In Luke 24:13-35 it’s still Easter Sunday, like it was last week and the week before, each week’s readings focusing on a different aspect of Jesus’ resurrection. On our Easter Sunday, we celebrated his resurrection as the triumph over death that it is. Then, last week we talked about how Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us. The Holy Spirit witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection, and we have been born again by the Holy Spirit into a living hope that is centered in Jesus Christ. This living hope is for our own bodily resurrections when Christ returns on the Last Day. Until that time the Holy Spirit bears witnesses to Christ to us and also enables us to bear witness to others in order to safeguard us in this hope through faith.
Then, this week we see clearly that what Christ came to do is in fulfillment of God’s promises. So, in Luke 24, Jesus comes up to two of his disciples who are walking to Emmaus, seven miles away from Jerusalem. The disciples’ “eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Jesus asks them what they’re talking about and they sadly relate to him all that had happened the last few ways. They say that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, and was buried and that it has been reported that on the third day he rose from the dead. But, the two disciples don’t seem to believe this; they’re sad, they think that their hopes in Jesus of being “the one to redeem Israel” have been dashed.
So, Jesus says to them, “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?” Then, “… beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
Think about that for a moment, what it says here. Jesus revealed to his disciples how he is there in the Old Testament, because he has come in fulfillment of God’s promises given in the Old Testament. He’s not really something new, then. Rather, he’s someone old. In fact, he is the creator of all things, the very Word of God – the Second Person of the Trinity – through whom all things were spoken into existence. He’s the thread who connects all of the Scriptures together, because they are all about him and what God is doing through him for all creation. He is the central actor in the divine narrative that runs from Genesis through Revelation.
This basics of this narrative are this: In the beginning, God created all things good. Yet, Adam and Eve sinned, bringing decay, death, and evil into the world. In response, God promised a Savior, the Christ, who would restore His creation. This promise begins in Genesis and is carried throughout the Old Testament, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Christ came in fulfillment of God’s promises and he is coming again to complete the restoration of all creation that he began with his death and resurrection. In between his ascension and return, Christ is still with us through Word and Sacrament, sending us the Holy Spirit to make us God’s people and integrating us into this narrative.
That’s the basics of the story that God reveals to us in the Scriptures and what we therefore witness to others about. The same God who created all things in the beginning came in the flesh to die and rise to save us and begin the restoration of His creation, and He is returning again to finish this restoration to make all things new and perfect again. This is what Christ reveals to his disciples, what they proclaimed to the world, and the witness we confess in the Creeds.
So, based on this, the thought occurs to me that Christianity is not a “religion” in the normal, conventional sense of the term. When we hear the word “religion” we tend to think of certain precepts we’re meant to believe, certain things we’re meant to do, or certain ideas which we find helpful or comforting.
But, taking into account the overall narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration that I mentioned earlier, this normal concept of “religion” falls a little short when we talk about Christianity. It falls short, because God is incorporating us into His divine narrative. He makes us the body of Christ through faith. We are therefore defined by what Christ has done for us, rather than what we are doing. It’s not “what religion do you follow?” Instead, it’s “Whose people are you?” And, you are God’s people, because he has made you Christians.
Think about it this way. If you were to describe someone you know to another person, you might start by describing how you met the person and maybe explain the types of experiences you’ve shared together. So, if someone were to ask you about your spouse, you’d probably recall where you met, where you went on your first date, when and where you got married, where you went for a honeymoon, and other details of your relationship. In this way, you are painting a picture of your mutual life together.
Similarly, this is how we can tell people about our Triune God. In the beginning, the Father spoke forth His Word to create all things and then ordered all things through His Holy Spirit. This is in Genesis, and we therefore see the Trinity in the very first verses. Then, God created Adam and Eve, but they disobeyed God’s holy will. This is what sin is: a failure to live according to God’s will. Adam and Eve’s first sin brought decay and death into the world, so this world now is not how God made it originally, nor how He intends for it to be.
So, He promised a Savior, the Christ. Then, He gathered together a people around this promise: the Church. This Church eventually became known as “Israel.” Then, in the fullness of time the promise of a Savior was fulfilled by the incarnation of Jesus the Christ. He is the Word of God made flesh. God came in person to die for our sins on the cross in order to reconcile us to God, each other, and creation itself. On the third day he then rose from the dead and is alive. He defeated sin, decay, death, the devil, and all evil through his resurrection. Then, 40 days later he ascended back into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father where he intercedes on our behalf and pours out the Holy Spirit upon us to gather us together in faith and enable us to be his witnesses. We of the New Testament Church are therefore Israel and united with the Old Testament Church in Christ, precisely because all things in the Scriptures are united in Christ.
This is the story we tell others about Jesus Christ, because we, as the Church, are the bride of Christ and his body. We tell others about what God has done for us through Christ; this is the Gospel, the Good News of the redemption, reconciliation, and restoration that we have in Christ.
So, we begin and end with Christ. This is essentially what Peter does in his sermon in Acts 2:14-41. And at the end of it, the hearers “were cut to the heart” and asked what they should do. Now that they realized that they could not save themselves, what should they do?
And Peter simply tells them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Peter doesn’t give them a list of things to do to become Christians. Simply turn to God, be baptized, and receive the forgiveness of sins and gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift, it’s free. And why? Because “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The Gospel is for everyone.
Then, everything else flows from the faith that grasps hold of Christ. The things we’re meant to believe, things we’re meant to do, and ideas which we find helpful or comforting will flow from what God has first done for us through Christ. God makes us Christians and then everything else follows from this as we live as the bride of Christ and continually receive all good things from him and are increasingly conformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of our bridegroom.
The disciples that Jesus encountered on the way to Emmaus eventually recognized him; “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Likewise, Jesus Christ is still made known to us in the “breaking of the bread.” He’s here with us bodily in the Lord’s Supper. He’s here with us in the proclamation of the Gospel. He’s constantly “interpreting to [us] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
So, we have a shared life together with the Lord as his Church; it’s similar to the shared life of a husband and wife. The Church is called to witness to this shared life together, telling all people what the Lord has done for her in order to draw more people into this body. For the Lord has created all things, gathered together a people for Himself – the Church – and set her apart for salvation, redeeming His bride through his death and resurrection.
And through this bride, the Lord is bringing forth new children into the Church through his means of grace of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the proclamation of the Gospel. So as we approach Mothers’ Day, we remember that the Church is the mother of us all, for she has re-birthed us through Baptism and then feeds us with God’s Word and Sacraments.
And there is a further promise which we continue to look forward to. It’s the return of Christ to dwell with his bride, the Church, for all eternity.
On that day, Jesus Christ will return for you and raise you from your graves. And He will bring you into the promised land of the restored creation where the Lord will dwell with you, for He is your God and you are His people. Now you see Him veiled through Word and Sacrament, then you shall see him face to face. And bride and bridegroom will finally be united in person for eternity. And this “… promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Amen.
(Image: The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road, By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2006, 00.159.338_PS1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957904 )