It’s curious that there even are lectionary readings assigned for Easter Evening. As I sit down to study this evening, I wonder how I would even get myself out for another worship service, let alone gather the congregation. But that’s the source of these readings, Isaiah 25:6-9 and Luke 24:13-35. The Luke reading, which also comes up on Easter 3A, is the reason for that traditional placement.

Where are we?

First Isaiah, as we’ve noted, is full of some serious divine wrath against Israel and the surrounding nations. It was spoken to people whose decadence and faithlessness had positioned them on the brink of destruction. At the same time, it’s filled with these poetic interludes that look ahead to the promise God is fulfilling, even through this punishment. This interlude comes after a prophecy of wrath against the land itself, then a hymn of praise to the universally powerful God.

In Luke, it’s still Easter Sunday. The women have come back from the tomb, reporting snazzily dressed messengers who told them that Jesus was alive. Although the eleven disciples remembered that Jesus had foretold these events, nobody believed the women. Peter had run to the tomb, found it empty, and gone home in awe.

What’s going on here?

Isaiah’s promises are routinely taken far out of their original context and understood as predictions of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Passages from other Old Testament prophets and the book of Revelation are usually treated the same way. They’re also often helpful at funerals.

The banquet, which points ahead to Luke’s resurrection appearance, stands in sharp contrast to the desolation that was wrought on the land just a chapter before. God is putting everything right: famine and crop failure, which are a recent curse, and death itself, which has been a curse since Genesis 4.

Notice the universals here: “over all the nations,” “throughout the world,” “everyone will say.” Isaiah’s development of the Lord as a universal deity is still in progress here, but we see how it’s going to work. At first, God can go where his people are in exile which means he can act beyond the bounds of his own territory. Stretching the idea farther, the Lord can act directly on foreign nations and even use foreign rulers to accomplish his purposes. Perhaps it’s from there that we can imagine a God of Life who can overpower death itself (here and last week in 1 Corinthians 15).

Luke provides a wonderfully rich and nuanced story of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples as they traveled. To be honest, this story probably drove much of my fiddling with the post-Easter lectionary. And I’ll probably have Isaiah read mostly for atmosphere and spend all my energy on the road to Emmaus. But then, I try not to tell the Spirit what my sermons should be about, because then I end up looking like a fool.

The disciples don’t recognize Jesus at first, a common theme in resurrection appearances. The additional detail about them recognizing him around the table is also common. The narrative irony where the disciples tell Jesus all about his own death and incredulously recount the women’s testimony of his resurrection? That’s inspired Lucan brilliance.

When Jesus explains the death and resurrection based on the Hebrew scriptures, he’s setting a pattern that will be repeated frequently in Acts (Luke’s story of the early church).

During this 14-mile walk (7 to Emmaus and then back), these two disciples have missed another resurrection appearance (to Simon Peter). Maybe that’s where Jesus went after he disappeared from the table in Emmaus? Maybe Luke acknowledges that we shouldn’t get too tied up in the literal-historical questions about how all this went down.

Sarah Henrich notes that when the disciples “got up” to return to Jerusalem (v. 33), the Greek word is the same as the one that describes Jesus being raised from death.

According to Arland Hultgren, the words that describe Jesus taking bread, blessing it, and giving it to the disciples are only a different tense of the words used to tell the story of the last supper earlier in Luke. Jesus doesn’t just feed the disciples, he celebrates the Lord’s Supper with them.

So what?

Hospitality is a big deal in the Bible. Luke talks time and again about God as the host of a party, and the way to get your name on the guest list is to invite someone else to it. The demand for hospitality goes back to Abraham; it’s established in the Law as part of the fabric of Hebrew culture; it’s a sign of faithfulness to God’s covenant. The disciples don’t recognize Jesus until after they’ve invited him to share their lodging.

There’s another layer of hospitality here, one that is absent at first and then becomes present. That layer is listening. The disciples “receive” Jesus, after a fashion, by letting him walk along the road with them. You could certainly imagine that they wouldn’t be in the mood to deal with a stranger just then. But as they walk, they do all the talking – the poignant idea of telling Jesus about himself as if he were the only person who didn’t experience the events. So Jesus hears them out, which is kind of him, but they don’t exactly learn anything in the process, do they? It’s only when he rebuts with an exegesis of all of scripture that they begin to understand what’s going on. So often we’re so busy telling each other our stories that we don’t quiet ourselves and listen to the other’s perspective. That perspective just might reveal Christ to us.

The Benedictines, who are elite hospitality-providers, have a rule that a guest to the monastery should be invited to ask tough questions and constructively critique the way things are done. I’m sure there’s a degree of skepticism in practice, but the point is that someone coming from outside might have a clearer perspective on our community than we do. The richer point is that by listening, we are able to more fully encounter Christ in another.

When I invited someone to our Easter service, they asked me if they would need to dress up. One thing I love about our congregation is that we truly do welcome people at whatever level of formality they bring to us. There are people in suit coats and people in printed t-shirts in the sanctuary together, and we seem genuinely okay with that range. Even so, I’m sure there are ways that our hospitality to others (and even the fact that I know there are “us” and “others”) continues to do more talking than listening. In what ways do we – as individuals as well as the church – impose our definitions on other people and their experiences? What would we learn if we listened for the voice of Christ in the experiences others shared with us?

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