Text: Luke 24:13-35
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Truly good authors and storytellers know exactly how to hold back one key piece of information, only to reveal it at the right time so that everything falls into place. This is the mark of a master, being able to hand over the key to understanding everything they’ve been telling you so that now you can see the whole picture, every twist and turn, and how it all connects.
It’s no exception with our Lord, the author of life and faith. Since the beginning of creation, He’s been telling His people—us—about His work, what He’s done to bless and save us. We had a sample of that at the Easter Vigil, when we heard about the times God rescued His people throughout their history. We heard how it connects to our own rescue, how we’re made to share in that. And so it’s fitting that now, as our Easter season continues, we hear again about this salvation, this rescue. In fact, today, the Author of our faith hands over the key to understanding the entire history of God’s powerful work.
Our Gospel reading today starts out with a mystery. It’s one that we’ve heard before, especially in John’s gospel: it seems as if no one can recognize Jesus by sight after His resurrection. But here, in Luke’s gospel account of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, we’re given a little bit more to ponder. As the two were walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem, a seven-mile walk, a Stranger started walking with them. They began talking about the recent events—the tragedy of that Friday before, when Jesus had been handed over and crucified, the wild confusion of that very morning’s events when the tomb was discovered empty. But we read a curious line: “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Jesus was doing something here, something big, and He didn’t want to spoil it early by allowing them to see who He was. It would appear that our Triune God had a secret to keep, a mystery to reveal, but He wanted to pull back the curtain at exactly the right time.
So the three walked to Emmaus. Jesus explained that they had gotten it wrong—that they shouldn’t have abandoned hope when their possible-Messiah was handed over to suffer and die. That’s what God had been telling them would happen all along. So beginning with Moses, that is, the first five books of the Scriptures, beginning with Genesis, and moving through the words of the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things about this Messiah—how He would be betrayed, rejected, beaten, die, and rise again. And while their hearts burned within them at this masterful exposition, the reveal was yet to come.
It wasn’t until they reached Emmaus that the final key would be given to them. It was getting close to evening and it looked like this wise Stranger was going to keep walking, even though the two had reached their destination. So they asked Him to stay, urging Him to abide with them through the coming dark hours, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” Then, after settling in at the house, it was time to eat. So this Stranger took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them.
There was the reveal. This was the moment that Jesus had been waiting to give them the last piece of information, the vital key to understanding who He was and what He was doing. It was a recall back to that upper room where He had last done this, at the Last Supper, the night before He was betrayed when He told them that this was His body and His blood, given and shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins. And now, at this moment in Emmaus, at the breaking of the bread, the holy meal, their eyes were opened and they saw everything that He was doing for them, starting with Moses and the Prophets, all the way through history, up to that moment at the table.
The reason why Jesus waits until this moment to be recognized is because this is how He wants to be known from now on. He doesn’t want us relying solely on our physical eyes, which can be so easily tricked, which are drawn to glitter and glory and all the trappings of a fallen world. He wants us to know Him in His Sacraments. He wants us to know Him through the Scriptures, the words of Moses and the Prophets and the Apostles and the Evangelists. He wants to be known through the preaching of His forgiveness, as the crowds came to know Him in our Acts reading today when Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized”—there again, Jesus’ sacrament of Baptism—“every one of you.”
It seems like sometimes we, the children of this modernist era, have boiled everything down to facts and figures and data and information. In such a mindset, the Sacraments can all too easily turn into a nice add-on to our spiritual life. They’re a nice bonus, they make us feel good, they have meaning, or however people want to put it, but the really crucial thing, we think, is something else, some idea or concept or numbers or whatever. But we see here, in this small meal for three in Emmaus, that the Sacraments—the Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism—these are part of that whole fabric, the grand tapestry of what God has been doing to save people. They’re not just nice add-ons to the faith. They’re at the heart of understanding everything Jesus has said and done. Take, for instance, the little phrase that shows up right when Jesus breaks the bread in Emmaus in that familiar way: “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Now rewind all the way back to the Garden of Eden. What happened in the meal for three in that garden, at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? “Eve took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened.” There, in the Garden of Eden, eyes opened in an unholy meal. Here, in Emmaus, and in every Lord’s Supper since, eyes are opened in a holy supper. This Supper is a reversal of that first meal. Seeing what Jesus is doing—abiding with His followers, forgiving their sins, teaching them His Word—seeing what He’s doing here is the key to understanding it all, the final piece that unveils the work that God has been doing since the very beginning.
We come to know Jesus as He wants to be known, not by sight, not be what we see and weigh and count and measure. But now, after His death and resurrection, after His cry of “It is finished,” we know Him in the breaking of the bread, in the repentance and washing of Holy Baptism, in the words of Moses and the Prophets and all of Scripture. He wants to be known in these places because this is where He comes to forgive us. These are the places where He comes to us to share His life. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive Jesus Himself, body and blood, living, resurrected, eternal. And our eyes are opened here. We see past what our eyes tell us, what the world tells us, what the tempter tells us. We see our Lord for who He is in these places of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We see Him and He abides with us, through evening and night, even to the never-ending day of our own resurrection. In the name of Jesus, the Living One. Amen.