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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 05/08/2011

For Cleopas it was time to go home.  There wasn’t much reason to stay in Jerusalem.  He had left his hometown of Emmaus several weeks earlier with a friend of his when they heard that Jesus was nearby.  Jesus had been creating quite a stir and the opportunity to see him was too good to pass up.  Cleopas didn’t think it would amount to any more than that; just a quick road trip and back home to Emmaus.  As it turned out though they wound up captivated by Jesus and became part of the entourage traveling with him as he drew closer to Jerusalem.  Like most Jews, they had pretty much given up on the idea of the Messiah appearing in their lifetime, they just didn’t think about it very much.  But on encountering Jesus they started to think, they started to hope that maybe it was happening; maybe he was the real deal.  How quickly though had that bubble been burst.

After a triumphal entry into Jerusalem things had gone south pretty fast.  Cleopas saw what happened.  He watched Jesus die.  What had been such hope was now despair and sadness, futility…and anger.  It was hard to pinpoint exactly who or what he was angry at…the world, the Romans, the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the other disciples, Jesus himself.  Cleopas wrestled with all that but it seemed like it was time to get out of there and go home.  Emmaus wasn’t far, only about seven miles but it would be safer there than in Jerusalem.  Better not to risk what might happen next there.

So he and his companion walked and talked about nothing, about everything, reviewing in their minds what had happened, questioning all the “what ifs.”  It helped to talk.  It was an emotional release if nothing else.  It helped to ease the sorrow, but Cleopas had trouble letting go of his anger, even if he couldn’t pinpoint the source.

They walked and talked, not really present to what was going on around them so it took awhile to notice that a stranger had joined them…on the same road, going in the same direction.  When the stranger saw that they noticed him, he asked, “What are you talking about?”  He asked innocently but for Cleopas and his companion it was the wrong question as they looked at him incredulously and Cleopas said, “Where have you been?  Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know about what’s gone on there over the past few days?”  And with equal innocence the stranger responded, “What things?” 

As Cleopas began to recount “the things” about Jesus’ mighty words and deeds, about his arrest and crucifixion, about how some of the women, flaky women he thought, had claimed that angels told them that Jesus was alive, as he talked about the hope they had that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would free Israel from the Romans, as he talked about all that, the source of his anger became clearer to him.  He was angry at Jesus for leaving them alone.  It didn’t have to happen the way it did, that’s what Cleopas couldn’t let go of.  Didn’t Jesus care enough about all of them to defend himself, to fight for his life?  He didn’t have to die like that!  Cleopas knew that life would go on, but it wouldn’t be the same; the hope and meaning that had been so strong were gone.  Now all he could think about was being alone, without Jesus, and it made him angry.

His anger got worse when the stranger called him a fool.  “How foolish you are and slow to believe all the prophets have declared;” not exactly what you want to hear from someone you don’t even know.  As the stranger continued talking though, Cleopas found that his anger was dissipating and being replaced by something else, but he wasn’t sure just what it was.  This strange man was explaining scripture to them.  Much of it was familiar, texts from Moses and the prophets.  What was different was the connections this stranger made, connections having to do with the long awaited Messiah, connections having to do with suffering and death.

As evening began to settle they arrived in Emmaus, the end of the journey for Cleopas.  The stranger indicated that he would be continuing on, but Cleopas said, “Why don’t you stay here with us tonight?  It’s evening, the day is nearly over.  Let us prepare a meal for you.”  The stranger agreed to stay, but his behavior, which had been a bit unusual all along, continued to be unusual.

After their walk they were all hungry so they stopped at the home of one of Cleopas’ neighbors and borrowed a few things, bread and some other staples for a couple of meals.  Arriving at Cleopas’ home they sat down at the table and that’s when things got more unusual.  Rather than behave as the guest he was, the stranger assumed the role of host.  He took the loaf of bread, blessed it, broke it and gave each of them a piece.  As he did so, it all suddenly became clear to Cleopas and his companion.  They knew who this stranger was!  But as quickly as they recognized him, before they could say anything, he was gone!  They were alone again.

Cleopas knew that it would take awhile to process all this.  But he also knew that the anger that had disappeared as the stranger talked to them was gone and it wasn’t coming back.  The sense of being alone was gone.  In a sense they were alone, but he knew that they were alone together with their Lord.  Jesus was alive!  The women, the flaky women who had reported on the vision of angels were right!  Jesus was alive, may not in the same way that he had been, but he was alive, maybe in a better way. 

It would take time to process all this but the first thing they did was head back to Jerusalem, even at that late hour, even though it might be dangerous.  This was such good news that it couldn’t wait till morning.  When they arrived though, there was already great excitement.  Before they could say anything others were saying, “The Lord has risen and he has appeared to Simon.”  That took a little wind out of their sails but they got it back when everyone was just as excited to hear their story.  It all contributed to the reality that Jesus was alive, he really was!

Cleopas’ life did return to some semblance of normalcy after all that.  He continued to try and sort out all that had happened but what was important was that his sense of hope concerning Jesus was alive and strong.  Jesus would change the world, maybe not in the way they first though, but he would change the world. 

Cleopas didn’t pretend to have it all figured out.  There were things he wondered about but it helped to have other like minded, hopeful people to meet and talk with.  One big question Cleopas kept coming back to though, was why did Jesus appear to him?  He wasn’t part of the inner sanctum.  He thought of himself as a disciple, but he wasn’t a disciple like Peter and John and Andrew and the others.  Was there some special meaning in the encounter on the road to Emmaus?

In his mind, Cleopas kept coming back to the fact that Jesus’ presence had been made known to him in three ways.  He and his companion weren’t aware of it at first, but they had first felt Jesus’ presence with them as he explained words of scripture.  Then, while it hadn’t been their intention, their simple act of hospitality, inviting the stranger to stay that night had caused Jesus presence to continue to be with them.  Finally, in the breaking of the bread, the blinders had come off and they realized that it was Jesus himself who had joined them on the road to Emmaus.

The reason Cleopas kept coming back to this insight about Jesus’ presence, the reason that he continued to have hope was because it kept happening.  When he and others gathered to read and discuss scripture, that sensation he had felt on the road came back.  As they gathered, they always shared the meal of bread and wine that Jesus had introduced in the last week of his life and Cleopas could feel Jesus’ presence with them as they did so.  When they heeded Jesus’ call to serve others, Cleopas saw him in those they served.  And it wasn’t just him.  Others shared his experience.  Jesus was alive and was continually being made known to them in the word, in the meal and in service to others.

Strange as it seemed, it made Cleopas think that maybe Jesus’ unlikely appearance to him was the most important appearance of all because it was to him that Jesus showed how he would be made known to people forever.

Jesus has not left us alone.  He continues to make his presence known as we gather around the word, as we gather for Holy Communion, as we answer the call to serve and extend hospitality.  He has not left us alone.  Jesus is alive.  The Lord is risen indeed, and as he appeared to Cleopas, he appears to all of us.

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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