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The Risen Stranger

Sermon 344 St. Martin’s 100 4/7/24

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

“I must meet the crucified Jesus again as a risen stranger.” That’s a reflection by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

A risen stranger. I had never thought of Jesus as a stranger until I came across that quote earlier this week.

How many times did our parents tell us as kids, “Beware of strangers”? I remember in elementary school we would watch videos that warned us of suspicious behaviors to look out for. People in unmarked vans handing out candy probably don’t have your best interest at heart. You had to be careful who you trusted, especially adults, because as the saying goes, “Stranger Danger.”

But times have certainly changed. Now we pay to get into a stranger's car at all hours of the day or night. Thank you Uber and Lyft.

Somehow as a culture, we have simultaneously become more accustomed to engaging with strangers whether it’s online or grabbing a rideshare at the airport, while also being more cautious of others than ever before. Little kids don’t venture very far from their house like they used to.

How then are we to make sense of the Risen Jesus as a stranger, with these modern notions in mind? What does the archbishop mean that we need to meet Jesus again as a risen stranger? Let’s look for a moment at the evidence.

There are some notable changes to Jesus’ words and actions when we read the passages that follow the resurrection. His appearance is changed in such a way that even his most beloved friends do not recognize him. And yet, on closer inspection, they can see the scars of his crucifixion.

He has a real body that can be touched and grasped, yet this body is not bound by space and time, in the ways it was before his death. He eats fish with his friends like anyone else, but he can also go through walls. As quickly as he appears, he can disappear.

Even how the Risen Jesus talks to his friends is a bit different. Though his love for them never wavers, he tells them to not hold onto him—though he is here, among them at the moment—he is not staying for long. When he appears, he does not linger, and he has told them, he is moving onward to the Father.

He cannot stay, though staying is the one thing his disciples want him to do.

In all of these post-resurrection accounts, there is a gravitas to his presence when he does appear—for obvious reasons. It’s not every day that you see someone who was brutally murdered a few days prior. His mere presence convicts those who abandoned him—though in their guilt, they find him ready to bestow upon them the garland of grace and forgiveness.

Thomas is a perfect example of a follower who encounters the strangeness of the resurrection. It is incomprehensible that Jesus would be back until the Risen One is staring at him in the face.

In the same way that Jesus would not be bound by other’s expectations of him during his ministry, now he will not be bound by…well, anything. He is not caught up in the past, looking to settle old scores or guilt-trip his rather lousy disciples. He is not bound by the natural laws that govern our existence in this universe.

He is free in a way that no one else has ever been free. His unbinding of death created a multitude of effects that could not be fully comprehended by his disciples as they stood there, jaws on the floor, looking at the man they thought was stone-cold dead.  

There is an “otherness” to Jesus on this side of the grave, and it must be accepted that this is how it’s going to be. There’s no going back now that there is something new—completely and utterly new because of Jesus’ resurrection.

The disciples have been given a glimpse into a world that is very different from there own, but just enough to make the strangeness feel oddly familiar—like trying to remember a word that is on the tip of your tongue—it’s there but not fully grasped or understood.

The Road to Emmaus This had to be the underlying feeling of the two disciples making the steep, downhill journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the evening of that first Easter.

This stranger who begins to walk with them somewhere along their seven-mile journey seems to be both clueless and yet one who speaks with authority. He is apparently the only person in Jerusalem who has not heard the rumors from that morning.

But then, this quite unassuming stranger begins to lecture them, even calling them foolish for not seeing the signs, as he opens up in extraordinary detail the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim (the Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings).

The two disciples don’t want to let this interesting stranger go, and so they invite him to stay with them for the night. But then he does the oddest thing as a guest—he plays the role of a host.

He takes the bread, prays over it, and begins to hand it to them. As he hands it to each of them, their eyes are opened, and they see him for who he really is. And just like that, he’s gone.

On that Easter evening, they found Jesus not as a dead friend but as a living stranger.[i] And he was seen and known for who he truly was in the breaking of the bread.

Bishop’s Story When I was in college, the Diocese of Massachusetts was interviewing a few candidates to become their next bishop. At the end of this process, before the members of the diocese voted, the final four candidates were invited to speak at a few churches, so that people were able to personally hear from them before making a final decision.

I ended up going to one of these meetings at a church in Salem. As I sat in the darkly lit nave, each of the candidates stood in front of the altar and was asked to describe their “Damascus Road” experience. 

The question was referring to Acts 9 when Paul was knocked to the ground by a shining light and Jesus called him to stop persecuting the Church and start following him. For Paul, it was the moment he turned 180 and completely changed his life. 

To be honest I don’t remember any of the candidates’ responses except one. This particular priest admitted that he never had a Damascus Road experience. Jesus had never knocked him off his horse and called him by name in a dramatic way, as he did for the Apostle Paul. 

Rather, he said, his faith story was more like the road to Emmaus.

It’s while on the journey that Jesus comes at an unexpected hour and walks beside us. He meets us on the road, where we already are, and when he pleases (and when we are looking), he reveals himself to us.

They ended up electing him bishop.

Conclusion Part of our Emmaus journey together is to continue to break bread on a weekly basis; to tell the old, old story through the Eucharistic Prayer that is rich with the themes of salvation history including the Passover and images of sacrifice and redemption.

And then we hear Jesus’ words to the last time he was the host of a dinner and broke bread with his friends before his death. We should not be surprised that Jesus did almost the exact same thing in Emmaus. Jesus was making an emphatic point.

He commanded his followers to keep breaking bread in remembrance of him and as a foretaste of the eternal banquet in the Kingdom of God. It is both a call to remembrance and to point us to our everlasting hope.

But Eugene Peterson reminds us that it cannot end when we leave this place, or we’d be missing the entire point. He wrote, “The Eucharist in which we remember and proclaim salvation in Christ spills out of the chalice in the sanctuary and flows into the details of our common lives” (212).

What happens at the Lord’s Table is supposed to inform and shape our lives as we go back to our own kitchen tables (paraphrase 222). Notice how the two disciples immediately rushed back to Jerusalem in the dead of night to tell the others this amazing thing that just happened to them. They ran back to community.

To break bread in this place assumes we are breaking bread with one another on a regular basis—that we are in communion with our Risen Lord and in community with fellow believers.

If you feel like you may have one of those but not the other, it’s time that we talk. It’s time to Come and See the communion and community this place has to offer, for the glory of God. This is what it means to be the church.

As we prepare to take part in this meal, may you come ready to meet the crucified Jesus as a risen stranger, but know that this stranger is both the host and the meal. He is the One who invites you to this meal, but he is also the Bread of Life. He is walking with us on the journey, but the journey ultimately leads to him.

And as he would have it, in some perplexing way, we are to take and eat the Body of Christ so that we may go and be the body of Christ.


Easter II. Year B. Come and See sermon series. Luke 24:13-35. Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel. Rowan Williams. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Eugene Peterson.

[i] A phrase used by Rowan Williams in that chapter.

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