If Jesus joined you as you were walking around Brookfield Square or the Corners this afternoon, what would he find you discussing? If Jesus sat down at your confirmation party this afternoon, burger in hand? Or if he caught you around the water-cooler in the office? What kind of conversation would he encounter with us? Chances are, we would be excited to host Jesus, to talk with him, but how often do you think he would be excited to find what we were discussing?
It’s this encounter with the two disciples on the Emmaus road that makes me ask this way to start. This is Easter Sunday afternoon, the two walking the seven mile trip to wherever the little town of Emmaus was. They’re in heated conversation – back and forth, over and again – with everything that had happened during that heady Holy Week, from its glorious entrance to its dark end. All they had hoped seems pretty hopeless now. Just then Jesus arrives and gives them the opportunity to tell him what their sad-faced conversation is all about.
You can tell they just didn’t understand what had happened. Maybe it’s most evident in their words: “We had hoped…” But now it was past tense, a memory. HAD hoped Jesus was Israel’s redeemer but religious leaders killed him off, prophet though he was. HAD hoped the glorious promises he’d made would come true – but it was day three and near its end at that… HAD hoped when the women brought report of the empty tomb and the angels’ words that Jesus lives, but other disciples only found half of that – the tomb empty, of Jesus, just his clothes. They HAD hoped, but they didn’t have hope anymore – or, if any, not much. Jesus was supposed to be alive but he had suffered and died. All the things that had happened, kept them from seeing what God had promised would happen.
So Jesus gives them something hopeful to talk about. He starts with something that helps them and us to understand how we’re thinking about life. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” To be a little wooden with it, when Jesus says “foolish” his Greek word is something almost like brainless. Like how we use it in daily conversation. When we were hot-blooded teens we may have thought it was cool to drag-race cars down the street late at night – but by midlife, you’ve seen too many tragic news stories about car accidents or you’ve had one or two yourself – and what seemed exciting once is something foolish now – unthinkable. What does Jesus want us to understand as “unthinkable”? To not “believe all that the prophets have spoken” – specifically, about this Savior Jesus.
And we know that foolishness, don’t we? We can walk right along with those Emmaus disciples because there’s plenty to believe and discuss here. All the things that have happened can make us say, “I HAD hoped but my wife is sick.” “I HAD hoped but I’ve had too many troubles with other Christians…” “I HAD hoped but God’s Word doesn’t seem to resolve our trouble.” And sometimes, we even stop talking about the hope at all – and our discussions become filled with all these wrong things: ourselves and our pride, our fears of the future, our guilt from the past, and angry resignation because we can’t do anything to substantially change anything. Like those disciples, we can get to this befuddled place where we don’t understand what’s going on – all we had hoped seems to not have happened. And all that has happened clouds our vision – gets in the way of trusting all God has said and seeing what our Savior is doing.
This is foolishness. In the same way we would flat-out reject a midnight drag-race down Bluemound, so also here – we set this foolishness aside as truly, spiritually unthinkable – and Jesus helps us to understand what’s really happening at Easter and how thoughtful our lives can be. For the disciples of Jesus, there is this understanding to have – “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Yes, he most certainly did have to… And there is this all to be filling our thoughts: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
It would be nice to know Jesus’ own line of argumentation, wouldn’t it? What passages he used? How he interpreted the prophets’ words? Of course, we can know what he would have explained – things just the same as those our confirmands confessed when they were examined. He would have pointed out the first promise of a Savior – Genesis 3:15 – “and I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers, he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” A Savior promised, right after the first sin, and his suffering mentioned there already too. He probably picked passages from Isaiah – some of the same ones they learned – like 7:14 the promise that the Savior would be God with us, by way of a virgin birth; or maybe chapter 53:5 – how Jesus would be “pierced for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities; [how] the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and [that] by his wounds we are healed.” Whichever parts of prophecy, however he wove it all together, Jesus wants his disciples to understand this: “It was the LORD’s will to crush [Jesus] and cause him to suffer…the LORD [made] his life an offering for [our sins].” And because the angels were right as the disciples later discovered – because Jesus rose again – God has assured that every promise he has made is a “yes, it is finished,” “yes, it will be fulfilled” – a place where believers can put all of their trust, content with which they can occupy all of their thought.
There’s so much that has happened to each of us, there is so much that will happen to each of you yet, things that will occupy our hearts with everything but hope – but Jesus gives us something hopeful to talk about – this understanding of his work, completed payment for our sins and power over death and the promise of life; which fills our thoughts with the many promises of God all made “yes” in this powerful Jesus. What a blessed hope! We are not blinded by all that has happened – no, we see what Jesus has done and we truly see what God is doing…so that we also have comfort for fiery confidence.
Confirmands, I’m sure you have a bit of comfort now that the fire of “examination” has passed. Hopefully you have confidence for this morning. Sometimes I reminisce on Confirmation Sunday – I try to think back about my own fears or hopes on this day long ago. Maybe a wondering as to whether you would be significant enough as a young-member part of your church. Maybe a little trepidation about life that’s coming, whether you ought to feel confident about it with your faith. Maybe in the face of the uncertainty of youth it’s worthwhile to turn to the wisdom of old age for perspective. This week I was visiting a shut-in member at home and she was teaching me. We were talking about this text, kind of a back and forth, conversational devotion – she loves her Bible – and she said, “Pastor, who were these two on the road? It doesn’t even say they were disciples right? Certainly not apostles, not part of the eleven?” And then we talked about that. She reminded me of something I hadn’t seen studying myself – in the gospels it’s to ladies first the resurrection comes (not a 1st century group for credibility) but still, and to random road-weary disciples too – seems like really important people like Peter get only a passing mention (at least at first) – the risen Christ seems to show himself alive, seems to fellowship in his glorious, risen, super-holy self with normal people. A minute or two later at her table, we had gotten to that part with Jesus at the meal – the big reveal – when they got it – and I said something inane like, “Can you imagine that? To have Jesus with you, right there, at a meal, in person?” And she said something much more profound, “But he is here with us, isn’t he? He’s right here in his Word every time I open this Bible, just like he promised, pastor.” Yes, indeed, he is – the living and enduring Word of God, present in his Word and wherever two or three gather together in his name and whenever they remember him in his Supper – just like we did, she and I, minutes later.
This is the hope of God’s people: understanding his love in the risen Jesus, they live full of his thoughts and words and so have great comfort. Confirmands, Jesus the risen Lord, as you said in your examination, died and rose so that his justifying work applies to the whole world and so, also to you – indeed, as you will confess, his forgiveness and peace is personally yours by faith. Just as he came to those two disciples or the eleven later or the women at the tomb or Peter who had denied him – he comes to you and to me in his Word. As you confessed and will receive this morning, he promises that he himself is present in, with, and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion so that we have forgiveness of all our sins and joyous new life that reaches for salvation in heaven. And he gives all these things to normal, everyday people – all kinds of people – so that by his mighty Word, through his miraculous meal, our eyes would remain open to perceive the comforting truth that he is with us.
And I can pray then for a fiery confidence that what the two disciples said will be true of us too, ““Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” As we open our Lord’s Word more and more, as you confirmands make the risen Lord the center of your life, as we fill our thoughts with his promises, he will fill us with zeal – a burning fire to keep on trusting in him, to keep on seeing that he is with us and to be comforted by his abiding presence. The Risen Lord Jesus gives us, more than something hopeful, the thing that is our hope. Confirmands, you will soon be talking about it this hope, your Jesus, our faith. If Jesus encounters us discussing these things, he will certainly be happy. So I pray that you and we will never ever stop talking this way. Amen.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.