Introduction: People of God, in this gospel lesson we see the end of history breaking in in the middle of history in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our nearest Kinsman. Amen.
Sermon: On this third Sunday of Easter, we are confronted and challenged by a strange conversation. The context of this conversation is the empty tomb. The women have come to apply spices to the body of Jesus. The Jewish Sabbath prohibited them from doing this, so they came on the first day. Notice right from the beginning that there is a movement. The Jewish world is passing away, and the new world is emerging. In Luke, the women are perplexed. As they are wondering what may have happened to the body of our Lord, the Bible tells us that two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. This is not the first time the angels appear. They appeared to bring glad tidings of the birth of our Lord and they appear again to bring glad tidings of the new birth of our Lord from the dead.
This uncertainty is not uncommon for those early disciples. On Good Friday we gathered as a people to sing and hear of the crucifixion, and though the lights were dimmed and we were silent as we left, we knew that Easter was coming. But the early disciples did not know Easter was coming this soon. One thing we often overlook is that the Jews believed in the Resurrection. According to the Jews, when the resurrection happened, Israel would be fully restored. They believed that their ancient fathers in Israel would fellowship with one another. They believed that “Abraham would sit with Nehemiah at a table, a happy Jeremiah would be chatting with Noah in another corner of the room, while David and Ehud would be laughing over war stories.” What was shocking to these women is that the resurrection happened in a way they never imagined. They were perplexed because what has just happened changed everything. It changed their view of the world and certainly their view of the end of the world.
“It never occurred to them that what was supposed to happen at the last moment of history happened to one man in the middle of history…”
Jesus is being raised ahead of time; the end of history is breaking into the middle of history, which means that the women and the early disciples have to re-work their view of things.
The resurrection happens in two stages: first the head, and then the body; that is to say, first the God-man, and then the God-people. First Messiah, and then redeemed Mankind. This is our hope: that we will be raised at the end of the history, and our hope is firmly rooted in the resurrection of Jesus.
For us, Biblical, Orthodox Christians, we need to be cautious in how we express our understanding of the resurrection. It is the central pillar of our faith, and explaining it requires a bit of precision. We believe in a bodily resurrection. The greatest response to liberalism, pietism, Gnosticism, existentialism, and every other dangerous “isms” that exists today in the world is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Jesus is transformed, for sure; He has a body that is equally at home in heaven and on earth. But He has a body, and it is, in an important way, the same body that died on the cross (v. 40).”
Jesus is not some ghostly presence at the right of the Father; He is the bodily ascended Lord. Jesus is our resurrection model. For us, this means that any image we may have of eternal life that entails a ghostly appearance is wrong, and we need to immediately rid ourselves of this conception. Our eternal life is a glorified, but bodily life. We will eat, we will play, we will worship, and we will feast for all eternity. The reason we know this is because of Jesus’ resurrected body.
In fact, St. Luke draws our attention to an encounter with two people on the road to Emmaus. One is Cleopas, and the other unnamed; most probably, this was Mary, his wife. Jesus appears to them in his resurrected body in cognito. He was unrecognized by the two. It appears that they were fleeing Jerusalem. Typically, when a messiah figure was killed, in order to avoid an uprising, the disciples of the messiah figure were persecuted, and sometimes killed. Cleopas and his wife are probably fleeing from the place where their Messiah was crucified. They are despondent; overcome with sadness over the death of their Master. Jesus comes along and asks what they are talking about. These two are saddened and perhaps weeping as they walk to Emmaus, and Jesus interrupts their sadness. The resurrection is God’s interruption of the world’s sadness.
Cleopas turns to Jesus and asks him this question: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” This is a rather fascinating question because Jesus is the only one who knows what happened. Cleopas goes on to give a detailed account of who Jesus was and how the tomb was empty. At this point in our narrative the disciples are still uncertain about the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
“In response to their puzzlement, Jesus leads a Bible study, explaining the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures (vv. 26-27). This incident dramatically illustrates how important the Old Testament is for Christians, and how important it is to understand the Old Testament typologically.”
He told them that everything from Moses to the Prophets speak of Him. The Bible is a rich book that cannot be exhausted. Pastors and theologians and parishioners will continue to find new and fresh ways of applying the text of the Bible for the next thousand years. The Bible is a Christo-centered book. Jesus is present in the creation of the world, in the crushing of Sisera’s head, in the fire of Pentecost, and in the ultimate destruction of the devil. We are not merely New Testament Christians; we are whole Bible Christians, because everything from beginning to end breathes the glory of the resurrected Christ.
And after hearing Jesus’ Bible Study, they invite him to stay with them. When the table is set, Jesus takes over. He is no longer a guest, but the host. He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. In Luke’s gospel there are a lot of meals mentioned. But this is the eighth meal on the eighth day. How does the Bible speak of the eighth day? The eighth day is the new beginning; the sign of the New Creation. Luke is very deliberative about this. The Spirit does not waste his breath in the Bible. This is the first meal in the New Creation. This meal sounds very familiar. The language is drawn from the Last Supper to show us that this is a Eucharistic meal. What happens at this meal? It says that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and He disappeared from their sight.
How is Jesus known to His disciples? How does He reveal Himself? The answer is: When the Scriptures are taught and the Meal is celebrated. If you only have the Word every Sunday, then this service becomes a form of intellectual exercise. We become an army of note-takers. But we know that the liturgy is not meant to be an intellectual exercise or a classroom; at the same time, if you only have the Lord’s Supper without the Word of God preached, and then bread and wine degenerate into some kind of magic. This is why we need both word and sacrament. One cannot live without the other. “When the Scriptures are taught and the Bread is broken, then Jesus can be known.”
They suddenly realized that something was different about this man. His teaching and His breaking of bread was what they needed to be awakened from their doubts. The result of this knowing wasn’t a passive knowing; rather the resurrection caused them to return to Jerusalem. They left Jerusalem in fear and sadness, but after hearing the Word and breaking bread they return to Jerusalem “with a renewed sense of mission and courage and joy.”
How shall we then live?
We must enter into the story. Luke is showing us that this is our story. Never allow the Bible to become only the story of the prophets and disciples; the Bible is our story. The disciples after the resurrection are beginning to see their place in the story. Jesus finds their place in the story, and He calls them to situate themselves in this on-going story.
“Evil cannot triumph in God’s world; God’s grace and life will always get the last word. The greatest injustice that human authorities have inflicted on anyone; if God can overcome the worst act of injustice, then every lesser form of darkness can be overcome as well. Jesus always gets the last word in our lives. Cancer will not have the last word; a heart attack will not have the last word; a tyrant throwing Christians to lions will not have the last word.”
There is also a strong community life being built in this lesson. The disciples go back to Jerusalem and encourage one another in the truth of the resurrection. There is something joyful about doing things together in a community. Eating and drinking together at home and especially at the Lord’s Table has a way of increasing your joy and courage to serve the risen Christ.
If there is one element of our congregational life that we excel in, that is hospitality. We are a hospitable people. Let us continue to be even more hospitable. Let us show the world how the gospel changed us. Let us show the world that we belong to one another. Let us proclaim by our abundant hospitality that Christ is king of our dinner tables, and we will use it to show love to one another in this body and beyond.
Finally, let me make a liturgical observation. We have spent forty days in Lent. We re-lived in a way the life of our Lord from His wilderness testing to His crucifixion. We remembered His suffering, and in some ways we considered the depths of our sins, and how much we are called to repent of our sins before a Holy God. Those 40 days led us to Easter Sunday. What a pity it would be if those 40 days were to end in one Easter Sunday. This is why historically the Church has celebrated Easter for 40 days. We are in the third Sunday of Easter. This means that we have a whole season dedicated to growing in our joy for the resurrected Christ. To use the words of N.T. Wright:
…Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit.
Parents, this is a time for you to cultivate a deep joy in your children’s hearts for the resurrection. Let them know that they are not just coming to Church on Sunday; they are coming to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection is a surprising event passed along by surprising witnesses. We too are those witnesses. Let us declare and live this day with great joy!
In the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Peter Leithart.
 Rich Lusk, Sermon on Luke 24.
 Peter Leithart.
 Drawing some of this from Rich Lusk.
 Peter Leithart. Blog.
 Judges 4:22.
 To use Jeff Meyers’ language in The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship.
 Peter Leithart.
 Taken from Lusk’s sermon.
 Rich Lusk.
 Wright. Quoted in Lusk Easter Sermon notes.