and the
amazing appearance of The Lord, first to ten of the disciples and then later to all
eleven, including Thomas, who had an expressed sense of what it would take to
allow him to believe that Jesus was alive.

Today our Gospel lesson relates the story of the road to Emmaus and the two
disciples who encountered a mysterious Stranger during their journey. We are
told that they were astounded that this man knew nothing about the terrible events
that had occurred in Jerusalem. Nevertheless they listen to him and, at the perfect
moment, he revealed himself to be the Risen Christ.

This delightful little narrative contains at its heart four words that, in many ways,
are the saddest, but most realistic, words in all of Scripture: But we had hoped…
These four words sum up all of the dreams that were shattered, the sense of hope
that these disciples now felt was all in vain. What is more heartbreaking than a
shattered future?

Someone has observed that many of the saddest words in the English language
begin with the letter D. For example, consider such words as … disappointment,
doubt, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, despair
and death. These words capture the emotions that those two disciples on the
Emmaus Road reflected in their words and their demeanor.

Disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, despair and death – these
were some of the thoughts that filled their hearts. These disciples had abandoned
their closeted companions, but they brought their sorrow and feelings of futility
with them. As far as they could see, everything they had dreamed of died with
Jesus on that cross that hung in the dung heap outside Jerusalem.

No doubt they were more than heart-broken; they were probably physically ill
after all the terrible things they had seen, heard, done, and left undone during
those past few days. For three days they had been holed up in that Upper Room,
no doubt squabbling among themselves, trying to affix the blame on someone or
something for everything that had gone wrong. So like a group of relatives, feeling
confined after a large Thanksgiving Dinner, these old friends opted to take it on the road.

So this was no victory march; if anything, it was a coward’s retreat. But then this
Easter Stranger mysteriously joined the heart-broken disciples, who were trying to
walk off their discouragement, and by joining them on their walk, he altered their
outlook and their direction forever.

This Easter Stranger who accompanied them did not share their down-hearted
spirit. He was upbeat. They were shocked that he knew nothing of these events
that had turned their world upside down, but, nevertheless, they liked him. And
so, at the end of the day, as they approached the inn where they were planning to
spend the night, they invited the Stranger to stay and join them for dinner.

It is no surprise that this glorious account we call The Road to Emmaus is one
of the most beloved stories in all of Scripture. It is certainly one of my favorite
accounts of the Risen Christ; I trust it is the same for many of you. The story is
a great favorite for church retreats and spiritual enrichment events. It is simply a
beautiful image ~ Jesus coming to us as a Stranger, revealed in the breaking of the
bread.

I love this wonderful story because it captures in a clear, reasonable fashion some
of the core beliefs of our Christian faith:

• On the Road to Emmaus we see a powerful illustration of the four-fold
purpose of worship. The two disciples are together on the road ~ worship
begins with us joining with each other. The Stranger comes and Holy
Scriptures are opened, the second critical event in worship, the proclamation
of the Word. In time, they shared a meal, an event that connected them
with the Risen Christ and each other, a foretaste of the Feast we call The
Eucharist. And finally, they are sent out to share and live the good news
they have received. This is the Holy Work we pursue every time we gather
here in Jesus’ name.

• On the Road to Emmaus we see a compelling reminder of the pain and
brokenness that is present in the lives of so many people. How many of us
do not live lives shaped by those four powerful words: But we had hoped …
These four words speak eloquently of the broken dreams, broken hearts, and
broken promises that have impacted so many all around us … at worship,
at work, in our neighborhoods, and, yes, in our families. I know many of
you can relate personally to those words. What a challenge for us to be a
Christian community that can hear the laments and to be present to help
soothe and salve the pain that is all too real in the lives of so many today.

• On the Road to Emmaus we see Our Lord’s gentle, non-coercive style. Jesus
did not argue with the men, he simply walked with them and gently revealed
truth to them. He did not make demands, but his kindness and compassion
were compelling. When they reached their destination, he acted as if he
would have gone farther. Jesus made no presumption; he simply waited for
their invitation for him to stay. Here we see perfectly revealed God’s great
and dangerous gift to the world ~ the gift of free will. Every day we have
the opportunity to invite the Lord to come into our lives and stay with us or
we can allow him to pass on and leave us alone. This is our choice.

Today we remember the Emmaus Road and the Easter Stranger who walked
with his friends and changed broken hearts into burning hearts. On the Emmaus
Road, suffering and disappointment find healing through others, the disciples are
touched, and, somehow, they are transformed and enabled to be joyful again.

On the Emmaus Road the broken-hearted are brought back to life through the
compassion of the Easter Stranger. He warms their hearts and gives them reason to
hope for a better tomorrow. He can do that again for you and for me.

May our Loving God, who gave us the gift of life and called us in our Baptism
to be his children forever, send that Easter Stranger to us now to lift our spirits,
strengthen us for the journey, and give us that peace that the world cannot give.
AMEN.

Washington Memorial Chapel