3rd Sunday of Easter (A)
April 23, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Luke.
Back in 1998, the country music singer Steve Wariner wrote one of the saddest songs ever recorded, which is really saying something if you know country music. Holes in the Floor of Heaven wasn’t only depressing, it was also theologically wrong. The premise of the song is that rain is our loved ones crying that they can’t be with us anymore, and the holes that let their tears through also enable them to watch over us. I’m sorry if you really like that song, but the truth is that our deceased loved ones are not weeping in heaven, for they only know the joy of being with the Lord. As far as “watching over us”, we don’t know if they can or not. But is that what we should be thinking about? I know you miss your loved ones; I miss mine as well. However, our focus needs to be on what is true and certain: Jesus is the one who is watching over us because He’s the constant presence in our life.
For three years the twelve disciples, and numerous others, had Jesus as their constant companion. The Bible is mostly silent when it comes to in and outs of Jesus’ daily interaction with His followers. I wouldn’t be surprised though if His teaching involved listening to their fears and worries, comforting them when they were sick, and soothing them when they were depressed or discouraged about events in their lives away from Him. I also believe that Jesus laughed and joked with them as well, why wouldn’t he? But now, suddenly, they’re deprived of His companionship and feeling hopelessly lost. It’s tragic that in their time of greatest need, Jesus wasn’t there to help them. Or at least that’s what they thought.
Our Bible says they were sad, but sad doesn’t accurately describe their emotions. They were more than sad. They were crushed, their faces darkened by sorrow. They said, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” They hoped He was the Savior, the one promised long before to rescue His people from their spiritual bondage. Their hope was shattered. They had evidence of the resurrection, they talked about how the women found angels and an empty tomb, and yet, they showed their disbelief by leaving Jerusalem, the site of the resurrection, and heading home to Emmaus. We know the whole story so we might shake our heads at the stubborn unbelief of Christ’s followers, that though is the wrong thing to do.
To shake our heads at the grieving disciples is hypocritical because we’ll have moments in our lives when we’re so overwhelmed by tragedy that it’ll be difficult to believe God’s promises. Once when the disciples thought they were in danger of drowning, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Don’t you see what’s going on? Don’t you care? Of course, Jesus cared! He replies, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). There will be times in our lives when Jesus might say the same thing to us. We wonder if Jesus is aware of what’s going on in our lives. Doesn’t He care we’re being hurt? Doesn’t He know our plans and hopes were shattered by one event or another? Is Jesus oblivious to what’s going on down here on earth?
As sad as the men were, you can hear shock in their voices that this stranger is so out of touch with current events. Cleopas says, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Are you oblivious to why we’re sad? How can you not know?! Jesus clearly knows what happened, He was there. His question is intended to draw them into a discussion where He can teach them. He has to stir up their hearts to move them from sadness to joy. He did this by teaching them His Word. He showed them how these events were according to God’s plan and how they were good for all people. He says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” Jesus had to die and He had to rise again. Through His suffering, Jesus proves He knows His people and what they need.
Christ knew the Cleopas and his companion, and He knows you. Listen to this promise: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is 49:15). Outside of tragic accidents, mothers don’t forget their babies. They know what the baby needs by its cries. God knows you and He knows what you need even before you cry. He’s always aware of what’s going on in your life, even when He seems invisible or uncaring. And how do you know He cares? How do you know He’s not oblivious? Because He’s alive! He died for your sins and then He rose to show His power over all the things that blind us to His presence. How could Jesus who bore all our griefs, not be intimately aware of them? He does! I promise He does, and I can promise you that He does because He says so in His Word. You have His promise that He’ll see you through these events and use them for your good.
As Jesus walked with Cleopas and his friend, He taught them His Word. He showed them how everything written in the Old Testament was about Him. They were so engrossed in the conversation they invited Jesus into their home. It was there that the guest became the host, where the one who came to serve served, and it was then that Jesus opened their eyes to who the stranger in their midst really was. The one who heard their laments, now raises them up in joy. They went from having sad, cold hearts to burning with enthusiasm and a desire to hear more. They said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?” He was present with them, even when they didn’t realize it.
Jesus is present with you in His Word also. As Peter says: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (I Peter 1:24-25). Jesus is the Good News that I preach to you. For those who feel alone or abandoned by God, for those with darkened hearts and shattered hopes, Christ comes and speaks to you through His Holy Word.
But I want to assure you that Jesus isn’t just in your presence in His Word. Even though you can’t see Him, He is bodily present with you. He isn’t looking down from heaven, He’s right here, right now. He is with you no matter where you go. Listen to this: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:1-2). Does this sound like an uncaring God? Does this sound like an absent God? He’s not! This is Christ who knows you and your pain. He knows all those for whom He died and rose, and you’re one of them.
I wish I could tell you that God promises to take away all your pain and troubles away in this life. I wish I could tell you that it’ll all be over in a day. I can’t, because God doesn’t. What God does promise is that the Risen Savior is your help and hope. He’s the one who conquered Sin, Death, and the Devil for you and one day you will receive the full glory of His victory. Until then, He will uplift, strengthen, and encourage you for that is His promise to you as your constant companion.
If you want to find comfort in the belief that your loved ones are looking down from heaven, I can’t tell you that they’re not. But even if they are, they can’t do anything to help you because they’re not in your presence. Jesus though is the one constant presence in your life. He’s present with you invisibly as your Risen Savior. He is present with you visibly in the Bible which is all about Him. I know you will struggle at times believing that He is with you. But don’t let your feelings lead you astray. The two men knew in their hearts that Jesus was dead when He was walking right next to them. Know in your heart, not what you feel, but what God promises, and that is the eternal present of your Risen Savior.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen