+ In the Love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I love this morning's Gospel on so many levels.
First of all, I love this morning's Gospel because it's great entertainment: while two of Jesus' followers are talking about him, Jesus himself joins them— and plays dumb:
"Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?"
We enjoy being in on the secret, just as Luke's first readers would have enjoyed being in on the secret.
Second, I love this morning's Gospel because it gathers up earlier themes and passages from Luke's Gospel.
It's hard to appreciate this because we never read Luke's Gospel all the way through in one reading.
For example, in this morning's Gospel Cleopas identifies Jesus as a prophet who was to redeem Israel.
Please turn in your pew Bibles to the very beginning of Luke' Gospel, 1:67-70, and catch the prominent mentions of prophecy and the redemption of Israel:
"Then [John the Baptist's] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy [concerning Jesus]: 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old. . . .'"
And now turn to Luke 2:36-38, when Jesus is presented in the Temple 40 days after his birth, and again note the themes of prophecy and redemption:
"There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."
And then, as we continue to read through his Gospel, Luke tells us again and again what it means to be a prophet:
Please turn to 4:24-30. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth:
"And he said, 'Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.' When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way."
Jesus has barely begun his ministry as a prophet and already he is in peril.
Now turn a few chapters later to 6:22, at the conclusion of the Beatitudes, when Jesus tells his disciples:
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."
Now turn to 11:47-50. Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, the most popular of the Jewish religious groups:
"Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,' so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world. . . ."
And finally, please turn to 13:31-35.
"At that very hour some Pharisees [not all Pharisees were against Jesus] came and said to him, 'Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.' He said to them, 'Go and tell that fox for me, "Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem." Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."'"
All of these passages running through Luke's Gospel prepare us for what Jesus tells the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"
Jesus' suffering and death on the cross weren't necessary because God willed it, but because we human beings almost always resist and kill God's prophets. In our reading from Acts this morning, Peter tells his listeners: "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." "Corrupt generation" may be sound like a quaint description to our ears, but it's an accurate one for every generation.
And so the third reason I love this morning's Gospel is because it assures me that no matter what we do to resist God's love, God always turns suffering to glory, and death to resurrection.
I also love this morning's Gospel because it assures me that Jesus draws near to us every time we remember and talk about him, perhaps especially when we are feeling sad and hopeless, just as Jesus drew near to those sad and hopeless disciples on the road to Emmaus.
And I love this morning's Gospel because it assures me that even when Jesus draws near to us he will never force himself or impose himself on us: "As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on."
I love this morning's Gospel because it assures me that if we ask Jesus to stay with us, Jesus will stay with us; and I love this morning's Gospel because every time we take bread, and bless it, and break it, and give it to one another, it is in fact Jesus who takes the bread, Jesus who blesses it, Jesus who breaks it, and Jesus who gives it to us— because whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus is our host and we are his guests.
I love this morning's Gospel because it inspired one of my favorite prayers. Please turn to page 124 in The Book of Common Prayer. Shall we pray it together?
"Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of the bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen."
And finally I love this morning's Gospel because after Jesus "vanished from their sight," "That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, 'The Lord has risen indeed.'"
So I love this morning's Gospel because whenever we shout "Christ is risen!" the answering response "The Lord is risen indeed!" comes from this morning's Gospel.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!