I’ve been asked to share the full sermon, so here it is in manuscript form. This is not the way it ends up when it is preached on a Sunday morning, but I hope you hear the Word God has for you!
While I was researching the scripture for this sermon I found a fascinating story about an art exhibition titled “Holy Ground”. The actual exhibit consists of shoes & stories of faith from all around the world. As part of the Holy Ground project artist Paul Hobbs collected shoes from persecuted people all around the world. Their owners’ stories are shown alongside the shoes and include a diverse group of people and represent an assortment of backgrounds – everyone from a black Zimbabwean woman writing about colonial oppression; a Pakistani man telling of being enslaved by drugs and an Indian woman speaking of being tricked into and trapped in the sex trade for 15 years. Inspired by this exhibit, other programs have also begun to display someone’s shoes and ask the individual to share their testimony of faith. As I looked at the photos of the different pairs of shoes in the Holy Ground exhibit I reflected on this passage from Luke’s Gospel and the disciples walk to Emmaus.
In this familiar scripture we encounter two of Jesus’ disciples – now we don’t know both of their names, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be necessary to know both names. Most scholars agree that the named disciple – Cleopas was traveling with his wife, who was also a follower of Jesus and is also mentioned earlier in the scripture. What we do know is that they were leaving Jerusalem and they were getting out of town. We also know that they had left Jerusalem on the very day that the tomb was found empty – what we now know as Easter. Earlier in the scripture we remember that Mary had returned to the disciples and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. But these two – immediately, the very same day they heard the news, reacted to Jesus crucifixion and burial by leaving Jerusalem, where was their faith – their belief in what Jesus had taught them? Most likely, they were like the majority of Jews of that time, believing that the Old Testament prophesies were pointing to a military or a political messiah – savior.
As they walked along that dry, dusty road it seems that they were reflecting on their shattered hopes and broken dreams. I imagine they were disappointed and disillusioned – they had invested time, energy, and effort in someone who had promised them so much – and then he had fallen to the Roman Empire like nothing more than a common criminal. Can you imagine it – they shared meals together, made plans together, worked alongside each other – and then – it was over. And Jesus didn’t even put up a fight! He just willingly let himself be tortured and crucified. Now he was dead. All hope in him being the messiah was dead also. Now what do we do? Have you ever been in an emotional state where all of your hopes had been destroyed and you didn’t know what tomorrow would bring? Can you imagine how they felt?
In their depressed state of mind they must have been walking kind of slowly, dragging along their feet. After all, they really had no place to go, no longer had a direction for their lives. Well, this is how Jesus found them as he overtook them and began walking alongside them. Travelers along the roads during this time in history were often victims of robbers – remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? I wonder – Did the two disciples notice this stranger walking along the road or coming up behind them? Were they even aware of how far they had traveled or where they were? How often in this day and age are we reminded to be aware of our surroundings and to keep our eyes open for strangers approaching? Do you think the disciples even noticed the stranger and how long he was actually walking with them before the conversation started? Makes me think of the people we walk by and don’t even notice – the homeless, the hungry, the addicted, the hurting… – when we are so wrapped up in our own disappointments.
And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. I can just see this – the disciples had to stop to respond to this stranger. I mean – in their tracks – and looked at this stranger with their mouths open, hands on hips, and say “Where have you been? Don’t you know what happened? Don’t you realize what has happened to us? Wow! Where have you been?
Stop and think for a moment – I bet if I asked you where you were and what happened on 9/11 – you could tell me exactly where you were when you heard the news that America had been attacked. I don’t even need to say the year I am talking about – it is a date and an incident in our countries history that will not be forgotten for generations to come. But what if I asked you where you were on July 4, 1984? – – – I see a look of puzzlement on your faces – trying to remember what that date was? What significance it may have for you. Most of you don’t know exactly where you were or what you were doing. Yet for me – I can tell you to the minute where I was, what I was doing, and why it is so significant. It’s a very personal day for me and several family members, but not everyone was affected in the same way so the date does not have the same significance for all of us as 9/11 does.
This same situation occurred for many people at the time of Christ’s death in the city and surrounding areas of Jerusalem. For his disciples the events were heartbreaking, astounding, and overwhelming. For visitors and others that were in the city at the time, the events leading up to Christ’s death and even his death, held no real significance. So, it was possible that this stranger that began walking with the disciples, had no idea what had happened – I mean, sure, three criminals died on crosses the other day. So? What does that have to do with me?
“What happened?” Jesus asks.
Here it comes – the big moment – the opportunity to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection – to tell a stranger how much God loves us – that he sent his only son to die on a cross for us – and that he rose from the dead so that we may have life – and the disciples respond … “Haven’t you heard about the things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene? He was a man of God, a prophet like Moses and Jeremiah, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. But then, our high priests and leaders betrayed him. They got him sentenced to death, and then they crucified him. You know, we had our hopes – hear that HAD OUR HOPES – that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. It’s been three days now since it happened, and we just couldn’t take it anymore, being in that place – the memories, the confusion. And now, if you can believe this, some of our women – leave it to the women – have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and they couldn’t find his body. They came back with some out-of-this-world story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but – they didn’t see Jesus.”
When is the last time that you had an opportunity to share something that has happened to you and done so with such a dreary, sour look on your face that others were confused about whether it was a happy or sad situation? Imagine the look on the strangers face – on Jesus’ face – as two of his own disciples told him what had happened to him – to HIM! No wonder he replied – What a bunch of hard-hearted fools you are! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?”
And then …. Something awesome happened …
He began to teach them as they walked along the road together. Talk about a Bible study! To have the Master of the universe explaining everything that had happened from the beginning of time to the very present moment… wouldn’t you have loved to be walking in their shoes? But this was not the usual scripture stories that they had heard in temple all of their lives, no, these stories were being shared with them by someone who seemed to have actually been there when the world was created, to have really been present when Moses had wandered the desert, and to have actually inspired the prophecies for the messiah that had been written. This talking and walking took awhile. You see, just like us – in order for the Emmaus disciples to recognize the crucified and risen Lord, they first had to understand God’s vision – they had to understand His plan for salvation in the world.
Well, they finally arrived at Hotel Emmaus – where the candles are always lit – and Jesus started to walk away from his traveling companions and to continue on his journey. But, something made Cleopas say – Wait! Stay with us!
It was not uncommon to show hospitality to a stranger during that time by offering shelter, food and drink, but I kind of think that they were starting to recognize how their hearts were feeling as they walked along together and they weren’t ready to let go of that feeling. The feeling of remembrance, of familiarity, the feeling that this stranger may actually understand me!
And as they sat down at the table, the stranger who had become the invited guest, turned things around and became the host – when he picked up the bread, gave thanks, and broke it. And in that moment the disciple’s eyes were opened and they RECOGNIZED HIM! But before they could hold him, or speak another word – he vanished!
I am sure each of us has had moments like this. When we were walking the path of a family member or friend’s serious illness – and later we recall the stranger who prayed with us. Or when we have walked the road of grief – and someone sent us a message of hope. We all have momentary glimpses of Christ in our lives, but what do we do after we have seen him? For the Emmaus disciples’ , they got up – that very hour – and RAN – no more walking – they RAN – back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they had seen. They had seen Jesus and he is alive!
Let me take you back to the story I told you about the art exhibition called Holy Ground and share a few stories from the people whose shoes are on display: first, there’s Rosemarie from Germany who survived Nazi Germany. Her father, a Christian, helped Jews escape until the Nazis forced him to kill himself in 1938. Rosemarie then survived the brutality of the Russians after the war, and then years later, God led her to work in the former Soviet Union to speak about God’s forgiveness. Do you see him? Jesus – he is alive!
Then there is John Musa Puma from Nigeria who rebelled against his family as a teenager—following a native religion instead of the family’s Christianity, stealing, drinking, and even killing. Then through an evangelist meeting, John became a Christian, quit his rebellious life, and responded to the need for an evangelist in the rural parts of Kenya. Now John has planted a church in the neighboring country of Niger in a mainly Muslim area. Do you see him? Jesus – he is alive!
There is also Kanta from India who used to work as a prostitute for 20 years. Now she’s a health worker helping prostitutes protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. She cares for these prostitutes when most of society treats them harshly, the hospitals not even having the time to care for them. She also has many chances to share God’s love with these women and girls who know very little love in their lives. Do you see him? Jesus – he is alive!
Just like each of these people I have had these types of moments and to share them with you, I brought a few show-and-tell examples. Maybe they will help you remember when you caught a glimpse of Jesus.
These are the shoes of my brother who was murdered fourteen years ago. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I saw Jesus in the faces and the prayers and the simple acts of kindness of the people who walked alongside us in our grief.
These are the shoes my children each wore as we had them Christened when they were infants. Now each of them is walking with Christ in his or her own way.
These are the shoes I got married in. To say that Christ has walked alongside us through the years through the friends and loved ones we have known is an understatement of truth.
And these, these are my baby shoes. How can I doubt his faithfulness on my journey of life with all the blessings that have been given to me?
And these, these are the shoes I’m wearing today as I struggle to continue to walk with Christ by my side.
We each have our own Emmaus – the place where we go to get away form our hurts, our disappointments, our pain. But, when we meet Christ in that place, we have to rest – stop what we are doing – and ask ourselves – do we continue to focus on our hopes, our dreams? or do we get up and RUN to tell others – He is alive! Jesus is alive!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen