Sermon: “Hidden Messiah, Visible Messiah”

April 30, 2017: Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:13-35

Ah, Easter. In colder climates, it’s the season when spring takes hold, when leaves re-adorn the trees, and when the first flowers bloom. Here, we’re seeing the avocado fruits start to grow, and various fresh fruits are on their way.

For the editors of the lectionary, it’s the season to tell embarrassing stories about the disciples. Granted, they’re working from the gospels, whose writers seemed to really enjoy telling embarrassing stories about the disciples, but we get some really good ones for the Easter season: Doubting Thomas last week, and this week, the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

As I mentioned in my reflection during the Easter sunrise service, people seemed to have a lot of trouble recognizing the risen Jesus on that first Easter Sunday. Cleopas and his companion – some commentators suggest that his unnamed companion is a woman, perhaps his wife – get the grand prize for “Longest Time Spent with the Risen Jesus Without Realizing Who He Was.”

That’s more embarrassing that what Thomas did. I have to give this pair credit for going back to Jerusalem and telling other people what had happened. In my mind, it went something like this:

“That was Jesus.”

“Yes. That was Jesus.”

“So he’s really resurrected?”

“Apparently so.”

“Just like Mary Magdalene, and Mary, and Joanna said.”

“Just like they said.”




“And how far did we just walk with him?”

“About six miles or so.”

“And we didn’t recognize him until just a moment ago.”

“That’s right. We didn’t.”


“Do you want to go back to Jerusalem and tell this story to all our friends?”

“No. Do you?”

“Not for a moment.”


“We have to, though, don’t we?”

“Yes, we do. Let’s get going.”

“They’re going to hold this over our heads for two thousand years aren’t they?”

“Could be. But if you’re lucky, Cleopas, they won’t remember your name.”

There were plenty of good reasons not to recognize Jesus, starting with the reality that he had died. Even for his closest friends, or especially for his closest friends, that had to have shattered their world. Jesus was the healer, the prophet, the Messiah. Messiah’s aren’t supposed to be executed by the very empire they’re supposed to overthrow.

They were sad. Heartbroken. Probably fearful. They were tired. By the time the reached the place where they were staying, they were hungry.

And Jesus saw to it that they were fed.

It started during the walking journey itself. They probably didn’t know it, but they were hungry for a listening ear, someone with whom they could share their grief and sadness and anger. Jesus asked them about it. “What are you discussing with one another?” and when they were vague, he persisted with, “What things?” He gave them the chance to say aloud what they had hoped.

As Karoline Lewis writes, “That’s what Jesus does, you see. What Jesus wants us to know today. Not just that he will show up, but that he will show up and give us the opportunity to speak the truth of our pain; help us make sense of it all, or at least some of it; help us get to a place where we can see beyond just what’s happened; help us move from ‘we had hoped’ to ‘the Lord is risen indeed.’”

There on the road, he also addressed their hunger for understanding, which was deep and desperate. What had happened to Jesus did not make sense. The Messiah was supposed to liberate the nation from oppression, not be executed by the oppressors. People did not read the ancient Hebrew scriptures to see the Messiah as a sacrifice.

It’s a mark of how successfully Jesus explained this new idea to these two disciples that we simply assume that teaching, healing, betrayal, sacrifice, death, and resurrection are how Messiahship is supposed to go. But the first to hear that way of reading the Scriptures were these two disciples.

Then, at table, he helped them satisfy their simple hunger for bread. That is a fundamental, powerful hunger. Hungry people don’t think as well. They forget things. They can’t work as hard or with the same care.

Me, I get cranky. It took years for me to recognize that if I’m stalking about the house like a grumpy bear, it’s time to eat something.

Jesus fed their hunger.

And Jesus fed their spirits. He blessed the bread.

Four hungers. Jesus fed them all.

He fed the hunger they felt to express their sorrow. He fed the hunger of their minds. He fed the hunger of their bodies. He fed the hunger of their spirits.

And that is how they could recognize the risen Jesus. Because he fed them body, mind, heart, and soul.

That is how people will recognize the risen Christ today: if we feed them.

If we feed them.

Mahatma Gandhi was not a Christian, but he spoke truth Jesus would recognize when he said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

That why we write our letters and collect our donations for Bread for the World today. The President’s budget proposal from March reduces the discretionary budget for the Agriculture by 21%. SNAP, or food stamps, isn’t affected (it’s in a different part of the budget), but International Food for Education, Water and Wastewater Loans and Grants, and the Women, Infants, and Children nutritional supplements are. And, as everyone noticed, federal support for Meals on Wheels and before and after school meal programs are vulnerable.

Last August, I read this same quote from Stephen Colbert, and it’s relevant again: “Because if this is gonna be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition – and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

If the world is going to experience Jesus, they need bread for the body, from us.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, then people need the bread of compassion and understanding. There are times when this is the hardest thing in the world to offer. I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve wanted to say, “Take this bread or money or whatever you need and don’t tell me why you’re unhappy again when it hasn’t changed since the last time you told me.”

Sometimes I’ve said it. That’s not good.

Sometimes I’ve repented it. Not often enough.

Other times, I’ve offered that listening ear, hoping – believing – that Jesus was listening, too.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, they need a compassionate listener.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, they need to be fed on knowledge. They need to learn what they do not know. The leaders of this nation need to understand climate science, and they need to understand that short-term wealth comes with massive long-term consequences. That’s why people were marching yesterday. Others need a different knowledge: they’ve been told too long, and too often, by too many people, that they are worthless and hopeless. They need to learn that they are loved.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, they need to be fed on the knowledge of the love of God.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, they need to be fed on blessing.

The world needs to be fed on our prayers, and on our determination that when people meet us, their lives will become better, brighter, lighter, freer, more joyful, than it had been before. The world needs to be welcomed into an embrace that its people can recognize as the powerful love of God.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, it needs to be blessed, and it needs us to bless it.

If the world is going to experience Jesus, it needs to experience us: providing bread, listening to distress, teaching of love, and blessing.

Always, always, blessing.

Go feed the hungry.


The image is Emmausikone von Sr. Marie-Paul, Jerusalem für St. Adalbert, Aachen, by RvdWeyer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, The German words translate to “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road.”

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on April 30, 2017

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