The Road to Emmaus (Youth Sunday)

The Third Sunday of Easter, Year A.

Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “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?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 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, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

It’s such a joy to be celebrating Youth Sunday today. It’s a special privilege for you all to invite me to preach today, as the last time I preached a Youth Sunday was when I was about to graduate high school. It was my very first sermon, and it was terrible. But hey, life is a journey and we all have to start somewhere, I appreciate you all giving me a chance to redeem myself.

And in that spirit of celebrating your ministry, and your witness as young people, let’s explore the journey to Emmaus story together, and I’ll invite the adults to listen in.

Have you ever run into one of your teachers somewhere other than school? What was that like? I remember when I was little and I ran into one of my teachers at the grocery store or around town it was always a strange experience. Now my mother was a teacher, so unlike many of my classmates I knew that teachers don’t sleep in coffins all summer, but still it was weird. It’s hard to place why it was so strange, because I usually liked all my teachers well enough; but to see them outside of the classroom, outside of where I expected them to be, it always felt strange, like we were all out of place. Truthfully, I often didn’t even recognize them out in the wild, they would usually recognize me or my sister before coming over to say hi.

Did you notice in today’s Gospel story that the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus while they were walking to Emmaus? Why do you think that is? To be fair to the disciples, at this point in the story, only the women who had gone to Jesus’ tomb had seen the angels and heard about the resurrection. The disciples had heard the story from the women, but they hadn’t seen the angels themselves, they probably didn’t know what to think. What they did know was that their teacher, the messiah they had hoped for, didn’t line up with what they expected. They had thought that the Messiah was going to be a conqueror, change the world in ways that they knew, namely by playing politics and overthrowing the empire that oppressed them.

But Jesus didn’t do that, at least not in the way they expected. The Messiah had been killed by that empire and their own religious leaders, and now the women were telling them that they had seen visions of angels saying He had come back! They probably didn’t know what to think.

Then this stranger comes, who seems way out of touch, having not heard anything that had been going on, and starts teaching them a new way of looking at Scripture! How strange it must have felt to run into a teacher out in the wild.

Now of course we know how the story goes, who this mysterious teacher is. The disciples finally figured it out too, but not where we might expect: It’s easy for us to expect them to figure out the teacher is Jesus when they first saw Him. I assume Jesus wasn’t wearing a disguise or had drastically changed His appearance, save a few new scars. Even if it wasn’t His appearance that clued them in, one would expect that the disciples would figure it out when He starts teaching them. He said that He hadn’t heard anything about the Messiah being killed in Jerusalem but here He goes teaching how Scripture shows the Messiah had to suffer, die, and resurrect to save the world. How did they not figure it out then?

Do you remember when the disciples finally saw that it was Jesus? It was at dinner when He broke the bread. Just like He had done at the Last Supper when He told them “do this in remembrance of me.” Finally, they remembered. Finally, they recognized Him.

Why do you think that the disciples didn’t recognize the Risen Jesus until He broke bread? There’s probably a lot of reasons, it’s hard to say, I wasn’t there. But I think part of it was that we are often blinded by our expectations. We get so used to seeing people only in certain contexts that we don’t even recognize them when they’re not “in their place”. Perhaps that’s why it’s so weird to run into your teachers outside of the classroom. It’s not where you expect them to be.

When you start driving, or if you’ve already started driving, you’ll notice something similar. You’ll learn the routes you take from home to school, to your friends’ houses, and other places you go regularly pretty quickly; but the first time you go to one of those places from a different direction, you won’t recognize where you are until you get there.

This story reminds us how too often we let our expectations blind us, how we let expectations hold power over us. As a young person, you know how quickly you get stuck with expectations being thrown on you. Often adults don’t have high expectations of you. Some think that you can’t handle a complicated world, that you can’t handle the Truth. You get used as a tool for their expectations “who will think of the children!” Sometimes it can feel like there are too many expectations on you. That you have to follow a certain life path that someone else expects of you. You have to take these classes, go to this school, prepare for this job.

On the other hand, sometimes you too are blinded by expectations. It’s easy to be unsure of yourself, but look around and expect that everyone else has it all figured out, especially adults. It can be especially frustrating when adults make mistakes or are unfair, especially our parents, because we expect them to know better.

All of us are told that we shouldn’t expect good news, that this is how the world is and we shouldn’t expect it to get better anytime soon.

Of course, the Risen Jesus isn’t bound by our expectations. If nothing else, the road to Emmaus reminds us that God appears in places where we don’t expect.

One of the most important revelations you’ll have as you grow up is that despite our expectations, no one has it “all figured out”. Life is a journey we make together. And despite what people will tell you and all their expectations, we’re all just people trying to figure it out together. When we reset our expectations, it’s suddenly a lot easier to be kinder and loving.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t handle a complicated world. You are smart, you can handle difficult and complicated questions. You don’t have to know everything to know what’s right and wrong, and how people need to be treated with kindness. Don’t let someone else’s expectations define you. It’s your life, and you are the one who decides what you should do with it. And as best as you can, don’t worry too much about making mistakes or choosing the wrong class or career path. You will make mistakes, we all do. You will probably make some wrong choices along the way. When you do, remember that it’s never too late to change for the better. Whether it’s you, someone you love, or even this world, it’s never too late to change for the better. Even the Messiah had to suffer these things to enter into His glory.

Be mindful of your own expectations, especially with the people closest to you. Part of growing up is realizing that we’re all just people making the journey through a complicated world. It can be easy to get mad when adults make mistakes or challenge your worldview. Especially when it’s our loved ones. The truth is that they are people too. Sometimes they don’t know better. Sometimes they are blinded by their expectations of you. Sometimes they are unsure, and they’ll make the wrong choice. Sometimes, they really do know better and have advice worth listening to. Sometimes, you will see the Truth more clearly and need to guide them.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, a lot of expectations. But you can be certain that there are a whole lot of people who love you. Many of them are in this very room! There are so many people that love you and want nothing but the best for you. What you can reasonably expect is that we love you, and we’re doing our best, even if we don’t always do it right. We are all making this journey together. And if we walk this journey with humility & kindness, with the people we love, with the God who loves us, we are on the path to a better world. Amen.


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