On this third Sunday of Easter, we have another resurrection appearance by the risen Jesus. This time Jesus appears to two of his followers who are walking on a road to the town of Emmaus. But before I get to that story, let me tell you another story – this one told by one of my favorite story tellers – Paul Harvey. Listen!
His name was Walter Elias, a city boy by birth, the son of a building contractor. Before Walter was five, his parents moved from Chicago to a farm near Marceline, Missouri. And it was there on the farm that Walter would have his first encounter with death.
Walter was only seven that particular lazy summer afternoon not much different from other afternoons. Dad was tending to farm chores, Mother was in the house. It was the perfect day for a young fellow to go exploring.
Now just beyond a grove of graceful willows was an apple orchard. There Walter could make-believe to his heart's content: that he was lost, which he never was, or that he had captured a wild animal, which he never had. But today was different. Directly in front of him, about thirty feet away, perched in the low-drooping branch of an apple tree and apparently sound asleep -- was an owl. The boy froze.
He remembered his father telling him that owls rested during the day so they could hunt at night. What a wonderful pet that funny little bird would make. If only Walter could approach it without awakening it, and snatch it from the tree.
With each step, the lad winced to hear dry leaves and twigs crackle beneath his feet. The owl did not stir.
Closer ... and closer ... and at last young Walter was standing under the limb just within range of his quarry. Slowly he reached up with one hand and grabbed the bird by its legs. He had captured it!
But the owl, waking suddenly, came alive like no other animal Walter had ever seen! In a flurry of beating wings, wild eyes and frightened cries it struggled against the boy's grasp. Walter, stunned, held on.
Now it's difficult to imagine how what happened next, happened. Perhaps the response was sparked by gouging talons or by fear itself. But at some point the terrified boy, still clinging to the terrified bird, flung it to the ground -- and stomped it to death. When it was over, a disbelieving Walter gazed down at the broken heap of bronze feathers and blood. And he cried.
Walter ran from the orchard but later returned to bury the owl, the little pet he would never know. Each shovelful of earth from the shallow grave was moistened with tears of deep regret. And for months thereafter, the owl visited Walter's dreams. Ashamed, he would tell no one of the incident until many years later. By then, the world forgave him.
For that sad and lonely summer's day in the early spring of Walter Elias brought with it an awakening of the meaning of life. Walter never, ever again, killed a living creature. Although all the boyhood promises could not bring that one little owl back to life, through its death a whole world of animals came into being.
For it was then that a grieving seven-year-old boy attempting to atone for a thoughtless misdeed, first sought to possess the animals of the forest while allowing them to run free – by drawing them.
Now the boy too is gone, but his drawings live on in the incomparable, undying art of Walter Elias...Disney. Walt Disney. And now you know THE REST OF THE STORY. Man, do I miss Paul Harvey!
What I want to talk to you about today is this. Sometimes it takes a significant event in someone’s life to make a significant change in someone’s life, wouldn’t you agree? This, apparently, is what happened to Walt Disney. This is what happened to these two disciples in our Gospel reading today. They experienced a significant event that made a significant change in their lives.
This is an important story. And let me tell you why. I want you to pay attention to how the lives of these two followers – these disciples of Jesus – I want you to pay attention to how their encounter with the risen Christ changed their lives.
The day is Sunday, the same day that Jesus rose from the dead. These two disciples are walking along, dejected, saddened, disappointed. They are aware that the tomb of Jesus has been found empty by some of the women among them as well as by Peter and John. But they don’t know what to make of the empty tomb. And even though angels told the women that Jesus was alive, they just haven’t put two and two together yet. They haven’t figured out that the tomb is empty because Jesus has been raised from the dead. They don’t yet know – the rest of the story.
And that’s when Jesus comes along and joins them as they walk along. He asks them what they are talking about. And they are amazed! “Are you clueless? Don’t you know what’s been going on in Jerusalem these past few days?”
Jesus plays dumb. “What things?” And they tell him. It is then that Jesus explains the Scriptures to them – explained what the Scriptures had to say about himself – and that it was necessary for the Messiah to die. Why these two didn’t take notes and write it all down, I don’t know. I just wish they had.
But finally, they reach Emmaus, they invite Jesus to have dinner with them. And it is at dinner that Jesus reveals himself to them. And when they recognize him, he disappears. And now they understand. This is the moment when they get it! NOW they know the rest of the story. They are so excited, that they immediately make the trip back to Jerusalem – I can imagine they might even have run part of the way – although if you’ve ever tried running in sandals you know just how difficult that can be. But they get back to Jerusalem Just as fast as they can – back to the other disciples. They can’t wait to tell the others that Jesus is alive. Their encounter with the risen Christ changed them. Earlier in the day they had been sad and dejected and confused. Now they were filled with joy and excitement – and they couldn’t wait to tell someone about what they had seen and heard. Their encounter with Jesus was a life changing moment.
Don't miss the significance of this. Don’t miss the power of the resurrection to change lives – to change your life! If you will let it – the good news of Jesus and his resurrection can change you at the core of your being. This is what happens when a person has an encounter with the risen Christ.
Listen! We know how the two disciples’ on the road to Emmaus responded to this life-changing event. And the rest of the disciples? We know how they responded too. As we pointed out last week – they became bold proclaimers of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead. And they lost their lives because they would not stop telling others about all that they had heard and seen.
When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus – we have a choice to make. We have a choice – and this is it: We can deny the resurrection – or we can believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – or we can say we’re still just not quite sure. Let’s call this the Easter choice. Either Jesus is risen from the dead – or he isn’t – OR we’re just not sure.
But let me tell you, the resurrection changes everything. This changes everything! The disciples were convicted by Jesus as he walked along the road with them. Listen to what verse 32 says again. “Were not our hearts burning within us,” – someone once called this holy heartburn – “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” The disciples were convicted by everything that they had heard and seen.
I hope that what you have heard and seen here today may be convicting for you. If you acknowledge that the resurrection really happened – after examining all of the evidence – which by the way is quite overwhelming – and all efforts to explain away the resurrection fall flat on their faces – and you come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus – when you understand that the evidence tells us that something must have happened that day to cause this kind of change in the hearts and mind and lives of those first disciples – then it seems to me that you would want to let that same truth – that same conviction – take you to the next step. The step that takes you from belief to transformation.
And the transformation that I am talking about is real – and yes it is also a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. But through the person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changes everything.
Listen! There are life changing moments in everyone’s life. You’ve had them – we’ve all had them – and there may still be more to come.
But I don’t want you to miss this one. This one is huge! I don’t want you to miss out on the life-changing transformation of the resurrection. Because this is the truth that changes everything. How we look at life – how we look at death – how we look at how we relate to God and to each other – how we choose to live our lives. Because of Easter – because Jesus is risen from the dead – the resurrection is a life-changing moment. It certainly was for Jesus!
And for you and me too!