Third Sunday of Easter
Third Sunday of Easter (A)
May 6, 2011
Text: Luke 24:13-35
He is Risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Word and Sacrament, the Means of Grace… we throw those terms around a lot. You hear me use those terms in one form or another in almost every sermon. And there is always this danger that the terms become meaningless for us because we are so used to hearing them, or worse, that they have no meaning at all, because your pastor has simply taken for granted that you remember what they mean from Catechism class. As a result, some confessional Lutheran clergy maintain that we shouldn’t use the terms at all. I am not of that persuasion. But I do recognize the danger. It would be tragic if, in using these terms to lead you to a deeper appreciation for our Lord’s dynamic gifts so that you are zealous to receive them as often as possible, instead you were led to tune out the terms as nothing but a familiar relic from Confirmation days gone by. The terms “Word and Sacrament” and “Means of Grace” are invested with meaning and power by the holy things they signify, through which holy things God acts: That God actually speaks to you in Scripture and preaching; that God actually washes your sins away in real water combined with God’s Word, as He did today for Owen, in Holy Baptism; that God really pronounces your sins forgiven, done away with, nailed to the cross of Christ and buried forever in His tomb, in Holy Absolution; that God really gives you the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, the very body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins on the cross, the very body and blood of the risen Christ put in your mouths to eat and drink; that is what we mean by these terms. When you hear the terms “Word and Sacrament” or “Means of Grace,” we are speaking of a very real, tangible encounter with the living God.
And that is precisely what the doleful disciples need as they trudge the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. There are two of them, one of them named Cleopas, the other unnamed. They are not from the 12 Apostles, but from the wider group of Jesus’ disciples, those who believed in Him, those who had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. But now their hopes are dashed, or so it seems. That is the content of their conversation on the road. They are talking about the things that have happened, and how these things have not happened according to their plans. Jesus has been delivered up by the chief priests and rulers, condemned to death, crucified. It is not supposed to be this way. How could this be the Messiah? And now there are these rumors floating around, gossip, crazy wives tales, that He is alive. But how could that be? Dead men don’t live.
Suddenly a Stranger comes astride. They don’t know who He is, but you do. It is Jesus Himself, in the flesh, with them in a very real way, even though their eyes are kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16). And He speaks. There is power in the Word. It is the very Word of God from the mouth of the Word made flesh. It is a dynamic Word, living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). This is the Word that is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). The disciples on the road to Emmaus need such faith. For Jesus has not lived up to their expectations. They had expected a Messiah who would defeat Israel’s enemies in a blaze of glory and usher in the golden age for the Jews. Jesus, by contrast, is executed by Israel’s chief enemy, Rome, as a common criminal, on an accursed cross. How can anyone believe in that? Jesus comes and speaks. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26; ESV). Indeed, it was divinely necessary, the very will of God, that the Christ should suffer, that He should die to ransom them and you and me and the whole world from our real enemies: from sin, from death, from hell and the power of the devil, not with perishable things such as gold or silver, but with His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). “And so beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” from Genesis all the way through Malachi, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Because the whole Old Testament is about nothing else save Jesus Christ. It’s all about Him and His saving work, His death and resurrection. Jesus preaches a sermon to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They still don’t know who He is, but their hearts are burning within them as He opens the Scriptures to them (v. 32). The imperishable seed of the abiding Word of God gives them the new birth of faith (1 Peter 1:23). Yes, Jesus saved us from our enemies precisely by His suffering and death. And He is, in fact, risen from the dead. That is the Christian faith.
The disciples reach their destination, and they beg this Stranger to stay with them, to abide with them, for it is toward evening. The darkness is coming and the day is far spent. And they know that this Man who has opened the Scriptures to them can give them light, enlighten them with His gracious Words. So He stays, He abides. Such is His grace. He gives them the gift of His presence in the darkness. And as He joins them at the supper table, He does something remarkable: He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. Sound familiar? It should. Because in the breaking of the bread, the disciples recognize that it is the Lord. And He is really present, in the flesh. Suddenly, He disappears from their sight. But He is not gone. He is with them just as substantially as before. They, and you, are to recognize His bodily presence in the preaching of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread! And through this same Proclamation and Meal, He bestows upon you the saving benefits of His cross and empty tomb. Word and Sacrament! Means of Grace!
The Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, works through the Word and the Sacrament, the Means of Grace, to call you to faith in Jesus Christ, and enlighten you with His gifts, to sanctify and keep you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And Jesus Himself is present, really, bodily, in the Word and the Sacrament, the Means of Grace, to forgive your sins and to strengthen you for your Christian life in this fallen world, to give you His life in the face of death, to reconcile you to your loving heavenly Father. It begins in Baptism, where you become God’s own child, where all your sins are washed away and you are united to the death and resurrection of Jesus. And it continues for the rest of your life as the Lord Jesus speaks His Word to you and absolves you of your sins and feeds and nourishes you with His Supper. Jesus gives Himself in Word and Sacrament. You receive His gifts in the Means of Grace by faith.
We all love the hymn, “Abide with Me” (LSB 878), which is based on this very text, our Gospel lesson. Why is this hymn so endearing? Because we recognize that in our case, too, “fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens…” The world is shrouded in darkness, the darkness of unbelief, the darkness of sin. Our own sinful flesh is nothing but darkness. And the day is far spent (Luke 24:29). Our life is far spent. Death is immanent. For each one of us, death could come at any moment. So it is critical that the risen Lord Jesus abides with us. We need His presence every passing hour, holding His cross before our closing eyes. And this must be a real presence. This cannot be a figurative presence or a spiritual presence, whatever that means (when I say “I’m with you in spirit,” I mean by that that I’m really not with you at all). What good is it to you if Christ is, in fact, risen from the dead, but you never have any sort of face to face encounter with Him… If He’s never actually present with you and for you in His risen body? God answers the prayer you pray when you sing this hymn by giving you the presence of the living God, the risen Jesus, in the flesh, in Word and Sacrament, the Means of Grace! “Abide with Me” is a request fulfilled in sermon and Supper! “Abide with Me” happens because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a present reality for you, right here, right now, right where He’s promised to be. So receive the gifts with all eagerness and zeal. And never let the terms “Word and Sacrament” or “Means of Grace” be meaningless to you again. They indicate that Jesus is with you always, in a very real way, until the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20), in a way that far exceeds your expectations. For He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.