3rd Sunday Easter
S. Easter 3.23 “Desert Island Disk” Luke 24:13-35
You’ve maybe played the game where you imagine you’re on a sinking ship, and there’s a deserted island a few thousand meters away (thank God you’ve kept up with Master’s swimming—hope your shipmates have, too!) and you can fit only one book in your waterproof pack, with a few other essentials, as you escape. Which one will you take?
This is not a hard game for me to play. Mostly, because the bible is the only physical book I ever take on trips, anymore. The rest is on my Kindle (I’m a little ashamed to admit). And I’d take that too, but in week or two, it’ll die. Now, I would read my other favorite books—Lewis, Luther, Kerouac, Murakami, Tartt, Holmer, before my Kindle dies—I must admit. I’d try to memorize the good parts. But yeah, the Bible’s my one “must-have!” book.
But let’s make it tougher: let’s say the only waterproof thing you have in your cabin on the sinking ship is a sandwich bag which will only fit a few pages torn out of your bible. Which section do you rip out of the bible to sustain you for weeks, months, or, possibly, years on your desert island?
My old friend, the Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just Jr., longtime professor at our Ft. Wayne Seminary and beloved teacher by all our Ft. Wayne vicars (most?) makes this an easy question. You’d rip out the last two chapters of Luke, 23-24 because you’ve got the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, and best of all—you’ve got the Road to Emmaus story, our text, today, which is all you really need to know in holy writ.
We who know and love Art like to imitate and make gentle fun of him: his deep, baritone radio voice, always so soothing, his usual “Ah, Ah, Kevin” gentle greeting. The way he always touches your elbow when he talks to you (Art was a genuine hippie, proved by the time in the tobacco store when the proprietor asks if he wants his usual tobacco blend for his pipe and Art goes, “Oh, I haven’t smoked tobacco in a very long time…” 😉
But his love for the Emmaus story is what makes Art Art. If you could only take one professor with you to your desert island, hands down, it would be Art Just. He’s great company, witty, kind, smart, and an excellent golfer to boot.
And I think, all kidding aside, that he’s not wrong about Emmaus. It’s got everything; most of all how you recognize Jesus, and how he abides with you on all your journeys—teaching, feeding, saving—especially on that most arduous journey, the final one, into death and Hades. And if you have Jesus with you always, especially on the desert island of death, well; you really don’t even need the bible anymore, do you?
And are there two easier characters to imagine yourself as than Cleopas and his anonymous friend? I think not. I’m always the anonymous friend, because Cleopas is Cleopas—probably one of the first 70 pastors Jesus sent out; they’ve journeyed, supped with, and been taught by Jesus probably most of the 3 years of his public ministry.
And so when we catch up with them, they’re getting out of Jerusalem on Easter Sunday because they are desolated. Their Friend, King, Teacher, Master has been crucified and buried. He’s… gone; and they are sad. Feeling lost, alone, abandoned. Like being on a desert island without even your favorite story.
And Jesus himself draws near and went with them. But their eyes are kept from recognizing him. How? Why? How can people who have been close to Jesus literally for years not recognize him? This is the first, and for me, one of the most delightful mysteries of the Gospel. And it’s not just Cleopas and I who struggle to recognize him. Most of the disciples don’t recognize the risen Lord. Mary Magdaldene doesn’t recognize him. But not because he’s all shiny and glorious as on the Transfiguration Mount. She thinks he’s a gardener not a god. Weird, right? It’s only when he speaks her name, she recognizes him…
Peter doesn’t recognize him on the shore, while he’s fishing. And even on the mountain in Galilee some of the 11 don’t recognize him. They wonder who this guy really is, after all. C.S. Lewis writes that these are the details that have the ring of truth about their oddities. If you were making up a story (and Lewis was a professor of literature, an expert in made-up stories and spinner of a tale or two, himself) he notes you wouldn’t put in details like the eyewitnesses having trouble recognizing him if you want people to believe this is the same Jesus who was crucified and miraculously raised from the dead!
So, when you find something troubling, puzzling like that, maybe it’s the ring of truth, the embarrassing, awkward, difficult, can’t really nail it down truth—as the Truth so often is.
Thomas recognizes him by the nail and spear wounds. But, weirdly: the scars from the whips and the crown of thorns are gone. Jesus retains these wounds in his resurrection body as identifying marks because: he looks different.
I’d say it’s because the resurrection body is new, heavenly. Same, but different.
Jesus asks why they look sad and they tell Jesus the story of his suffering, crucifixion, death and burial 😉 But he jumps in and goes: “You think that wasn’t all prophesied of the Christ?” And beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
And that is key for our faith. We often think if we just saw the Risen Christ with the nail holes, in the flesh, we would believe. But as the Lord told Thomas, seeing is not believing. Hearing the Word with faith is believing.
See; reading the scriptures on our own won’t do it. Cleopas and I went to Lutheran School. We read the bible and know it well. But, without Someone showing it’s all about Jesus, every word, every page, it’s a dark and mysterious and closed book. The Lord himself must interpret the Story to us, how his suffering, dying, and rising is the whole thing, something we must get in on to get it at all.
And here’s the best part: as they get to Emmaus, Jesus acts like he’s going farther, but they beg him “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” And at Table, breaking the bread, their eyes are opened and they recognize him, and, at the moment of recognition, he vanishes from their sight.
And it’s always like that, on our journeys—which will end on some desert island, someday, after a wreck. Because it is toward evening and the day is far spent…
In the Lord’s Supper we see Jesus and we recognize him as Lord and God and Savior. Eating his body, drinking his blood, we become one body with him and know that as his lowly body was glorified, changed, by death and resurrection, so our lowly bodies will similarly be transformed.
But it is only communing with him, becoming one body with him, having his blood coursing through our veins that the change happens—that faith happens, that Jesus happens to us.
Here is the desert island that is not deserted—the Lord’s Table. Where, at the evening of the world’s end, Jesus comes to you, as you walk along and are sad and burdened and weary and confused, and he feeds you the very bread of heaven, the medicine of immortality.
And we say with our friend Cleopas “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” They did. They do. They shall. In a good way. In the Name of Jesus our LORD; who is risen… indeed. Alleluia. Amen.