I chose to call our time together today "The First Last Supper with the Risen Lord." The Eucharist, if you will. Luke, in chapter 24 of his gospel, shares with us the walk to Emmaus. It's that moment when two of the disciples have left the city. They're on their way home. They're talking as they go, and suddenly someone joins them, and they don't recognize him. And as they move toward home, the discussion is intriguing, for the stranger who has joined them doesn't seem to know about what happened in the city that day. And, yet, as they move along, this stranger reveals to them the absolute necessity for what has happened. "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" he asked them. And then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interprets to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
They near the village. He's going to walk on, but one of them asked him to stay and have supper, and thus begins that wonderful experience where these two disciples are honored by the presence of the risen Lord. As he breaks bread for them, they celebrate his presence.
The Lord has risen indeed and so he has appeared. They will go back to the city and tell the other disciples. Now it is affirmed.
Perhaps some of you listening today were required to take Latin when you were in high school. I know I was. My guidance counselor assured me that Latin is the root language for all other languages, and if I mastered that ancient tongue, all other languages, including English, would fall into place. I conjugated verbs, read short stories in the classics, and tried to speak like a famous Roman orator. Many years have passed since high school, and for the life of me, all I can remember from those classes is Veni, Vidi, Vici -- I came, I saw, I conquered.
Now I suppose you are wondering what this has to do with our scripture for today. Let me explain. Have you ever thought about all the people who came into the presence of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and when they saw who he truly was, they were conquered by his love, his teachings, his forgiveness? Shepherds who came to Bethlehem and were won over by a tiny, newborn baby -- Luke tells us they returned to their flocks praising God and saying wonderful things about him. Wise men came to Bethlehem, following the light of the star, and they were so overwhelmed when they saw him, they risked their lives. They returned home a different way to avoid King Herod's evil intentions. Herod didn't want to worship the child; he wanted to conquer him with death. Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, and Simeon and Anna were there serving God. And when they saw the Christ child, they were conquered by the sight. Simeon couldn't keep from singing, "Oh, with my own eyes I have seen what you have done to save your people." If you read all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you will discover thousands of people who came, who truly saw and were spiritually conquered in the positive surrender of one's self by the presence of Jesus Christ. Veni, Vidi, Vici.
I wish there had been a Paul Harvey type of reporter around when Jesus physically walked the earth. I would love to know the rest of the story. What did the Wise Men do after they returned home? What did Simeon do after he sang the Nunc Dimittis? That's Latin for "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace." What did blind Bartimaeus do with his life after Jesus restored his sight, and why didn't Luke tell us the rest of the story of Zacchaeus and his family after they had eaten dinner with Jesus? We could go on and on with their names or their circumstances in life, but the point I wish to make is that for 2,000 years now people have come to Jesus, truly seeing him and being conquered by the realization of who he is. Conquered in a holy way, of course. The Webster dictionary defines the word conquer as both: "1. To gain by force of arms" but also "2. To get the better of." Jesus certainly does that. And a little play on words here. We are better human beings when we are conquered by the Lord.
Cleopas and his companion had been in Jerusalem for the Passover in our text for this time together. They came and they saw. They were disciples of Jesus, Luke tells us, and what they saw had sent them back to home in Emmaus full of sorry. They had experienced a conquered Lord-dead on a cross outside the city wall on a hill called Calvary. You can only imagine all of their conversation as they walked home that evening.
I heard a speaker when I was in seminary who suggested that Cleopas' companion could have been his wife. Since women so often appear in scripture without a name, why would Luke have given us one man's name and not the other? If this conclusion has any validity, I find it very exciting, for it means that the risen Lord appears that same day to a married couple and immediately blesses their home with his presence. Think about it! It would have been the woman who urged him to stay for dinner. She would have prepared it. That was her role.
Can you see them? Can you think of a time in your own life when you have gone away from a place or an experience that filled you with hope and expectation only to be brokenhearted and disappointed by the outcome? Surely, these two disciples, followers of Jesus, were in the crowd as he entered the city a week earlier. We call it the triumphal entry. Did they sense the triumph? Veni. They came, they saw. They heard the crowd shouting, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" Did Cleopas spread his garment on the road like a red carpet rolled out for an approaching dignitary? Were they there when he cleansed the temple of the money changers? Did they hear him teach that week that we now call holy? Did they secretly cheer when he turned the tables on the Pharisees as they tried to trick him with a question about taxes?
We are left to wonder how much of that last week of his earthly life these two Emmaus-walk disciples were a part of. Now, they're on their way home, conquered in spirit by what they experienced in Jerusalem. Suddenly, a stranger joins them as they walk and talk. They don't recognize him. After all, he's the last person they expected to see. Vidi. I saw.
"What are you talking about?" the stranger inquires. They stop walking, their faces reflecting their sadness. "Are you the only person from Jerusalem who missed the happenings in the holy city this last few days?" Cleopas asks. "What do you mean?" the stranger inquires. "Oh, we had a dream. We hoped he would be the one to set Israel free, but, alas, the freedom we sought was denied us. They arrested him, tried him, convicted him, and they executed him." Vici --They conquered.
"Oh, this morning some of the women went out to the cemetery to care for his dead body. They returned all shaken and saying he wasn't there. Some wild tale about angels declaring that he was alive again. A few of the men went out to see [Veni, Vici], but they couldn't find Jesus."
Now the stranger speaks. He opens the scriptures to them, a lesson in Old Testament theology from the Law of Moses through the prophets. I spent eight years in college and grad school trying to understand the Old Testament, and he covers it in a walk to Emmaus. As they near their home, the stranger seems to be passing on by when, I believe, the woman of the house invites him to dinner. "Stay with us. It's already late, and the sun is going down." In the midst of the meal, the guest becomes the host. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. At once, they know who he is, but he disappeared from their sight. And they said to each other, "When he talked with us along the road and explained the scriptures to us, didn't it warm our hearts?" So they got right up and returned to Jerusalem. And the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, can be found in the Book of Acts, in the letters of Paul and the volumes of books written for the past 2,000 years about the stranger who comes and walks with us and talks with us along life's narrow way. Because he lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
Wherever your Emmaus might be, in your home, your place of work, your school, where you play, the blessed assurance that we all can have is that he will come and walk with us. The first Last Supper shared with the risen Lord happened in a place called Emmaus, a location that biblicists tell us has never been positively identified. That very fact opens the possibilities for us of an Emmaus experience wherever we are. You see, it's not a place; it's an encounter with the risen Lord and a meal that warms your heart.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, would have addressed Jesus in Latin. "Are you the King of the Jews?" he demanded. Poor Pilate. Veni, Vidi, Vici. He came, he saw, and he chickened out and gave him over to the crowd.
I'm filled with sorrow for Pilate and Herod and the crowd. They never caught on. The one they crucified might have known a little Latin himself. He added a word to the phrase I remember from my high school days. Veni-I came. Vidi-I saw your needs. And Vici mortis. I conquered death!
"Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace," we sing at Christmas time. "Hail the Son of righteousness. Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, born that we no more may die, born to raise us from the earth, born to give us second birth. Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King."
And now you have the rest of the story. He came. He saw. He conquered death!
Let us pray.
God, your decisions always overwhelm us. When you knew what we needed, you sent him into the world. He didn't come speaking Latin; he came speaking Aramaic, but his language is one we understand and his message is timeless. He came because you sent him. He saw us as we are, and he saw in us what we could become and offering himself, he conquered death. So, Lord, as we look at this walk to Emmaus, help us to get up and follow. Help us to be willing to walk on those places that are familiar and have him come and lift the ordinary into that which is holy. If we invite him into our homes, he will break bread with us; if we invite him into our hearts, he will conquer our fears, our misgivings, our sins, and even death. For this, Almighty God, we give you thanks as we remember the walk to Emmaus. Amen.