Disciples of Emmaus, you all know what it is like to get your hopes up, only to have them dashed. Whether it be at work, at home, or at school, in your friendships, in sports or politics, or in the plans that you have made for the future of your family.
Actually, in any and all of these areas of life, your hopes are either in the Lord Jesus Christ, or they are in the idols of this world. That is to say, whatever you rely upon, whatever you are counting on, and whatever you are living for, that is your god — and it will either be the one true God, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, or one of the pantheon of false god alternatives.
The irony is that your idols may appear to be working for a while, right up until the time when they can’t and won’t, when they are exposed for the empty and perishing posers they are. Whereas the Lord Jesus Christ, hidden under the Cross in this fallen world, appears to be helpless and hopeless and utterly useless — a huge disappointment — despite the promise He once showed.
But, now, what do you have to go on? And what are you going to do about it? You have heard the Word and promises of God, and now you know the rest of the story. So, what say you?
Knowing what you know, and having heard what you have heard, you should understand and believe that the Glory of the Christ comes by the way of His Cross and suffering. And that’s not just ancient history. It is also your story as a disciple of Christ Jesus. You also enter into the Glory of God in Christ — you share His Resurrection and His Life — by the way of His Cross and suffering. Has He not told you ahead of time that it must be so, and what the outcome will be?
This is not about wishful thinking or hoping for the best, but about the faithfulness of the Lord your God, who loves you, and His redemption of you and all His people from sin and death.
It is the story of the Gospel, which you hear and receive in so many ways, because God is so exceedingly rich in His grace toward you. And it is the story that you have been taught to confess with the whole Church in the Creed: The story of Christ Jesus, of His Cross and Resurrection; which is also the story of your Baptism into Christ, and of your daily dying and rising with Him.
So why do you seem so surprised by the Cross and suffering, and act as though something strange were happening to you, and as though the story were all over, with a very sad ending indeed?
And how is it, after the events of these past several days, that you could now return to your home and family, to your job and to your every day routines, as though the Lord Jesus Christ had been crucified for nothing, and as though He had not risen from the dead? Even though everything has happened just as He said, and according to the Scriptures, which have always been all about Him.
In truth, your disappointments and discouragements are also part of the Cross that is now laid upon you, in order to put the old Adam in you to death. Not to end in despair, but to raise you up by faith in the Gospel, as the Lord calls you to repentance and teaches you to fix your hope on Him, to find Him and rely on Him in the fruits of His Sacrifice. So that, by the ways and means of His Cross, He would raise you up from death and the grave to share in His Resurrection and His Life.
The Cross is not a last-minute gamble or a last-ditch effort; it’s not even a change in the game plan, but the very thing that God the Lord has determined from the beginning, and even from before the foundation of the world. He created all things in love, and He created Man in His Image and Likeness, fully aware that He would accomplish His purposes by the Cross and Passion of Christ.
Now, it is not for you to ferret out the unrevealed mysteries of God, nor for you to comprehend the mysteries of time and eternity in the mind of God. But you are given simply to hear and believe, to comprehend and confess the revealed Mysteries of God in Christ Jesus, in the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles. All things are fulfilled in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, for the comforting of your conscience, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the raising of your body at the last unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in fellowship with the Holy Trinity.
So, consider for now the story of Moses, whom the Lord called, ordained, and sent to redeem His people Israel from Egypt. He also suffered with and for the people, not coincidentally, but as a participation in the sufferings of the Christ who was to come, the promised Seed of Abraham.
With Moses, too, there was so much promise, so much hope at first, only to be met with a series of disappointments and setbacks. The oppression of Pharaoh and the sufferings of the people actually increased and got worse instead of better. There were ups and downs, and back and forth, first a “yes,” then yet another “no.” Until the final Plague seemed so decisive. But even then, what did that require? The death of the firstborn son, or the sacrifice of the Lamb in place of the son! Always the Lord is preaching that the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, would be the sacrificial Lamb.
As the people do come out of Egypt, so excited to be on their way to freedom, yet again there is an apparent setback, as Pharaoh and his army, his chariots and horsemen, begin to chase them down. Then Israel is caught between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, with seemingly no way out; that they should learn to fear, love, and trust in God, to call upon His Name, and to rest in Him. So, too, when you are caught between a rock and a hard place in your Exodus from death into life.
Well, you know, as we have heard over the past few days, that God brought them safely through the waters of the Red Sea, and that He utterly drowned and defeated the entire Egyptian army in those same waters. Just as He has brought you through the waters of your Holy Baptism into His Holy Christian Church, so did He rescue His people and bring them out of slavery into freedom.
But of course, they ended up in a desert wilderness, with no water to drink and no food to eat, and they would sooner go back to slavery in Egypt than to waste away and die out there in the wild. Back and forth the pendulum swings, raising their hopes and then dashing them into the ground.
It never is out of the Lord’s hands, who is always calling them to repentance and faith, and always pointing them to Christ. Thus, in spite of their grumbling complaints, He fed them with miraculous water from the Rock and with miraculous Bread from heaven, anticipating the One who has now come, who has given Himself into death, who gives to you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink.
And so it goes. Mt. Sinai is threatening, even deadly, and frightening. And after God seals His Covenant with Israel through Moses — by way of more sacrifice, and more blood — the Prophet disappears into the thunder and lightning, fire and smoke at the top of the Mountain for forty days and forty nights. So the people once more give up hope, and make a golden idol for themselves, and party themselves into utter debauchery. Over and over again, they are tested and tried; they fall short and fail; they are disciplined unto repentance; they call upon the Lord and are saved; and before long they rebel against the Lord and against His servant Moses. On and on and on it goes.
Was it not necessary, then, for the Christ to suffer all these things, and thus to enter into His Glory through suffering? Because He suffers with and for His people, bearing their burdens and the assaults and accusations of their enemies. But so does He also suffer their contempt and idolatry and their sins against Him. He takes it all upon Himself and willingly suffers for their redemption.
He is both the Firstborn Son and the Passover Lamb who is given and sacrificed in place of all the other firstborn sons. He is the Servant of the Lord who opens the way through the deadly waters by the wood of His Cross. He is the Rock who is cleaved to pour out living water and cleansing blood from His side for the cleansing and refreshment of His people. He is the true Manna from heaven, the Bread of immortality, who feeds His people with Himself from the Tree of the Cross. He is the holy Sacrifice whose blood is the New Covenant of God with His people. And He is the One who ascends the Mountain of God by way of His Cross and Passion, suffering the judgment of the Law against your sins, but also keeping and fulfilling the entire Law for your salvation.
All of this, and the entire Old Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in the very events that His Church has remembered with thanksgiving and celebrated in solemn faith over these past eight days — by the atoning Sacrifice of His Cross and in His mighty Resurrection from the dead.
And it might seem easy enough, in retrospect, to affirm, to believe, and to confess all of that now, so far as He is concerned. He has risen, just as He said. He is not dead, but alive forevermore.
Well, good for Him! Right? But it is still so hard, if not impossible, for you to see and to believe the promise of His Resurrection in yourself, in your own family, and in the desert wilderness of your life on earth. Here, it seems, all of your hopes are routinely being dashed on a daily basis. And even though you do “know better,” your foolish and sinful heart still doubts and is so sad.
That is how it is with you. And yet, your dear Lord Jesus is so patient and so kind, so that, even as He gently chides you, as He calls you to repentance and faith, He is already acting to help you.
One thing to note, dear Christian, is that your conversation and discussion of the Holy Gospel is not pointless or empty. For in that story of Christ Jesus, He Himself draws near and goes with you; and then He actually takes the story into His own hands, and He leads you home by His Word.
He opens the Scriptures to you. And He opens, not only your ears to hear, but also your mind and your heart to comprehend and to believe the Scriptures and all that His Prophets and Apostles have preached. He does it by the forgiveness of all your sins, and by all that goes with His forgiveness.
He does use the Cross, for that is the very heart of His story. So it is that your eyes are prevented from seeing Him, and He even acts as though He were going to continue on His way without you.
But remember that the Cross is a means of repentance, which not only crucifies the old Adam in you, but also raises you up as a New Creation in Christ Jesus — alive by faith and living in love.
The Cross of Christ that is laid upon you teaches you to acknowledge and confess your sins, but it also teaches you to hope in His mercy, and to pray. It teaches you to ask the Lord Jesus to come and stay with you, which is of course the very thing that He has come to do for you in love.
You bring Him home with you, and you bring Him into your home and family, by the ongoing catechesis and confession of His Word. And that journey of catechesis not only takes Jesus home with you, but it also brings you back “home” with Him.
Thus, by His Word, you live to and from Emmaus with Jesus. And not only that, but you live to and from Jerusalem, as did those first disciples of Emmaus, who returned that very night to the city they had left behind. Which is to say, in either case, that you live as a disciple from the Church and always back to the Church, to the gathering of disciples around the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship. Just like St. Mary and St. Joseph, who returned to Jerusalem to find the Boy Jesus when He had been lost to them, way back at the beginning of St. Luke’s Holy Gospel.
Where, then, shall you find Him? Have you not heard? The One who is the true Passover, the true Manna, and the New Covenant, gives Himself to you, to eat and to drink, in the “Breaking of the Bread,” that is to say, in the Holy Communion. You still can’t see Him with your eyes, but He reveals Himself and you recognize Him here in this Holy Supper at His Altar in His Church.
It is here that you find and receive His Body. Not in the tomb, which is empty, but here at His Table in His House, where He is not your Guest, but you are His, and He is your gracious Host. Not only that, but He is your Meat and Drink indeed, by which you live, now and forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen