Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
Today is the third Sunday of Easter, so we’ll begin by reviewing some of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. He revealed himself to Mary Magdalene and to other women on Easter morning at the empty tomb. This mornings’ gospel is part of a description of his meeting with two disciples on the road to a suburb of Jerusalem at mid-day. He later appeared to Peter and in the evening he met with ten of his disciples, when he showed them his hands and his feet and ate some broiled fish with them so they’d know he’d come back to life with a real body. How quickly events developed – all in one day. That’s the way sometimes. The Internet caught on rapidly, as did the automobile and the movies at the start of the last century. How quickly big cities were built after industry replaced agriculture as the most important source of wealth in North America and Europe.
Jesus’ resurrection was more important than any of that. The good news began to spread as soon as he rose from the grave and people have been talking about the Risen Lord ever since. It must be that every minute of every day somebody somewhere in the world is telling someone else about Jesus’ return to life. Gossip about the gospel will go on into eternity.
Our text from Luke brings us back to the beginning. We may wonder why he made himself known to these two disciples.
First, he wanted them to be sure that the resurrection actually took place. Besides that, he taught them from the Scriptures that God had planned it a long time before. It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment desperate decision.
Faith in the resurrection is very important for every Christian. When John wrote about walking in the light, he meant a clear understanding in our heads and a strong trust in our hearts that Jesus rose from the dead with a transformed human body. We will also rise again. Some folks have different thoughts about the end of earthly life – that everything finishes at the grave or that we are born over and over till we get things right or that the soul rises to new life but not the body – and so on. The resurrected Jesus showed his two disciples what will happen: our souls and our bodies will rise together on the last day. Because we believe in Jesus’ victory over death, we are walking in the light.
At the same time, John used the word “light” to refer to what is good. There is no evil in Jesus at all. All power is his; he knows everything; he exists everywhere at the same time. He is with us when we go about our tasks. He guards us when we lie down and when we rise up. He rejoices with us when we are happy. He comforts us in moments of sadness. He is present with us this morning at St. Peter’s. He never fails to bring about what is good. He is wise, merciful, and compassionate, as we will experience face to face in the life to come we cannot see now. Again, we are walking in the light because we trust what the Bible tells us about Jesus and His resurrection.
A life of faith is never easy. Our minds can close in on us so that it seems that earthly cares are much stronger than the promises of God. The Risen Lord who breathed faith into the confused and unbelieving disciples also builds faith in us. The joy of his physical presence was not the main thing. What really convinced them was that he proved to them that his resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.
He meant such prophecies as the promise of a Savior that the Heavenly Father made to Adam and Eve, the prophecy of Moses that a greater than he would come, the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the Psalms that describe the Messiah’s life and ministry. After listening to him, his disciples agreed that Jesus had been at the center of God’s plan from the beginning. He took part in the creation of the universe. He guided the Israelites from slavery to freedom; he sent them King David and the prophets and the people who wrote the wisdom books. Now he rose from the grave and claimed his disciples for the kingdom of light.
Jesus’ light shines for each of us – in our baptisms, our confirmations, our worship, and our everyday lives. He blesses our prayers, our families, our service to him, and our passing from this life to the next. The light that shines in the Bible and the sacraments and that will never go out creates trust in him. Jesus gives us the same proofs he gave the disciples in Emmaus because he wants us to keep on believing, not only that he rose to new life, but also that he calls us his brothers and sisters and claims us for immortality, too.
Now, another reason Jesus appeared to the two disciples is that he wanted to bring them into a new community – a fellowship first with him and then with other believers. “Our fellowship is with the Father and the Son,” John wrote. Everyone needs the blessings of community life that we receive from our families and our neighbors, our work and recreation, but we all need fellowship with God more than we need our earthly communities. The curious thing is that by nature we humans don’t look for him. Our instinct is to run in the other direction. He must take the initiative and come looking for us, as he looked for the disciples on the road, so that he will be able to give us what we need – knowledge of him and of ourselves. We are sinners, for whom He died. He casts our sins thousands of miles away, where not even he can see them again. “I declare you to be sinless for my Son’s sake,” our Heavenly Father says to us. “We welcome you into our fellowship.”
It’s human nature to claim that we’re not sinners or that sin is a minor matter that we can mostly ignore. John called this way of thinking deception, the same as calling God a liar. If we claim we have no sin, we are solitary, and God’s word is not alive in our hearts. When we admit that we’ve fallen, though, we’re walking in the light. We take hold of God’s pardon in faith and he declares that we’re righteous in his sight – just the way he wants us to be. When we confess in the deep places of our souls that we need him, he welcomes us into fellowship with him. He lifts us up and gives us a higher status than we could earn on our own.
Jesus is the friend of us sinners. He looks for fellowship with the broken-hearted and the contrite with the intention of giving us joy and new life. An uneasy conscience is a terrible burden for anyone to carry. Some folks relive bad moments over and over in their minds. Self-criticism is good, but it’s not God’s will that we aim never-ending arrows of judgment at ourselves. Jesus breaks through layers of inner noise with the comfort of his friendship. He calls us to be his companions in his everlasting kingdom.
As a result, we act toward our neighbors as Jesus acts toward us. We pardon offenses. We offer love and troubled friends and family members and give them our shoulders to lean on. We remind them of Jesus and the fellowship of the kingdom.
So we find a third reason that Jesus looked for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He brought them together with other believers and sent them out as witnesses to him. He wants to give everyone in the world a chance to repent – to think again – and to receive forgiveness in his name. He intends the gospel of salvation through faith in him to be common knowledge in every country. He stirs us up to serve the gospel in our families and other communities we belong to.
What’s the greatest thing a person can be? Rich? Powerful? A wise man I once read said that the greatest thing anyone can be is a witness, a spokesperson for his or her faith. We offer a witness to Jesus in different ways, at different times – by inviting someone to church, by sharing favorite parts of the Bible, be setting an example of steady perseverance in a crisis when others are losing their heads, and in many other ways. There are times when Jesus and the gospel shine through us when we aren’t even aware of it.
So, to sum up – Because Jesus claims us as his brothers and sisters, we are permanently changed and also protected from everlasting harm. We want to be comfortable, with a chance to enjoy a few of the good things of life that Jesus is pleased to bless us with, but the desire for earthly things does not overwhelm us. We also want truth and light and fellowship. We trust that our Savior will bless us with knowledge and vibrant faith so that we give a witness to his bountiful goodness.
Jesus gives us a steady hope that the hard parts of life cannot crush us. Even if we’re passing through a low spell with lots of troubles bearing down on us, we know they won’t break us because Jesus is carrying them for us, so we set good examples of endurance. Our witness is often most eloquent when God puts us to the test. Each day brings its trial. The strength of Jesus shines through us every day.
Like our Lord, we do not give up. If some of our neighbors reject God’s Word, others will come our way for us to share it with. We are like the travelers on the road to Emmaus. It may be we need to be reawakened to Jesus’ presence in our lives and his promises and the importance of making our witness. So we ask him to revive us and send us away from worship with plenty of spirit to offer our testimony to the faith he has given us. In his name we pray. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN