Series: “Who Do You Say that I Am?”
Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
April 9, 2023 – Easter Sunday
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to the hands of sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The line that’s always jumped out at me in this passage is,
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road!”
I take it to mean that their hearts were beating so fast that they thought their hearts might jump out of their chests. Their hearts were not just open, they were alive, fully alive!
Can you think of times in your life when you felt fully alive?
- Maybe it was skiing a double-diamond trail?
- or sitting on the beach and seeing dolphins swimming by?
- standing on top of a mountain with a spectacular view after a particularly hard climb – the satisfaction, the accomplishment, the reward of view just screamed aliveness – “I am alive today!”
- or maybe it was singing along with your favorite band at a concert?
- Or maybe it was saying your wedding vows, or hearing the minister say, “I now pronounce you husband & wife.”
- the birth of a child and holding that child for the first time is an incredible moment of aliveness.
- or maybe it was simply the kindness of a friend, and you said to yourself, “Life is good. It’s really good.”
All these moments are gifts from our Creator, gifts from the God of Love.
Irenaeus was a 2nd C. bishop in France. He once wrote: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” True Christianity should make us more alive, not less. True Christianity should make us more ourselves, our true selves, not less of ourselves. Sometimes people view religion, and especially Christianity, has constraining – holding us back, repressing our uniqueness, our true humanity. But healthy religion, healthy Christianity, should help us do just the opposite – it should make us more of who we’re truly meant to be, more who God made us to be! Think about how invigorating the walk to Emmaus was for those two disciples – “Did not our hearts burn within us!”
What made their hearts burn within them was the presence of Christ – even though they didn’t know it was him. It makes the point that God is with us even when we don’t believe that God is – even when we can’t feel God’s Spirit. Fortunately for us, God is bigger than our feelings. God isn’t limited by our awareness of or lack of awareness of God.
Illustration. There’s a story about a Native American tribe that had coming of age rituals for young braves. It included spending several nights out in the wilderness alone. You can imagine all the sounds that a young boy would hear out there – coyotes howling, bison grazing nearby, other wild animals passing close by. What the young brave doesn’t know is that his father is also nearby ready to fend off any attacks. The boy isn’t alone in the wilderness – and neither are we. Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s Gospel are the last word on the subject, when he said, “Lo, I am with you always.”
He didn’t say, “Lo, I am with you when you feel me, when you sense I’m near.”
No, “Lo, I am with you always.”
That’s what those two disciples experienced – Christ was walking with them, even when they didn’t know it. The earliest Christians had a strong sense that the Resurrected Christ was with them, even after he ascended to Heaven. But it wasn’t just the fact that he was raised from the dead that energized them and gave birth to Christianity.
The Resurrection was indeed the greatest miracle of all!
– it confirmed his identity as the Son of God, as the divine Savior.
– and, death, the ultimate enemy had been defeated.
– God, light and love had the last word!
But that wasn’t the true power of the Early Church! It was the fact that they continued to experience his resurrected presence, his power, his love.
The Resurrection wasn’t a one-day event. It wasn’t like his ultimate, final moment of glory before he retired from earth – like Ted Williams hitting a mammoth home run in the last at-bat of his career. The Resurrection was ongoing – they continued to experience his Presence, even after he returned to Heaven. Their hearts continued to “burn within them!”
Marcus Borg – “This is the uniform testimony of the early Christian movement; for them, Jesus was not simply a physical figure of the past, but a spiritual reality in the present.”
John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, put it this way: “The early Christian church was not a memorial society with its eyes fastened on a departed master; it was a dynamic community created around a living and present Lord.”
The Conversion of the Apostle Paul is an example of this. It occurred approximately three years after the events of Holy Week and Easter. Jesus ascended to Heaven 40 days after Easter. Paul is converted 3 years later, but he describes it as a post-resurrection appearance. Listen to this from I Cor. 15:
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures . . . he was buried and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures . . . he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
If you know the story of Paul’s conversion, you know that Jesus didn’t physically appear to him. There was a blinding light from Heaven and then Jesus says to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” But Paul considered this a post-resurrection appearance, on par with Jesus’ appearances to his disciples on Easter Sunday.
What’s my point?
Easter wasn’t just a one-day deal!
The Early Church continued to experience his Resurrected Presence, as Christians have ever since!
Illustration. Let me illustrate it this way. If you’re my age or older, you probably learned to write cursive the way I did. We were given writing books and worksheets. At the top of the page were examples of the most beautiful writing one could ever imagine. And below were lines for us to practice, as we tried to duplicate the perfect writing above. The between our letters and the perfect standard was immense, especially when we were first learning.
Even when we tried to trace over the perfect letters it came out all wrong. But if we were lucky and had a great teacher, that teacher would stop by our desk and gently guide our hand over the pattern, showing us how it’s done and getting us much closer to the pattern, to the perfect example.
That’s what Jesus does. He’s not simply the perfect example of how to live – He is ever present to help us, to guide us, to lead us.
William Barclay says, “Jesus is not simply a model for life; he is a living presence to help us live.”
And sometimes when that Living Presence draws near and our hearts burn within us.
This is the last in a series of sermons on the identity of Jesus Christ – who he was and is and who he is for us.
We talked about Jesus as Friend.
- He doesn’t call us his servants or creatures. He calls us his friends.
We talked about Jesus the Teacher – how creatively he spoke so that his teachings were remembered.
We talked about Jesus as our Lord – our ultimate Leader, and how we’re called to bring his lordship, his kingdom of love, justice, equality, and compassion to earth.
We talked about Jesus as Savior, the one who brings salvation and wholeness.
Today is Jesus as the Presence of God with us.
The earliest Christians used all the titles we spoke about, but what really made a difference in their lives and in their world, was Jesus’ ongoing Resurrected Presence with them. And that has made the difference ever since.
The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!