This Gospel lesson from St. Luke can feel like a failed trial run for Christian witness. The disciples encounter Undercover Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And when he asks them what they are discussing, they tell Jesus about himself. Only, it's not exactly the testimony our Risen Lord was hoping for.
They tell him that Jesus was a mighty prophet who they expected to deliver Israel. But instead, he died. And now they are sad and disappointed.
Essentially, these disciples are ignoring what they know about Jesus.
It is pretty remarkable to me that this tendency is so intrinsic to our relationship with God, that even the disciples, with the words of Jesus fresh on their ears, are only willing to tell their version of the story. They are only willing to recall their disappointment that Jesus was not who they expected him to be.
It comes as no surprise, then, that this false testifying is something that we all do.
Our Christian witness can often look much like these two bumbling guys on the road to Emmaus. When people ask us about Jesus, we offer up whatever answer serves our needs, or makes us look good. All too often, the version of God's story we choose to tell is the one that most serves us. And we want God to be everything he is not.
We want him to be our moral legislator. An ethical superhero. We want God to be a protester on our behalf. Or a table flipper in the temple of our own choosing. We all want a glory story over a Gospel witness.
We are not so different from the ancient Hebrew people. They wanted a Jewish Superman and we want a political higher power, or a self-help guru, or a community organizer. We think that we know what is best for us. Mostly, because we believe we know exactly how God needs to come and save us.
We see on the road to Emmaus, that, praise be to God, we do not have that kind of sway with the Almighty. God never promised to save us from anything but our own sin.
When Jesus hears the description the disciples offer about him, he does not hold back on criticism and his response is priceless. Jesus calls them foolish and reminds them that the Messiah had to undergo suffering and death.
And this is the part of the story that we all long most to avoid. Apparently, this has also been our pattern from the very beginning. We all want to skip over the suffering and forget the death, because it is sad and unpleasant. Also, it says nothing heroic about our God, at least from the world's perspective. Who worships a God who suffered and died on a cross? What kind of weak people are we? Real weak would be the correct answer. And we needed a God who would be even weaker on our behalf.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we ignore this part of the story because when we admit how almighty and necessary the cross of Christ is, we also have to admit that we need his forgiveness and his grace.
Our low meets his high.
No one wants to think about the savior of the world hanging from a cross on behalf of his broken followers. It's not much of a feel-good sales pitch. Children's author Sally Lloyd Jones, who wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible, describes the crucifixion in this way:
"Even though it was midday, a dreadful darkness covered the face of the world. The sun could not shine. The earth trembled and quaked. The great mountains shook. Rocks split in two. Until it seems that the whole world would break. That creation itself would fall apart."
This is the kind of world that God came into: a world completely falling apart.
This Gospel does not end with Jesus telling these disciples, to use a Mississippi phrase here, where the cow ate the cabbage. We serve a good and gracious God who does not abandon us when we are lost and confused, but instead who longs to make his love for us clear.
In a world where nothing made sense, in a world where the disciples were trying to come up with their own confused answers, Jesus made himself radically known. When they arrive at their village, Jesus went inside with them and shared a meal. But not just any meal. Jesus sat with the disciples and broke bread for a broken world. And in that moment, they recognized the stranger in their midst, they saw him as their Lord. And scripture tells us, they went on to share this good news with the others. That Christ had been crucified, had died, and was resurrected. And how they knew him clearly in the bread broken on their behalf.
When we approach the altar rail for communion, we bring all our own agendas and testimonies. Sometimes, we get the story about Jesus right, but most days we are all too consumed by our sin and self-righteousness to offer a glimpse of the Glory of God. But, friends, that is okay, because God, in all of his mercy, is ever present there for us. We see who God really is in the Eucharist. He brings everything to the table. We bring only our profound need of him.
Jesus went home with the disciples and made himself known. It makes all the sense in the world that Jesus would go on to have dinner with these disciples who could not seem to get anything right. It makes all the sense in the world that he would break bread on behalf of a broken world. And it makes all the sense in the world that the disciples would merely show up. Like us, they bring nothing but their weary hearts to Jesus and receive only redemptive love in return.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God we know that we bring nothing to the table. We know that we get our testimony about you wrong. We know that we are broken in a broken world, but we also know, Lord Jesus, that you came to save us from that, that you did come and die on a cross, that you were resurrected and that you love us all the way to the end. And for that we are grateful. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.