Singing goes with Easter. How many Easter hymns end with talk of singing the Lord's praises? There's a 1991 song titled "The Walk" about how a father has taken the walk his son is walking now. We'll you've walked in the shoes of the Emmaus disciples, and there's not a whole lot to sing about till Jesus joins the chorus.
"Stupid Boy" is a 2006 song about the singer being a stupid boy for letting the girl get away. Our text has more than one stupid boy or it may have a husband and wife couple. In any event, only one boy is mentioned and he is stupid. That's too harsh. He's "kind of dumb and kind smart" as Honey is described. Cleopas has got all the facts. He identifies Jesus as a' prophet, but not as the' prophet Moses said was coming. He knows about Jesus' death, angels at the empty tomb, and the message that Christ is risen. But he doesn't say, "He is risen indeed!"
No, Cleopas and friend, can't say that, and more than just their faces were downcast. Their hopes are dashed, and they are going home to Emmaus. The Jesus' movement is over. But don't think they were stupidly caught up in a Zionist movement to restore Israel's rule in the world. They weren't caught up in some health and wealth theology where following Jesus is the path to both. And contrary to another song they weren't hooked on a feeling. They weren't addicted to Jesus and happy clappy wasn't their drug. No, they specifically say, "We had hoped that Jesus was the One to redeem Israel."
They had genuine, Old Testament Church, Messianic hope. They looked for the promised Redeemer. "Redemption" is the key to this walk, this Gospel, and to Easter revelations and song. But right now they can't see or sing. They are blinded by the fact that everything had gone wrong in their mind. The Church had handed Jesus over, and the State had crucified Him as a common criminal. These things had so blinded them that they couldn't see the resurrected Jesus right before their eyes.
Are we any different? In case you're keeping score, Jesus isn't ahead in this world. We don't look or feel redeemed from Sin or Devil, and we're all dying. People today run away from the crucified Christ just as fast as they did in their day. It's rush hour traffic on the road to Emmaus away from the Church. As of 2012, 20% of the US identifies themselves as "nones", i.e. they have no church affiliation. Among those under 30 it's 33% (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/). So, excuse me if I'm looking downcast. I feel like a stupid boy for believing all that I did about Jesus. But the real problem with the Emmaus disciples and I is we really don't believe all that Scripture says about Him but parts.
"Ring of Fire" is a 1963 song, and falling into it was a first century reality for the Emmaus disciples, and may it be for us 21st century ones. It starts with that little Greek word "necessary." After Jesus confronts us with our foolishness and slowness of heart to believe all that Scripture has spoken of Him, He said, "Did not the Christ have to suffer and enter His glory." Have to is translating the Greek word necessary'. The suffering was as necessary as the glory. Indeed, His suffering was necessary to pay for your glory, and because you have His glory in eternity, it is necessary that you suffer in time. But none of your suffering pays for your glory. No, Jesus picked up the bill for that.
At the end of the walk, the Emmaus couple is singing, "I fell into a burning ring of fire." That's what they said. "Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" You know what "feel the burn" means in exercising. Well, no amount of your doing or believing will lead you to "feel the burn" as the Emmaus couple did. No, that happens through Jesus' opening the Scriptures.
Notice how general but all-encompassing the Holy Spirit is here: "And beginning with Moses and the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." Go to the usual places. He's the Seed of the Woman promised in Eden that Isaiah says would be born of a virgin. He was born at Bethlehem as Micah predicted and as Isaiah predicted He was with the wicked in dying but buried with the rich. I could go on and on because "all" takes time, but I think the part of all' that got to Cleopas and friend was what precisely addressed their dashed hopes that Jesus was the one who would redeem them.
I think Jesus goes to Exodus 34:20. "You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey, and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons." Luke is the only one to record the event where this was to take place. Remember, how they presented Jesus in the Temple after 40 days? Remember Simeon was there? Mary doesn't redeem her firstborn Son. That means He is devoted to destruction. That's why Simeon breaks out in the familiar song of the Nunc Dimittis singing that he can depart in peace because he seen the Lord's salvation. He goes on to tell Mary what that means for her. Not only will Jesus be pierced but her very soul will be. Aged Anna in the temple also gets what this means. It says of her, "At that every moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Jesus to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."
Our text has the Greek word "to redeem." Anna uses the noun "redemption" that comes from our Greek word. Luke alone among the Gospels uses both the noun and verb that refer to redeeming. He uses the verb only in our text and the noun in the accounts about Jesus birth. The first time he uses the noun redemption' it's with another aged person, Zacharias. When he finally believes that his wife has given birth to the forerunner of the Lord, He begins sinning about redemption. You know his song and you'll sing it next Advent and Lent: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He has visited and redeemed His people."
Here's the point. The only people to fall into the ring of fire of redemption are aged Anna and Zacharias who probably had poor eyesight, and the Emmaus couple who had their blind eyes opened through the opening of Scriptures. And this resulted in them getting two tickets to paradise at the end of the walk. "Two Tickets to Paradise" is a 1977 song about a guy wanting his girl to go away with them. Jesus really wants all to go away with Him to Paradise, but He forces no one.
Even in our text, Jesus doesn't force Himself on Cleopas and friend. He doesn't "act as if He were going father" as some preacher hoping he can finagle an invitation to supper if he lingers at the door. No, "He made to journey further." He was walking on and would have gone had not they forced Him to stay. The word translated by "urged Him strongly" is literally "to force, to constrain, to press." Compulsion is to be on your part, not on God's part. He doesn't lead sheep by a rope or drive them by force. He freely gives tickets to paradise but He doesn't force anyone to take them. He rejoices in songs of alleluia but He doesn't make anyone sing.
Remember their hearts are burning within them, yet all they see is what Scripture has said about the Christ. His suffering was necessary to redeem sinners. He was left unredeemed to suffer and die with a world of sins on His back, all your guilt in His belly, and all your shame on His soul, to redeem you from all Sins, from a sinners' Death, and from the Devil's rule.
No sooner have they booked passage with two tickets to paradise, then they see Jesus, and poof, He disappears. This is the mark of every Post-Easter appearances. He is there and then He is gone. They don't see Him coming and they don't see Him going. That is, until He leads them through Jerusalem and bodily ascends to heaven before their eyes. The point being they couldn't hang on to the resurrected, glorified Jesus the way they had been able to hang on to the humiliated, suffering Jesus. In Jesus' State of Humiliation, when He didn't fully use His divine powers as a Man, they could walk with Him, talk with Him, and hear Him saying "You are my own." But not anymore. They only way to hang on to Jesus is by the Words He left us and the Sacraments He commanded us to use.
Our Confessions say, "We do not seriously object if someone take these passages as referring to the Sacrament" (AP, XXII, 7). The passages being referred to are this one and today's first lesson which says the Church was "continually devoted to the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers." I can see the passage in Acts 2 referring to Communion, but I don't see it in our text. He disappears before the Cup is given. They tell the other disciples "how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread." This tells you at what time. It is not telling you by what means He was made known to them. Jesus' actions here most clearly parallel the words Luke uses in the Feeding of the 5,000. They'd seen Someone take bread, give thanks, break it, and give it before. Then it all comes together, and their long walk turns into a song that they can't wait to sing.
They've got their 2 tickets to Paradise and where do they immediately go? To Church. They go back to where the apostles are; that very night. Their disappointment, their disbelief, their dashed hopes had led them to walk away from the Church. The opening of the Scriptures by Jesus led to burning hearts, faith, hope again of redemption and back to Church. The resurrected Jesus is found for sinners today not in the privacy of their thoughts, not in their pious inner feelings, but in the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments administered as Christ instituted them. These 2 things are the marks of the Church. These two things are how you can recognize where the Holy Christian Church that is invisible is present for you.
What could drive you, propel you, empower you to walk 7 additional miles in the pitch dark singing while you do so? What made them forego sleep, recreation, and me-time to go to Church? Jesus opening the Scriptures for them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday of Easter (20170430); Luke 24: 13-35