We will hear Luke’s account of Easter as we worship together Sunday. Luke 24 is an all-day account. It begins with the women going to the tomb at early dawn and ends after dinner back in the upper room. We will hear as the men of the disciple band consider the women’s story of an empty tomb and an angel message that “He is not here, he has risen” to be an idle tale. And we will watch and listen in as a disciple named Cleopas and his friend decide to leave Jerusalem, get out of town, return to a normal that will never be normal again. They are discouraged and speak of lost hope to a stranger they encounter along the way.
You may want to read Luke’s morning to evening account of that first Easter.
In fact, we don’t know why Cleopas and his friend leave Jerusalem and head to Emmaus seven miles away. But they are leaving the disciple band and they are discouraged and speak of lost hope. And they do encounter a stranger to whom they spill all their sorrow and grief. It turns out that the stranger is Jesus himself, at first unrecognized. Jesus opens the Scriptures of the Old Testament to them showing how all that had happened in the previous week was to have been anticipated. Hope was not lost. Jesus lives.
It is not until Cleopas and his friend arrive in Emmaus and Jesus joins them for supper that they recognize their living friend, their risen Lord. Jesus breaks the bread and as he does they see that it is Jesus. And then he is gone, vanished from their sight. Cleopas and his friend acknowledge to each other that their hearts had been burning within them as the stranger had unfolded the scriptures for them as they walked along earlier in the day. And then they turn, at that very hour – already late – and make their way back to Jerusalem and the disciples. They head straight for the upper room and hardly have they made it through the door, exhausted by their seven mile run, but that the eleven share the same good news. “The Lord is risen indeed!” they say.
A USA Today story earlier in the week reports that about 75% of all Americans identify themselves as Christians. Only a little over half of them even plan to attend worship on Sunday. Statistics show that many of those in the intending to attend group will never make it.
The angle of the news story is in the headline “Relationships are the new religion for many.” It tells of Christians for whom a good Sunday brunch with friends is a sufficient celebration of Easter (and Jews for whom a good bottle of wine shared with friends will suffice for Passover).
Cleopas and his friend could have uncorked another bottle of wine (it being too late for a champagne brunch) and talked all the more about the day. Or about whatever their equivalent of the Final Four may have been. Instead, they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
The burning hearts of the Emmaus disciples compel them to race back to Jerusalem at an inconvenient, even dangerous hour. They can do no other. They must be with those who need to know, those who had loved and were thinking they had lost. Hearts burning, they had a story to tell and a joy to share. They had to be with the others. Barely do they arrive in Jerusalem than they are greeted with a call to worship, “The Lord has risen indeed!”
Barely will you be seated in the Chapel or Sanctuary on Sunday but that you will be greeted with a call to worship. “The Lord is Risen!” we will announce, and all of us will shout back, “He is risen indeed!” And then in hymn and anthem, with bells and brass, we will tell the story and share our joy. Together.
Scattered after the crucifixion, the disciples keep coming back together, first just the eleven and then others like Cleopas and his friend. Paul tells us that over 500 will see the risen Lord in the days before the Ascension. And on the day of Pentecost 3,000 will be added to the number. And they keep coming back together. Burning heart people can do no other. People who have a relationship with the Risen Jesus count it first among all others.
The third day he rose again from the dead. The hearts of Christians burn when we hear the story.
Please, seriously, please change whatever Emmaus plans you have made for Sunday. Cancel brunch reservations or be sure to be in Chapel worship before brunch. Easter Egg hunts and ham dinners can wait. Yeah, they’ve scheduled a couple of Elite Eight games for Sunday. “He is risen indeed” is more important. Don’t settle in for the game; who knows, you may have to race back to Jerusalem.
Cleopas and his friend might have uncorked another bottle of wine and sat and talked – nothing wrong with a good relationship. But they would have been foolish to do so. They had a story to tell and a joy to share.
75% of all Americans say they are Christians, presumably affirming the belief that on the third day he rose again from the dead. Half of them have no plans to tell the story or share the joy. They’d rather talk about Duke’s chances at another title (personally, I’d love to see Oregon beat Louisville and then we’ll see what happens after that).
Burning heart people – I hope you are one of them – must be together this day more than all other days.
See you Sunday!