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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 04/22/2012

If someone relatively new to Christianity came to me and said they wanted to read a gospel, not all four but just one, and they wondered which one they should read, I would recommend Luke.  All four of the gospels are worthwhile obviously, and each of them has features that make them unique and worth reading, but in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of many, Luke is the best storyteller.  That’s why I would suggest that Luke is a good place to start. 

The assumption is that Luke takes the basic outline of Mark, the first gospel to be written, along with other versions of some of the stories about Jesus that were being told and he then imaginatively retells them in ways that will make people remember them.  Keep in mind that this is still predominantly an oral culture.  For most people they wouldn’t read these stories, they would hear them read and knowing that, a good storyteller will craft stories in ways that will help people remember them when they hear them. 

That’s what Luke does.  I’m not saying the other gospel writers don’t do it too; they do; but Luke does it better.  There’s lots of theology and religious truth in there too; Luke isn’t just telling stories; but he doesn’t beat you over the head with the theology and religious truth.  He comes at it more indirectly such that you then have to participate in interpreting what he’s written.  In that respect you could say that he continues where Jesus left off, because Jesus did the same thing.

I think Luke is at his best in his Christmas and Easter stories and the story of the Road to Emmaus is one of his Easter classics.  Today we get the aftermath of the story but, as a good storyteller will do, in the aftermath Luke repeats the same pattern of events that he set up in the first part of the story as a way to drive home the point he wants to make. 

What happens in the first part is two people who had witnessed the events of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem were on the road, walking home when suddenly a stranger was walking with them, a stranger who of course is the Risen Christ.  He plays dumb with them at first asking about what had happened back in Jerusalem and they tell him.  Finally though, as they arrive home in Emmaus, Jesus reveals himself to them and based on passages from the Old Testament, he explains what happened.  He also breaks bread and eats with them in a manner that sounds very similar to the Last Supper, Holy Communion meal he had shared with his disciples a few nights before.  At that point the light goes on for the two and as it does, Jesus disappears from their midst.  Then, despite the late hour they go back to Jerusalem to find the other disciples and tell them what they have experienced.

One commentary I looked at summarized this with five “e” words.  There’s an encounter with Jesus, followed by explanation, followed by eating, followed by enlightenment and finally an exit.  Encounter, explanation, eating, enlightenment, exit.  That’s the pattern and Luke repeats this pattern in the aftermath which is today’s reading.

After the two walkers on the road tell the disciples what happened to them and as the disciples were talking about it, Jesus shows up, so there is an encounter.  Then, first with the act of showing them his hands and feet and second by discussing scripture with them, there is explanation.  In between he asks them for something to eat and they give him a piece of fish.  In this part of the story the enlightenment piece isn’t as specifically clear as it is in the first part, but it is implied, the disciples do seem to be getting it.  There are also a couple of exits.  Jesus own exit doesn’t happen until the verses that follow this passage tell of his Ascension into heaven, but there is also an anticipated exit on the part of the disciples who are sent out as witnesses to these things.  So it’s still pretty much the same pattern: encounter, explanation, eating, enlightenment, exit.

This whole chapter that concludes with the Ascension is a wonderful example of Luke’s storytelling.  As I said though, there are also other things going on; it’s more than just a good story.  What Luke sets up here is a pattern for worship that persists into our time and that is where we can enter the story.

When we come to church, we come for an encounter with the Risen Christ; that’s the starting point, that’s why we gather.  When we come we don’t come as perfect, faithful believers.  We’re really not a whole lot different from the people we hear about in these stories.  We have our own doubts and confusions and fears just as they did.  We don’t pretend to understand it all, we wonder what it all means, maybe we wonder if it means anything. 

What we hope though, is that through word and sacrament we encounter the Risen Christ.  We believe that the words of scripture that are read are the word of God so that in these texts we encounter Christ.  But, like the two on the road and the disciples gathered back in Jerusalem, we need explanation, the second “e” word.  That’s what this is.  Some weeks it goes better than others but I think it’s interesting that built into these stories is the idea that explanation and interpretation are needed.  The meaning of biblical texts isn’t always easy and obvious.  There certainly are many Bible stories that can stand alone as wonderful stories, but to get to understanding, explanation is necessary.

In the stories we’ve looked at today and in just about all the resurrection appearance stories, the physical nature of the Risen Christ and the visibility of his wounds is emphasized.  It can be a confusing emphasis because it seems to conflict with Jesus’ ability to walk through walls and locked doors as well as his ability to vanish quickly, things which happen in many of the stories.  The resurrection stories do emphasize though, that Jesus is not just a spirit or a ghost; he’s physically present and what that does is to take us back to Christmas and God becoming flesh in Jesus.  God became human in order to fully identify with us in order to save us and to transform us.  What these stories tell us is that even in resurrection, Jesus is still fully human, still identifying with us, still wounded for us, so that our wounds can be healed.

That brings us to the third “e,” eating.  Our regular pattern of worship includes eating as we celebrate Holy Communion.  In this eating we physically encounter the Risen Christ, made available to us in the bread and the wine.  The sacrament is further evidence of God’s commitment to humanity, to us, to the Incarnation.  Those who first encountered the Risen Christ encountered him as more than a spirit being.  In the eating (and the drinking) of Holy Communion we do the same thing.  Jesus comes to us in these physical elements.  Incarnation is still at work. 

From the encounter, the explanation and the eating, we hope for enlightenment.  In the resurrection accounts, those who encounter Jesus have that moment.  It’s a moment that may involve intellectual assent at some level, but it seems to be more of a feeling.  “Were not our hearts burning within us?” the two travelers on the road to Emmaus say.  It’s a moment when the truth and the hope of the resurrection are real.  Jesus is alive and life looks different; that’s enlightenment.  Experience tells us that this feeling comes and goes, often surprising us, but we come to have faith in the fact that if we continue this pattern of encounter, explanation, and eating, we’ll have those moments of enlightenment.

Finally there’s exit, the final “e.”  In many of the resurrection stories, exit is about the rather abrupt departure of the Risen Christ.  For us, the exit is about us.  It’s about being sent out as witnesses of the resurrection.  In part that has to do with doing the work Jesus calls us to, proclaiming his message, loving one another as he has loved us, loving and serving the neighbor, caring for the poor, striving for peace in all it’s forms.

All of that is important, it’s an important part of our witness; but I would suggest that in the context of the resurrection, our exit has to do with attitude as much as action.  It has to do with living as if the good news of the resurrection were true.  I fear that we don’t always do that, maybe I should say I fear that I don’t always do that.  We proclaim that “He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed,” but then we live as if there were no hope, we live as if God isn’t capable of working newness in the world and in our lives.  We live as if Friday was the end and Jesus was still in the tomb.

When those moments of enlightenment define us we are Easter people, resurrection people and our attitude reflects it.  It’s not a naïve “don’t worry, be happy” kind of thing.  It’s an attitude change, a spiritual change so that as we make our exit from here to go out into the world, we are truly enlightened by an encounter with the Risen Christ, who is at work always guiding us and surprising us with new life and new possibilities.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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