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I. Things of the flesh
If you came into church this morning through the front door, you surely noticed that patch of bare ground. Some of you may have a similar patch in your lawn. When I pulled into the parking lot several weeks ago, I saw an amazing sight. Two crows were uprooting our front lawn in search of the grubs that were just under the surface of the ground. It looked like a little explosion was taking place. Grass was flying up in the air as these two crows were furiously pulling it out by the roots in search of, what for them, must have been a delectable gourmet delight. As a result however, we have this ugly patch of bare ground to deal with. Which we would have had to deal with anyway since grubs eat away at the roots of the grass. So, whether it was destroyed from above or from below, the grass didn’t stand a chance.
Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Peter writes, ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls”
‘The flesh’ is much more than the tissue and muscle that hangs on our bones, although it certainly includes the body. ‘The flesh’ is biblical shorthand for everything that does not last forever. Whether is gets eaten up by the sin that is within us, or whether it gets eaten up by outside forces that attack and destroy it, ‘the flesh’ will not last forever. It will ‘wither and fall.’
Our problem is that we tend to believe that the things of the flesh WILL last forever and that the things that really will last forever will wither and fall. And so we put our hope and invest our confidence in that which is doomed to fail, ‘that moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.’ (Mat.6:19). And we have our doubts about that which is said to be eternal and so we resist putting our hope and investing our confidence in the ‘treasures of heaven.’ See how confused we are because of our sin?
Why are we so surprised and even shocked when those things that do not last forever, wither and fall? Maybe it’s our health or even our life or the accomplishments we’ve worked so hard for, the money and possessions we’ve accumulated. Why do we become so overwhelmed with disappointment and feel as though we have been cheated or an injustice done to us, when those things that do not last forever, wither and fall? It really is as strange as it sounds.
So, St. Peter would remind us not to put our hope and confidence in the ‘things of the flesh.’ ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls”
Rather, he says that we should place our hope and confidence in ‘the word of the Lord,’ because ‘the word of the Lord remains forever.’ In other words, when everything that is temporal and temporary withers and falls, there’s only going to be one thing left, and that is what is eternal and lasts forever. So, which makes more sense, to invest your hopes and your confidence in ‘the things of the flesh’ or in ‘the Word of the Lord’?
II. The Road to Emmaus
A. Disciples Report
That brings us to the two men who were traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were disciples of Jesus. Not two of the 11 but probably among the 72 who were also His disciples. They had been in Jerusalem for the Passover and were aware that the report of the women who had gone to the tomb of Jesus who claimed to have seen an angel who told them that Jesus was risen from the dead and alive. They had also heard the report of the two apostles, Peter and John who had gone to the tomb. Yet, all that they could confirm that the tomb was empty.
Last Sunday, we heard the account of how, on Easter Sunday, the disciples were together in Jerusalem behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. And we heard how Jesus walked right through the doors and gave them His peace and showed them His wounds and they were very glad. For some reason, these two had left before that happened. See what you miss when you skip church?
We can picture the scene as they make their way back to Emmaus. They walk slowly, dejected, confused. Maybe a bit dazed. Their conversation is mostly a rehearsal of the events that had taken place while they were in Jerusalem for the Passover. They struggle to make sense of what happened.
‘Who are you who walk in sorrow, down Emmaus’ barren road,
Hearts distraught and hope defeated, bent beneath grief’s crushing load?
Nameless mourners, we will join you, we who also mourn our dead;
We have stood by graves unyielding, eaten death’s bare, bitter bread.’
(LSB #476 st.1)
They were so engrossed in their walking and talking that they didn’t realize that another traveler on the road had caught up to them. It’s Jesus. But Luke reports, ‘they’re eyes were kept from recognizing him.’ We’ll come back to that.
He engages them by asking them what they’re talking about. ‘And they stood still, looking sad.’ They’re flabbergasted. I remember last summer while hiking the A.T., talking to some other hikers who had been on the trail on September 11th, 2001 who didn’t hear about what had happened. When they came off of the trail and asked their friends what was going on, they said that the general reaction was anger and disbelief. ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days’?
And Jesus says, ‘What things’? And with that, they attempt to bring this poor, ignorant hiker up to date on the events that had taken place in Jerusalem. They describe Jesus as a ‘man, who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.’ He was the kind of man who gave you hope and a certain confidence that He could actually make the world a better place to live. He was the kind of man who renewed your faith in God’s Word and the promises found in the Scriptures.
‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’ But nothing went the way THEY expected it would go. Nothing turned out the way THEY thought it should turn out. And they were teetering on the brink of despair; ready to conclude that even Jesus and His Word were like grass and the flower of the grass. ‘The grass withers, and the flower falls”
B. Jesus’ Report
We may wonder why Jesus doesn’t tap them on the shoulder and give them His peace and show them His wounds like He did for those in the locked room? Why are their eyes kept from recognizing them? Why does He remain hidden from them? Why does He leave them in this pit of despair?
Why does He, so often do the same to us?
‘All flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls” We have built our life on grass and our hopes and our dreams are based on the flower of grass. He delays and leaves us to despair so that we see how unsustainable the ‘things of the flesh’ that we have built our lives upon really are. He would kill our misplaced faith so that we would turn to Him who is the rock and solid foundation, who is the Word of the Lord which remains forever. Only His Word of forgiveness, of truth, of love, will never disappoint us or let us down.
‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’ That’s us, Jesus is talking to. We’re the ‘foolish ones,’ who are ‘slow of heart to believe what the Word of the Lord says.
There’s only one remedy for this kind of ‘foolishness’ and ‘slowness of heart to believe.’ And that remedy is to hear the Word of the Lord. Jesus preaches the Word to these two. ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’
‘All of the incomplete and inaccurate and false beliefs that we have about Jesus, and who He is and what He has done and what is continues to do, that lead to all of those false hopes and failed dreams that we base our hope and confidence upon, are like grass and the flower of grass, when the breath of the Lord blows on them. The grass withers, and the flower falls, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD STANDS FOREVER.’
‘Who is this who joins our journey, walking with us stride by stride?
Unknown Stranger, can You fathom depths of grief for one who died?
Then the wonder! When we told You how our dreams to dust have turned,
Then You opened wide the Scriptures, till our hearts within us burned.’
(LSB #472 st.2).
C. The Meal
As they draw near to Emmaus, Jesus acts as though He were going further. And now, we see the effect that His sermon has had on them. Their false faith has been put to death and a true faith has sprung up in its place. Instead of a ‘heart that is slow to believe,’ they’re hearts are ‘burning within them.’ They want Jesus to come to their home. ‘Stay with us,’ which is just what He wants to do.
Notice, that they still don’t know whom this is. Their eyes are still kept from recognizing Him. It was when He was at table with them that something happened that opened their eyes. In His distinctive fourfold, Eucharistic action, ‘He TOOK THE BREAD, and BLESSED IT, and BROKE IT, and GAVE IT to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him and He vanished from their sight.’
In the beginning, Adam ate of the forbidden fruit and his eyes were opened. And what did Adam see with his opened eyes? He saw the fallen creation of God in which the image of God had been as defaced and destroyed like that patch of lawn outside our building. But now, as these men in Emmaus eat the bread, their eyes are opened and they see the 2nd Adam, through whom the creation is redeemed and in Who has restored the image of God in all who believe.
Now, even though He has vanished from their sight, they are no longer sorrowful and depressed. Now, through the hearing of the Word and the eating of the Supper, their eyes are opened and they know the truth and their hope and confidence is built upon a firm foundation that will stand forever. They understand that by His suffering and death, Christ has redeemed the world. And by His resurrection from the dead, He is present with us.
What was true for these two men is just as true for us. The risen Jesus has come and found each one of us on whatever road were we on. And He invites us to come into His house and hear His Word and eat His Supper. It is no coincidence that the Christian Church has historically patterned it’s order of worship according to this twofold pattern of Word and Supper. For this is the way that Jesus kills us and all of our false hopes and dreams, and raises us up to a new life of real hope and unfailing confidence based on His enduring Word.
And like them, we leave here with our eyes opened. Traveling, as the ancient prayer says, ‘not knowing where we are going, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.’
Eventually, we will all come to the end of the road. The day will be far spent and the darkness will come. And then, according to His Word, we will enter into the Father’s house where Jesus has prepared a room for us to stay with Him FOREVER. And then, our eyes will be opened, and we will see Him face to face and as He is. And then, He will not vanish from our sight. For that day will never be ‘far spent’ and the ‘darkness’ will never come.
‘Who are You? Our hearts are opened, in the breaking of the bread ‘
Christ the victim, now the victor, living, risen from the dead!
Great companion on our journey, still surprise us with Your grace!
Make each day a new Emmaus; on our hearts Your image trace!’ (LSB #476 st.3).