Sermon for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists for Sabbath, March 31, 2018
Texts: Isaiah 25:4-9. Luke 24:18-24.
The way the story begins it could have happened in Seattle last Sunday. A couple of guys were on a seven mile hike. But it didn’t happen in Seattle and it didn’t happen in 2018. It was Sunday afternoon the weekend Jesus of Nazareth died 2000 years ago and the setting was not the forested hills of western Washington but the desert road from Jerusalem to a little village named Emmaus.
The two men had been devotees of Jesus, disciples. They were dragging themselves back home after the worst Sabbath in the history of the universe—or at least the worst Sabbath they had experienced or could imagine. On a sunny afternoon in July the hike up to Panhandle Gap in Mt. Rainier National Park is not long. The beauty of the place and the loveliness of the air make every step a delight.
But when your world has been shattered, seven miles is a long way. It’s a long time. For Cleopas and his friend, the two guys in this story, this was the most horrible, terrible, miserable weekend in the history of the universe.
And it wasn’t just Cleopas and his friend. Dozens, scores, hundreds of people had spent the last three years in the company of Jesus. They had listened to his teaching and been stirred to the very core of their being. They had watched his interactions with every kind of person and been charmed. They had observed healings. Some of them had even participated in healing, working miracles through the power that flowed through Jesus. They had been there when people completely pervaded with demonic presence had been set free and restored to happiness and freedom. Their own feet had danced as they witnessed crippled people recover the use of their legs and begin leaping about in ecstatic joy.
Jesus lived at the center of a pulsing movement of goodness and healing. For a thousand years prophets had spoken of a golden age to come, of a time when oppression would cease and justice would rise. The prophets foresaw a wave of mercy sweeping the earth.
For Jesus’ companions and followers, it was easy to believe the prophets. In the ministry of Jesus you could see the prophetic vision taking form.
Then came the horror of Friday and the crucifixion and the extinction of hope.
It was the most horrible, terrible, miserable Sabbath in the history of the universe.
On Friday when Jesus was crucified, it seemed that hope itself had been butchered. On Sabbath, the disciples gathered here and there to cling to each other, to grieve together, to despair together, to be miserable together, because it was better being miserable and hopeless together than alone.
Sunday morning, the men were still lost in misery. There was nothing to do but be miserable. But the women had work to do. They had duties. The duties of proper grieving. They took spices and returned to the tomb early Sunday morning to complete the work of preparing Jesus’ body for the long dark descent into the netherworld.
At the graveyard—a place where tombs had been cut into the rock—they found the grave standing open and empty—the great round rock door rolled aside. Double checking they verified the tomb was empty. Then a vision of angels informed them that, of course, the tomb was empty because, as they should remember, Jesus had predicted he would die and rise again.
The women raced back to town and to the gathered men to report their finding.
The men, naturally, thought the women were crazy, so Peter and John raced off to the tomb to check for themselves and eventually came back to report that they, too, found the tomb empty. The women were right.
Now, it was late in the afternoon, and the two disciples, Cleopas and his friend, were hiking the seven miles back to their house in Emmaus.
It was a miserable hike. Long. Way too long. They were dragging their feet, walking at half their usual speed.
A stranger came up behind them then slowed his steps and joined them in their miserable march. “What are you guys talking about?” he asked.
Cleopas and his friend told him. They were talking about Jesus of Nazareth, of course. He was the best man who had ever lived, the most powerful healer ever to appear in Israel. They had hoped that he was the Messiah. That he would inaugurate the day of the Lord spoken of so glowingly by all the prophets. But alas, the religious leaders had persuaded the governor to order his crucifixion on Friday. They buried the best man who ever lived late Friday afternoon.
That was all terrible and horrible. Then curiously, this morning some women had found the tomb empty and they were trying to figure out what to make of that.
The stranger chided them for being so glum. Didn’t they realize this was all in agreement with the divine plan? The messiah was indeed supposed to do and teach the very things that Jesus did and said. But there was more. The Messiah was also supposed to die at the hands of evil men. And then he would be resurrected. He would triumph over death. He would rise again!! This was all foretold by the ancient prophets.
Cleopas and his buddy listened with growing amazement as this stranger expounded on the ancient prophecies. Arriving back at their village, they invited the stranger to stay with them for the night. He accepted their invitation.
When they sat down for supper, they invited the stranger to say the blessing for the food. As he lifted his hands and began pronouncing the blessing, they suddenly realized who this was. It was Jesus. And in that same instant the stranger disappeared.
Cleopas and his friend stared at each other wild-eyed. Jesus! That was Jesus! Wow! He is risen. He is risen, indeed.
They jumped up from the table and raced back toward Jerusalem to share the news. He is risen. We have seen him. He is not dead. He is risen.
This time the road was long for an entirely different reason. They could scarcely contain themselves in their excitement. They could not wait to announce to the rest of the disciples their news. He is risen. We have seen him. He is not dead. He is risen.
The story of Cleopas and his friend is our story. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.
The tomb could not hold him. He is risen.
Neither conservative priests nor evil governors could thwart the ministry of Jesus.
He is risen.
When we go back into the story, we find other details that add to the drama. The priests had worried about a resurrection or at least a pretended resurrection so they had the governor post a guard team at the tomb to make sure no one stole the body.
Their terror, their failure, added to the luster of the story.
The soldiers fell as dead men before the dazzling light of the heavenly messenger sent to summon Jesus from the grave. He is risen.
This is our story. He is risen.
This is our faith.
When the devil did his damndest and killed the Lord of Glory. God’s answer was resurrection.
When our hearts are crushed by tragedy and injustice and it appears that goodness has finally been killed off for good, we push back against the apparent triumph of evil, shouting He is risen. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen.
He is risen.