Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Now What?"

Text: Luke 24:13-35

Psalm 16:7-11


            Let’s imagine it’s late Easter afternoon. The last of the dinner guests have gone home. What remains of the spiral-cut ham has been sliced down and bagged up for sandwiches for the week ahead; the leftover mashed potatoes divided up in Glad food storage containers and neatly stacked on the middle shelf of the fridge.

The dishwasher is humming and swishing. The high chair has been thoroughly wiped down and the tray sanitized with Clorox Clean-Up. The folding chairs and the card table where the kids sat have been returned to their home in the basement. A few undiscovered plastic eggs filled with Sixlets and Starburst Jelly Beans peek out from under the couch and from behind the dining room buffet. The crumbs from under the table have been swept up and the vacuum has been run. It’s been a great day! It all started with church this morning. A glorious service! A standing room only crowd in the sanctuary. Soaring Easter hymns. A brass ensemble. A garden of potted lilies, one of which now sits on the coffee table in memory of mom and dad. The preacher’s message was good, but nothing really new. Resurrection. Life springing out of death. Hope. Joy. Good stuff, but it’s all been said before. How true it all is…….not so sure. Late afternoon, the house is empty. All is quiet, save the sound of snoring from the recliner. Now what..........?

            (Read Luke 24:13-35)          

            These two disciples heading home to Emmaus weren’t on the roster of heavy hitters along with the likes of Peter, James, John, or even Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary mother of James who were among the first to discover Jesus’ tomb empty early that morning. We know the name of only one of the two, “Cleopas,” which means “glory of the father.” It’s late afternoon on that first Easter.

            These two have presumably born witness to the events of the prior week: Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem seven days ago; His chasing out the vendors and moneychangers from the temple; His controversies with the Jewish religious leadership. They’ve heard second- hand about a secret meal in an upper room with Jesus and His twelve apostles, then His arrest later that evening in the garden called “Gethsemane.” They didn’t witness Jesus’ so-called “trial,” but did see Him battered and bruised as He stood in the court of Pontius Pilate; His life swapped for that of a convicted murderer. What had He done to bring all that on they’ve wondered.

            It was common knowledge among Jesus’ disciples – both those of the inner-circle and those who were on the periphery – that He’d been talking a little crazy about some third day, when He would “be raised.” In fact, Jesus even alluded to this when threatened by some Pharisees, saying to them: “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I finish my work.” But few took Jesus seriously. The hope as most understood it; the promise as most recognized it; the Scripture as most interpreted it, foretold of a warrior king, God’s Messiah, who would rule in power and might. Cleopas and his travel companion are among those who’ve believed this very thing.

            As they begin making their way home late that first Easter afternoon, these disciples are jaded; exhausted from all the ups and downs of the previous week. They had stood a ways off on Friday in order not to be identified as followers of Jesus. From a distance, they had heard Him cry out in agony. From a distance, they had seen His chin drop to His chest after He’d breathed His last. They had slipped away to wait things out until the third day, maybe on the outside chance that…….. But no. In spite of rumors being circulated that some women from the larger group of disciples had seen a vision of angels telling them that Jesus was alive, Jesus they had not seen. Maybe it was an idle tale. Good stuff, but they’ve heard it all before. How true it is they just don’t know. Late after- noon. All hopes have been put back on the shelf. There’s an emptiness, a quietness, save the sound of a voice seemingly coming out of nowhere. “What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?” These two disciples are startled by this stranger who draws alongside them. They need to unload on someone, and this stranger is in the right place at the wrong time. “You mean you don’t know what’s been going on around here, regarding Jesus from Nazareth, how He was the One to redeem us, save us, restore us? But here it is the third day. And no Jesus. In fact, His body has been stolen. Now what?

            “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” The two disciples say to themselves: “Just who do you think you are? Don’t you know we feel badly enough without being called ‘fools.’” The stranger keeps right on talking. And although He claims ignorance about what’s gone on in these parts, He appears to know more about Jesus than anyone else. Their skepticism slowly falls away. In fact, their hearts begin to burn within them, as if they’re hearing it all for the very first time. By the time they get to the exit ramp for home, they find they can’t get enough. “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

            It’s time for an evening meal. Lighter fare. Maybe leftovers. The two disciples and the stranger take their places at table. The esteemed guest is invited to offer the blessing. He does so, breaking the bread. And just as their ears were opened when they first heard this stranger’s words of challenge, their eyes are now opened as they hear His words of grace. This stranger is Jesus! And as quickly as they recognize Him, He disappears. So now what? “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together……….. Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” The lives of Cleopas and his traveling companion were forever changed. For them, the hope was finally understood. The promise was finally recognized. The Scriptures were finally and rightly interpreted. There was no warrior king, but a suffering servant. And from that suffering sprang forth on the third day redemption, salvation, restoration; in a word, resurrection.

            We all go from Easter to Easter, year after year, decade after decade. Yeah, a glorious service! Standing room only crowds. Soaring Easter hymns. A brass ensemble. A garden of potted lilies. The preacher’s message was good, but nothing really new. Good stuff, but it’s all been said before. How true it all is……..not so sure. Then comes the afternoon. Friends, unless we have an encounter with the living Christ, we will only ask at the end of the day, now what?

            At this point, I may make a few of us uncomfortable. I annually remind those who attend only on Easter Sunday [and maybe on Christmas Eve] that we are very happy you are here, even if only for just this one day. And we are. But if you are looking for a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ; if you truly seek to understand what’s in the Book and what it all means; if you’re genuinely desiring an eye-opening, heart-burning change in your life, why not come back? For here, the word is faithfully proclaimed. Like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are all on our journeys, and we all have a lot of questions, even wondering how true it all is. Here is a place where you’re safe to ask them. On the other hand, if you’re not looking for a relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ; if you’re not truly seeking to understand what’s in the Book and what it all means; if you’re not genuinely desiring an eye-opening, heart- burning change in your life, why don’t you just come next week to make your spouse or parents happy? Otherwise, I hope we’ll see you again next Easter, or maybe on Christmas Eve. Yet know this – whether you worship here weekly, or whether you trudge along the road bearing your pain, sadness, and big questions about life and death, the Lord may very well draw alongside you, even as a stranger. My Easter prayer for all of us is that here or there, we will have that encounter. And when challenged with the question now what?, that same hour we will get up and return.

 Gracious God of resurrection and life, when it is almost evening and the day is nearly over, may we have been sought and found, even as we’re called to seek and find. Encounter us, Christ our Redeemer, and open to us the way and the truth. Inspire us, Spirit of life, along the road, and cause our hearts to burn within us as we hear afresh and anew Your word of grace and love. Hear this, our Easter prayer, for the sake of Your eternal Kingdom, and in the name of Jesus who points the way. Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102