The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 23, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

You may know that I do a lot of puzzles. I do them for fun but also because they help me with things like writing sermons.  If I’m stuck staring at a blinking cursor on my computer with no idea what to write next, I set a timer, go work on a puzzle for say 15 or 30 or 45 minutes and then come back to the computer.

Puzzling is just enough of a shift in brain activity that I can usually solve my writing puzzle while doing the physical puzzle.

If that doesn’t work, a walk often does, and if that doesn’t work well…. not every sermon can be a winner.

I do a lot of puzzles but I am also pretty picky about the ones I do.  Despite how much I like dogs, I don’t like most puzzles with pictures of puppies on them. I also have brands I prefer because I know they make quality puzzle pieces regardless of the pictures.

Sometimes when a puzzle wasn’t created very well, it’s not always clear if you have a piece in the right place.  Poorly constructed pieces can sometimes fit in spaces where they aren’t really meant to fit.

I hate that.

Sometimes, I know I need a particular piece and I look and I look and I sift and I sort and I just can’t seem to find it.  I know I need an orange piece with three outies and one innie and it’s got to be in the box but I just can’t find it.

Until suddenly I realize I’ve been staring at the piece I needed the whole time, I just hadn’t recognized it.

Our gospel story begins, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened.” (13-14)

Seven miles is a little over 11 kilometers so this is a decent walk.   More than long enough to have a rich detailed conversation, if you’re so inclined.

So, two of them are walking, which two?  One is a man named Cleopas, he is named in the text, and N.T. Wright speculates that the second person is his wife, Mary.  There is a story in the gospel of John about a married couple with those names and Wright believes that it is likely that these are the same people. (John 19:25).

So if Wright is correct, Mary and her husband Cleopas are walking to Emmaus talking about current events, and there would have been a lot to talk about. There hadn’t been a slow news day in quite some time. First Jesus was arrested, then tried, then crucified and then well, the next part of the story was rather… puzzling.

Beyond current events, we don’t know exactly what they were talking about but whatever the content of the conversation, the purpose of the conversation was most likely to try and make meaning out of everything that had happened. To try and put the pieces together and wrap their heads around all of the ways their lives had been turned on their heads in such a short period of time.   To try and make sense of things and to try and decide what they should believe, how they should feel, what they should do next.

I suspect we all can relate to this unsettled feeling.  I suspect you have all had an experience where suddenly everything changed, where the things you thought were true, the things you thought you could trust, just vanished.

Maybe it was the pandemic.  When suddenly going out to eat or going to church or just breathing near people became a deadly activity.  Or maybe it was when a relationship or a job ended unexpectedly or when someone you loved died.

Whatever it was, everything changed. You thought you knew what the future was going to look like and now… you don’t.

This is what Mary and Cleopas are experiencing, walking on the road, trying to make sense of things that make no sense.

It is at this point, that Jesus appears and joins them on their walk, but they don’t realize that it is Jesus. (15)

It’s not that Jesus was automatically unrecognizable, the text tells us that, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (16). Jesus approaches them and asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (17)

After Jesus asks the question, we’re told, “They stood still, looking sad.” (17)

This question stops them in their tracks… literally.   They just stop walking and stay still, looking sad.

Jesus has asked them a question, “What are you talking about?” and now Mary and Cleopas have a choice to make – will they tell the truth to this stranger, or will they lie? Will they admit that they are talking about Jesus? Will they admit that they are also followers of Jesus?

It’s a difficult decision to make, this man is a stranger and they have no reason to trust him, they have no reason to trust that if they tell this stranger that they are followers of Jesus Christ that they won’t be reported to the authorities.

It makes no sense for them to trust this stranger with their lives.

And yet, that is what they choose to do.

Even though it was dangerous, they not only tell Jesus the basic details of recent events, they boldly make it clear that they were among Jesus’ followers. They don’t say, “Jesus of Nazareth who some people thought was a prophet,” they say, “Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (19)

Of this they are confident, Jesus was a prophet. But then, as they continue to tell the story, their confidence wavers.  “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” (21)

“We had hoped,” they said.

Now those hopes are gone.  They had believed that Jesus was a prophet, but more than that, that he was the Messiah. The one who would save Israel.   And now they’re not sure.

Jesus died, which logically means he couldn’t have been the Messiah. Or at least, that’s what they’d thought for the past few days, but now, some members of their company have claimed to have seen Jesus alive so… what are they supposed to believe?

We had hoped.

Mary and Cleopas are in mourning. They are mourning the death of Jesus, who they had hoped would be the Messiah who would save them.

But they are also in mourning for the future they thought came with that. A future where they and their people were no longer colonized by the Romans.

They are in mourning for a future where they would be free – free of fear, free to worship the way they wanted to, free to be who they were without the need to hide or worry that someone would hurt or kill them just for being Jewish.

Being with Jesus had given them hope for a better future and they had dared to dream and to believe that it could come true.

But now, that hope is gone.

“We had hoped,” they say.

They are walking home trying to make sense of this change, trying to regroup, trying to imagine a world where the future they longed for is no longer possible.

I have never believed I had met God in human form only to be completely disappointed when he turned out to be just an ordinary human, but I have had situations where I allowed myself to believe in a vision of the future that never came true.

I have had experiences where suddenly, and without warning, everything I thought was true, everything I thought I could rely on, every dream I had just… vanished.

I have had moments where I felt the way I imagine Mary and Cleopas felt as they were walking that day, telling their story to this strange man they met on the road.

Jesus listens to Mary and Cleopas, even though he actually knows the whole story. Never underestimate the value of listening to someone else’s story. Even if you already know the basic details, there is power in letting someone talk and listening when they do.

And after he listens, Jesus says, “You’ve got everything you need to understand what is going on, you’ve just got the puzzle pieces all mixed up. Here, let me sort it out for you.”

And then, Luke tells us that, beginning with the stories of Moses and all the prophets, Jesus beings to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together.  Without revealing his own identity, he fits all the details of scripture and current events together to show who the Messiah is and why he had to die.  (25-27)

He doesn’t finish the puzzle though, he saves the final piece for later in the story.

When their destination is in sight, Mary and Cleopas invite Jesus to stay with them and he agrees.  They eat a meal together and during that meal, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, the image suddenly clicks into focus.

Luke tells us, “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?”  (30-32)

They were so excited, that they leave their home and go all the way back to Jerusalem, another seven miles, so that they can tell the other disciples what has happened. When they find them they tell the disciples everything that had happened and they said, “he was made known to us in the breaking of the bread.” (33-35)

And that is where our reading for today ends which feels like a bit of a cliffhanger to me.  Do the disciples believe Mary and Cleopas, what happens next?

Well thankfully, we don’t have to rely entirely on the lectionary here, we can just flip through a Bible and read the next part of the story.

And the next thing that happens in the story is that Jesus appears to all of them. He’s just suddenly … there.  (36)

Which freaks everyone out at first because they think he’s a ghost but eventually everyone calms down, they realize that it’s not a ghost, that it really is Jesus, in the flesh.

There is still a lot of fear and confusion in the room, but also joy.  Jesus is alive!

And then they all eat together, and talk together and Jesus gently puts the pieces of the puzzle together for all of them.

But here’s the thing, when Jesus has finished explaining, the picture of the puzzle looks… different than what the disciples had expected.   Not bad, it’s pretty beautiful actually, but it’s different.

Their joy has been restored, their hope has been restored, but the future they had hoped for? It’s gone.

Something better has replaced it.

They will need time to grieve the world they had hoped for, and to adjust to this new reality, but eventually they will see that God’s plan is a good plan for them, and for everyone who will come after them.

I’m not sure if you’re in a “I had hoped” place today, grieving a dream for the future that will not come true, of if you are in a hopeful place, building a dream for a new future, but wherever you are, Jesus is there also.

Jesus is with you wherever you are on the road, and Jesus is with us today, in our worship and in the breaking of the bread.

Which is good news.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.