Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 15, 2007
DUSK: ON THE ROAD TO BELIEVING
Text: Luke 24:13-35
We have in our five New Testament witnesses to the Resurrection –
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul - - a wondrous variety of
resurrection appearances: Jesus appearing to the women on their way
to tell the disciples (Matthew); Jesus as a gardener to Mary
Magdalene, and as a fisherman and cook (John 21); Jesus in the
blazing sky on the road to Damascus. So variously does the risen
Christ come into our lives.
Luke's most unique contribution to the Easter stories is his
painterly depiction of Jesus' appearance on the road to Damascus. I
call it "Easter at Dusk: On the Road to Believing."
It is late afternoon on the Sunday of Easter. Two of Jesus'
followers were trudging along the road to Emmaus, a village seven
miles from Jerusalem. One is named Cleopas. This could be the "Clopas"
and his wife Mary mentioned in John 19:25. They were discussing the
sad and strange events of the last three days. A stranger suddenly
joins them. Luke says it was Jesus who drew near them and walked
with them. This is grace: We work so hard to draw near Jesus; here
he draws near us.
But the text says "their eyes were kept from recognizing him."
Here is a curious but important detail in almost all the
resurrection stories: The mix of recognition and non-recognition.
More than physical seeing is needed; we need the eyes of the heart
to be opened.
The strangers asked, "What are you discussing?" They replied in
richest irony: "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not
know the things that have happened these days?" He is, of course,
the only one who does know what happened. Jesus said, leading
them on, "What things?"
And they told him of Jesus' death, and of the rumors about the
women who saw the empty tomb and heard the angels' announcement.
Then Jesus chided them - - it seems a bit harsh to me, as Luke
tells it: "O foolish ones, slow of heart to believe all that the
prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should
suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"
"Was it not necessary?" cannot mean for me a divine
predestination that required Jesus' death, that God needed Jesus
killed for our sins in order for us to be forgiven. To be as
transparent as I can be, the words about Jesus as "the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world" move me to the core of my
being. I cannot understand how this works, I deeply believe it. It
is important to my faith that Jesus' death and resurrection are
forgiveness of sin and are the victory over the power of sin. It is
impossible for me to believe God "needed" the death of Jesus. I do
believe God used the death of his beloved son for the redemption of
the world. Jesus helped them see the connections:
And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to
them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke
24:27). This is how we read scripture: With Jesus beside us, reading
over our shoulder, pointing to this and that saying: Look here; this
We cannot know fully what happened along this road. Scripture is
not a videocamera. I cannot go as far as Dominic Crossan, who has
said: "Emmaus never happened; Emmaus always happens." That, as the
expression goes, is too clever by a half.
What I can say is: Something like Emmaus happened (Luke is
telling this story fifty years or so later); and something like
Emmaus has been happening ever since.
This is what happened next. As they drew the village Jesus
appeared to be going on further. They constrained him: "Stay with
us. It's toward evening." They still had not recognized him, but
they did not want to lose him. I can understand that. And Jesus went
in to stay with them.
Then they provided hospitality to this stranger. Remember the
words from Hebrews? "Do not neglect to show hospitality to
strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares"
(Hebrews 13:2). We might even entertain Christ!
Then at table that evening Jesus - - listen for the verbs - -
took bread and blessed it and broke it, and
gave it to them. Taking, blessing, breaking, giving: This is how
Jesus always did it, how he did it at the Last Supper.
And at that moment, in the breaking of the bread, they recognized
who he was. The eyes of their hearts were opened. And at that moment
of recognition he suddenly vanished from their sight.
Here is the mystery of the Easter appearances: He is suddenly
here, he is suddenly gone. The divine presence present then absent,
but present still by its traces of light, warmth and love. It's how
Samuel Terrien describes the experience of Divine: "the elusive
Then the two said to one another, "Did not our hearts burn within
us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the
Here we ponder the importance of memory in the experience
of God. It is memory that allows the whole of who we are to be open
to the divine: Mind, heart, spirit, the conscious and the
unconscious, left brain and right brain, waking life and dream life.
Memory lets all be more fully involved in what has happened and what
continues to happen.
Then that very evening the two went to share with the eleven what
had happened and how Jesus "had been made known to them in the
breaking of the bread."
The road to Emmaus is the road to believing. Easter at dusk.
Easter faith does not happen the same for all. For some it happens
in the brilliant morning light. For others in the warm shadows of
early evening. For some it happens in an instant. For others it
happens over time, as with our two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Emmaus tells us that Easter faith happens as two or three are
gathered in Christ's name. That was Jesus' promise: "Where two or
three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them."
Easter faith happens as we open scripture together and talk
together, and suddenly Christ joins us in our conversation.
Easter faith happens as we break bread together, and remember
together and dream together.
We are embarking this week as a church on what we call "Holy
Conversations." It feels like an Emmaus-like thing to me. "Holy
Conversations" are structured conversations which lead us to share
with one another what is most important in our lives. Questions like
the ones we've been asking as we've read Luke together: Who am I?
What is God calling me to do, to be? And who is my neighbor?
The deacon leadership has crafted five questions, about our life
together in Christ here, about ministry and spirituality and
calling. We want you to come and carry on holy conversation around
these questions. The first time is this afternoon at 5 p.m., then
two times this Wednesday: 5 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.
I hope you will come. I pray that these times will be
Emmaus-like: Holy conversation with one another, and with the risen
one at our side.
The Emmaus story is for some of you your favorite resurrection
story. Perhaps it's because faith here dawns slowly. Perhaps it's
because faith happens in a home, amid pots and pans and around a
This week a painting and a poem about a painting have drawn me
deeper into Emmaus. The poet is Denise Levertov and the painting is
by the Spanish artist Velazquez; both poem and painting are based on
Emmaus. I offer them to you as you travel toward that village and
journey toward believing.
Let's look at the painting first. Let your eyes rest on it. For
many years until 1933 the painting showed only the servant girl at
the kitchen table. The outer edges were blackened. We thought it
just a domestic scene. Then when the painting was cleaned the
figures at the left top corner appeared. This is Emmaus-like, isn't
You see the main figure, an African servant girl. In Velazquez's
Spain the black, Islamic Moors were an under class. Velazquez made
her the center, the hero. She is handling the rich, gleaming serving
vessels. Her left hand is holding a porcelain wine pitcher. She is
about to glance, or has been glancing, over her right shoulder into
the next room where three figures sit at table. In your print you
can see only two, but in a larger, clearer print you can see the
hand of the third figure reaching toward Jesus in the middle.
If you look at the beautiful young woman's face you can see her
eyes. They seem to know something. She is about to turn toward the
three at the table again. Is she about to serve the wine?
Now the poem. Levertov enters Emmaus through the servant girl's
She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his – the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face– ?
The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning,
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching the winejug she's to
a young Black servant intently listening,
swings round and sees
the light around him.
She swings round, as Mary Magdalene swung around and saw the
risen Jesus in the garden (John 20:14).
Yes, he is the one who had spoken love and healed the sick, who
had befriended the outcasts and been executed on a Roman gallows. He
is here. He is with us again. We see the light around him.
It is a light that feels like a light within. Our hearts are
Emmaus is the road to believing for us where doubt and faith live
together. Denise Levertov, who wrestled herself with doubt and
faith, wrote two poems about Thomas the doubter. Here is what Thomas
says in one when Christ agrees to let him touch his wounds:
...what I felt was not |
scalding pain, shame for my
but light, light streaming
into me, over me.1
This is what the servant girl sees, feels. This is what happens
at Emmaus, when Emmaus happens to us, on the road to believing.
1As cited in a brilliant essay by Cristina Giorcelli, "The
Servant-Girl at Emmaus (After a Painting by Velazquez: Denise
Lavertov's Religious Ekphrasis,") Printemps, 2002, p. 96. The poem
is "St. Thomas Didymus" in A Door In the Hive.