Download or listen to the Third Sunday of Easter: “Opened”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
These disciples are on their way home. They had gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, these disciples of Jesus, but now that He’s dead, they’re on their way home. Perhaps they felt as we feel to leave a cemetery. It doesn’t feel quite right to turn our backs on the grave, but there’s nothing left for us to do. So we turn around and go home. These disciples are on their way home, and they’re talking and discussing, maybe even arguing or disputing. They’re doing theology, I think. They’re talking about God, and what it means that one who called Himself the Son of God is now dead. What does it mean for God? What does it mean for His people? What does it mean for them? They’re doing their theology, when the Theology, the theou logos, the Word of God in flesh comes up and walks beside them. He is not a word about God, but the Word from God. He asks them, “What are you talking about as you walk along the way?” And they stop, filled with sorrow and grief. “Are you the only one passing through Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there these days?” And Jesus says, “What things?” And the disciples get all the facts correct: About Jesus of Nazareth, a man, a prophet, mighty in word and deed before both God and men. He was handed over by our leaders, and was crucified. We had hoped…we had hoped…that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel, just as God redeemed Israel from Egypt. But now it’s the third day—the day on which He promised He was going to rise from the dead—and He’s not here. Some women went to the tomb and they saw some angels who said He was alive, but they didn’t see Him. Then some other disciples went to the tomb and saw it empty, but they didn’t see Him either. And now the day is almost over, and where is Jesus? And Jesus, though they don’t know it’s Him, says, “How foolish! How slow, how sluggish, of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t you know it was necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses—with Genesis—and all the way through the Prophets, Jesus interpreted to them all the things in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
What a Bible study that must have been! To have Jesus Himself opening up the Scriptures and saying, all of this, it’s about Me. But why didn’t He just reveal Himself and say here I am; look at My hands and feet and side, as He would do later for Thomas and the other Apostles? Because if they didn’t believe Moses and the Prophets, they wouldn’t believe even the resurrected Jesus. Jesus told the story earlier in Luke’s Gospel: there was a rich man and a man named Lazarus. Lazarus trusted the promises about the Christ, and was at Abraham’s bosom. The rich man trusted only in his own wealth, and was in Hades. The rich man said to Abraham, “Send Lazarus to my father’s house, so that my brothers will not come to this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” “No,” said the rich man, “but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” And Abraham said, “If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, then they will not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead” (16:19-31). Even if someone were to rise from the dead. Because if you don’t believe the Scriptures—here, the Old Testament—then you do not really believe in Jesus; and if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will not believe the Scriptures. Because it is Jesus, the Word of God, who speaks when His prophets speak. It is Jesus who speaks when His apostles speak. It is Jesus who speaks when His called and ordained servants speak according to the prophets and apostles. He says to some Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life. But these are the ones that bear witness to Me. And yet you do not want to come to Me so that you might have life” (John 5). If the Scriptures do not testify of Jesus, then they are simply dead words, and they have no life in them. But if they speak of Jesus—if, as St. John says in the Revelation, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”—then they give life, because Jesus gives life. First, Jesus opens the Scriptures to them so that they see only Him; then He comes to their house, takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. Then they see only Him in the breaking of the bread. And now home has suddenly shifted. They still live in Emmaus, but now home is wherever Jesus is, and wherever His Body is. So they go back to Jerusalem at that hour. Because in Jerusalem is where Jesus is going to give His Holy Spirit. Beginning from Jerusalem, the Apostles will be witnesses of His Resurrection, and they will proclaim in His Name repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. Now His Apostles are witnesses as Moses and the Prophets are. Now His Apostles proclaim the same repentance as Moses and the Prophets, all for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins. They proclaim a Jesus who is not absent, though He is not seen in the flesh. Between the Apostles and us, no one has seen Jesus in the flesh, but we have all eaten His flesh. His absence is not an absence.
And that is exactly what He promised. While we are going on our way, acting as if this world were our home, doing our theology about what it all means, wondering where Jesus is; while we’re trying to take the Scriptures and make them fit our lives and interpreting all the things in all the Scriptures about ourselves, Jesus comes near to us. And do we recognize Him? Or do we say, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem our lives. We had hoped that He was the one who would make our lives worthwhile, and meaningful, and fill our lives with significance. We had hoped…”? When we leave behind the graves of our loved ones, how do we interpret that event? Jesus has come to interpret it for us by His death and His resurrection. He promises, “My Father will send the Holy Spirit in My Name, and He will teach you all things. He will bring to your remembrance everything I said to you” (John 14:26). He says to those Apostles, who were going to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them to keep everything Jesus said; to them and to the baptized believers, Jesus promises: “See—see—I am with you all the days until the completion of the age.” Not “I will be with you,” but I am with you. He is right here, opening up to us the Scriptures, pointing us to Himself, to His suffering, death, and resurrection, to His glory. He is opening our eyes and our minds to understand the Scriptures, that they are all about Him. He has opened your eyes. Many of you, like St. Timothy, have known from infancy the Holy Scriptures, from your mother and grandmother, as Timothy did from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. But not because the Scriptures, in themselves, give life. But because these are the Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, about whom they testify (2 Timothy 3:15). And because He speaks to you in these prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, your eyes have been opened to see Him in the breaking of the bread, as He gives you His Body and Blood. Now you can say, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation. You can let me go home at any time, Lord.” Here is where He is during all the days of your exile, your sojourn, in this age and this creation. Until we do finally see Him face to face; until we all leave behind our graves, and He brings us safely home, to where He is with His Father and the Holy Spirit.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/7/11