I imagine your family has many different holiday traditions, like at Easter time, but our family has a tradition that after a big meal on a holiday we try to go for a walk – both to make sure we have a chance to talk more with one another rather than to resort to the loneliness of our cell phones and to avoid the allure of a long afternoon nap while watching TV – and also to give us a chance not to feel so bad about how many calories our bodies have just absorbed. Easter Sunday may seem like a long time ago already, but if you remember, the weather that day was wonderful, and it truly was a beautiful day for a walk – a great time to talk while walking, and a great chance to have more opportunity to talk further after the walk because of what had been talked about during the walk.
The reason that an Easter Sunday walk comes to mind while thinking about this lesson from St. Luke’s Gospel is because this walk that Jesus went on with the two disciples on their way to a little town called Emmaus was on Easter Sunday – the first Easter Sunday, of course. As we now talk about that walk, I pray the Lord will let us see that it truly was in the greatest way possible a beautiful day for a walk – both because of what they talked about while on the walk and also right after the walk. So, let’s walk along with them in spirit and see what a great day for a walk it is for us, as well.
It didn’t start out that way, though, did it? It wasn’t lightning in the sky or ice on the roads that made this day anything but a beautiful day for a walk, but it was how these two disciples were feeling. We’re told, for example, they were talking about all the things that had happened the last couple of days to the one they were hoping would be the promised Messiah. But now that seemed like something that was just totally impossible because he was dead. Even their body language made their hopelessness clear, because when Jesus joined them and asked what things they had been talking about, they just stood still, “their faces downcast” – sad, confused, wondering perhaps how this new friend could help them if he was so out of the loop that he didn’t even know what the whole town of Jerusalem had been buzzing about ever since the previous Sunday, when Jesus of Nazareth had entered the holy city on the back of a donkey and then five days later had been taken outside of the city to a God-forsaken cross and placed into a tomb with a sealed stone across its entrance.
Do you see how Jesus often helps us when we stand still, with our faces downcast, confused, sad, angry? Doesn’t he basically say to us as he said to them, “What things?” What are the things you are talking about with others in your life or inside your own mind in the stillness of the night that make you feel this way? And, since we are his children, the “things” we are talking about or wondering about are things he also wants us to connect with the things we know about Jesus. In the case of these two downcast disciples, they said what they knew in their heads, but at that moment did not make any sense in their hearts. You can almost imagine Jesus listening with a caring smile in his heart as they told Jesus about the things that had just happened to Jesus: Jesus of Nazareth, they said, was a prophet, powerful in word and deed, but the chief priests and leaders of the people sentenced him to death, and they crucified him. And we had been hoping that this Jesus was going to redeem Israel. Can’t you just imagine Jesus saying to himself – “Yeh, I know.” They had thought he would be the Redeemer of Israel –that he was the promised Messiah – that he was the Savior of the world – that he was the Son of God — and now he was dead, with some women telling us that some angels told them Jesus was alive and some of our fellow disciples telling us they did not see Jesus in the tomb of death in which he had been placed. We just don’t know what’s going on! This is not a beautiful day.
Isn’t that the way it is so often for us? We can say the facts of what the Bible says about Jesus and what the Bible says about how God works in our lives, but we so often don’t see Jesus in our lives or feel that God is working in our lives in any way that makes any sense to us. What we know from the Bible in our heads often doesn’t make sense compared to what we’re feeling in our hearts. But as we walk with Jesus on any day that may not seem like a beautiful day, Jesus tenderly says to us what he said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken!” Now, if that is all Jesus said to us, we wouldn’t of course see that as something spoken in tender love, but that is not all Jesus says to us. “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory,” Jesus went on to say. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.”
These two sad disciples had been telling Jesus about Jesus. Now Jesus was telling these disciples about Jesus. Because of love so intense that we cannot even begin to fathom it, Jesus just had to carry out the horrific pains he had just endured so that the terrific glory of his rising from the dead could prove that that death paid the debt you and I have wracked up because of all our doubts of God, all our questioning of God, all our sins against God – and therefore also assures us before God that he understands our doubts and our questions, and he promises that in his mind our sins against him are no more. It’s no wonder those disciples later said, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he talked with on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Listening to Jesus talk to us as we listen to the Bible talk to us warms our hearts in a way that helps us take the next step on our walk through life with confidence and joy in the midst of uncertainty and sadness, because it helps us realize that all the uncertainty and sadness is meant to help us remember that all the suffering Jesus went through before he entered the glory of his resurrected life means that no suffering you or I go through will keep us from entering his glory someday, too, with a resurrected life – and right now that makes this day, every day, a beautiful day for a walk, because it’s the path God himself has chosen just for me personally in order to keep me on that path and not veering off into a life that the apostle Peter said in our Second Lesson would be an “empty way of life,” without focus, without purpose, without direction, without Jesus. When all is said and done, the way to make every day a beautiful day for a walk with Jesus is to let Jesus do most of the talking during the walking – just as we are doing today as we have walked into this place of worship and have gathered together around his Holy Word.
How many steps did you take to walk in here for worship? Fifteen, Fifty, One Hundred? You may be one of those people who like to walk in general to “get in your steps.” For many people the magic number is ten thousand steps a day. That’s a lot of steps. Do you know approximately how many miles that is? Five. Five miles of walking a day. These disciples certainly got in their steps that beautiful day – and so many more. Emmaus, we are told was seven miles away from Jerusalem. That would be about fourteen thousand steps. That’s a lot – like walking down Brookfield Avenue toward Kopps Custard, turning left down Bluemound and stopping around Wisconsin Lutheran College or Froedtert Hospital beyond the Zoo. But did you notice they even doubled that number of steps that same day? Right after they said how their hearts were burning within them as Jesus talked to them while he walked with them, we are told that they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem — and it was already late in the day. But what a wonderful way that was to end that beautiful day with a double walk, because they could first hear the disciples gathered there share the same news that was starting to get spread since early that Sunday morning, “It is true. The Lord has risen,” and “then the two told (them) what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.”
At first Jesus had kept them from recognizing him so that he could let them recognize him from what the Bible said about him and promised to them because of what he had come to do for them and all people. Often you and I may not recognize Jesus or his ways in our life, either. But remember that just as Jesus told them, so he has told us “what happened on the way” – the way that led to a death for the forgiveness of our every sin, a grave that ended up being just as empty as ours will be on that Last Day, and a promise that our crucified and risen Savior will be with us every step of the way along the way. It is true, brothers and sisters. The Lord has risen. So we can all say:
I walk with Jesus all the way; his guidance never fails me;
Within his wounds I find a stay when Satan’s pow’r assails me.
And by his footsteps led, my path I safely tread.
No evil leads my soul astray. I walk with Jesus all the way – for however many steps he sees fit to give me.