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Did not our hearts burn within us?

Tom Innes observes the radical 'about turns' in the disciples' lives as the truth of the resurrection dawns on the road to Emmaus.

Tom Innes   |  24 Apr 2017

Sunday 30 April 2017: Easter 3 The Road to Emmaus

Theme

God reversing expectations

Opening eyes to see Jesus’ truth;

Knowing Christ in the breaking of bread

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Sentence

Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).

   

Collect of the Day

Jesus, help us to hear and believe in your truth;

Lead us to recognise you as you break bread,

Set the flame of love to burn within us;

And use us to light your world

through you, in unity with

God and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

   

Readings

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Acts 2 describes the Spirit coming upon the believers following Jesus' ascension. Peter addresses the gathered Jews (“devout” Jews, from “every nation” v. 5) and describes the Spirit’s outpouring that fulfills what the prophet Joel foretold. Peter’s witness outlines Jesus' life, death and resurrection and his exultation to the right hand of God (vv. 17-35).

Acts 2:36-41 describes the people’s response. Those who hear Peter’s message are “cut to the heart,” and recognise that what he proclaims demands an urgent and radical response from them (v. 37). Peter urges them to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name, assuring them their sins will be forgiven and that they will receive the Holy Spirit (v. 38).

Peter frames forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit as God's promise “for you, for your children and for all who are far away” (v. 39). That is, for all people, everywhere at all times, anyone who is called. The response to this message is overwhelming: many welcome the message and are baptized, and around 3000 people are added to the number of believers (v. 41).

A sense of urgency runs through this passage. Peter testifies, argues and exhorts the people, saying: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (v. 40).

Peter's passionate rhetoric compels his hearers to be baptised in Jesus’ name, receive the Spirit and accept the promise, to place themselves apart from this “corrupt generation.”

Baptism in Jesus’s name clearly marks and defines the community of believers as distinct from those outside. It signals a radical commitment to Jesus: as the one raised by God and empowered by the Spirit of God – as foretold by the prophets.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Psalm 116 opens by stressing that God hears and delivers. Verses 1-4 paint a moving picture of God's willing and active attentiveness to those who cry out in distress. The verse omitted from the reading (vv. 5-11) shows that God not only listens, but also delivers. 

The second part of the reading (vv. 12-19) demonstrates the psalmist's heartfelt gratitude for deliverance.

“I will” is a recurring refrain throughout these verses, but that “I” also stands in the community of faith. So in v. 14:

  “I will pay my vows to the Lord,

  in the presence of all his people

These words are repeated in v. 18, with v. 19 adding:

  “in the courts of the house of the Lord,

  in your midst, O Jerusalem.

  Praise the Lord.”

Here, it is clear that God's people celebrate deliverance within the worshipping community. This reminds us that what God has done for us, we cannot clutch to ourselves. God’s saving grace demands and inspires a response expressed among the faithful. This reminds Christians that our response and gratitude to God for raising Jesus from the dead requires our corporate expression.

This psalm is often read on Maundy Thursday, when its images of death refer to Jesus' suffering and death, while the deliverance verses name our future hope.

1 Peter 1:17-23

This passage offers a stirring call to live in the light of what God has done for us in Christ.

As in the psalm, that life is lived, and freely given, in relationship with others.

As in the Acts reading, we see radical commitment to a new and different life. The writer describes this new life as a “time of exile” (v. 17), resonating with the Emmaus journey theme.

 New life comes through the “ransom” of Christ's blood (v. 18), by which we are “born anew” (v. 23). Jesus is  the “lamb without fault or blemish” (v. 19), the one whom God has raised and to whom God has given glory (v. 21).

In verse 20, the writer describes Jesus in cosmic terms as “destined before the foundation of the world” and “revealed at the end of the ages.” He is, finally, the “living and enduring word of God” through whom we are born anew (v. 23). If v. 23 does not intend Jesus himself as the “living and enduring word of God” then the reference is to God's word, the word that Jesus fulfills.

Luke 24:13-35

In Luke’s gospel everything gets turned around and stood on its head: the lowly are lifted (1:52), the poor are blessed (6:20); the rich have woes heaped upon them (6:24), those who laugh weep (6:25); prodigals are restored (15:24); sinful women are forgiven, even as Pharisees are chided (7:44-50); children are placed at the centre (17:16) and family is redefined (8:21); centurions show faith unseen in Israel (7:9); and tax and collectors and sinners are sought and saved (5:32; 19:10).

Lukan scholars describe this as “reversal.” The raising of Jesus from the dead is the ultimate example of Lukan reversal (24:7).

Luke’s use of reversal is visible in the disciples’ journey to Emmaus (24:13-35). Jesus meets the disciples on the road, talks with them; and says he is going on. The disciples invite him in, but it is Jesus who takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread.  While Jesus first appears as a stranger, he later turns that around and becomes the host.

Jesus draws near to the disciples as they are walking, listening as they discuss the preceding days. He asks them what is going on.  They reply, “don’t you know?”  He says “tell me,” then listens to their anguish as they describe how he was crucified.  

Jesus hears their disappointed hopes (“we had hoped he would be the one that would deliver Israel”) and their confusion over the women who had gone to the tomb and seen angels, even when the other disciples had gone and found nothing.

Jesus chides them for their slowness. “How foolish you are, how slow to believe all that the prophets said” then patiently interprets the Scriptures for them. Reversal again. Jesus appears to be ignorant of current events, yet becomes the interpreter of Scripture and history.

Once again a turnabout: the disciples were on the road heading away  from Jerusalem. They had no expectation that they would meet Jesus, so when he appears their eyes are kept from recognising him (v. 16).  Only in the breaking of bread do they open their eyes (v. 31). They see Jesus and recognise him for who he truly is. Like the character of Gandalf the Grey in the Lord of the Rings, Jesus appears on the road unlooked for and unrecognised.  He becomes the one that opens eyes and gives true sight.

It looks as though the disciples were disbanding after Jesus' crucifixion. The Emmaus pair were heading out on their own, walking and talking until late, when they meet this stranger. They are so shocked by his ignorance (“are you the only stranger in Jerusalem?!”) that he stops them in their tracks (v. 17). 

Although the disciples’ lives are about to be turned around forever, they continue down that same road, engrossed in conversation as the unassuming stranger unfolds the Scriptures to them. 

Only when they ask him in, and they share the bread, are their eyes are opened—and then he vanishes (v. 31).  Then, like Samson’s foxes— that were sent into the fields in pairs with their tails alight (Judges 15:4-5)— the two disciples leap to life and head  back to Jerusalem that same night, to rejoin the other disciples and tell of their news (v. 33, 35). 

Their revelation comes in the breaking of bread, when they realise their hearts have been burning – and now they see him (vv. 31-32) which sends them back to Jerusalem – a physical turn about – as Christ’s witnesses (v. 33). Another reversal comes true: those who began their journey confused, sad and blinded, by its end have become believers and witnesses.

The disciples had hoped for glory without suffering (v. 21), but the nexr reversal comes when they learn that glory comes through suffering (v. 26). The disciples had high hopes for Jesus as the one who would restore Israel (v. 21). The women’s report of the angels that claimed Jesus was alive had left them astonished (v. 23). Not until Jesus unfolded the Scriptures to the disciples himself, could they see that the Messiah had to suffer and then  enter into his glory (vv. 25-27).  The road to glory is the road of suffering.  It is the road to the cross.  The cup has to be taken, and the wine drained, to the last (22:20, 42). 

Jesus is the one who walks with us on the road. He is revealed to us as we break bread together in his company. As he opens the Scriptures to us, do not our hearts burn within us! 

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