Sermon for Easter Monday

by Adolf Hoenecke
translated by Andrew Ewings and Aaron Voss

This translation was completed in connection with the 2010 American German Lutheran Writers elective. In it Hoenecke discusses the amazing contrast between how that first Easter day began and ended for the Emmaus disciples.

Text: Luke 24:13-35

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Dearly beloved in Christ,

What a noteworthy difference there is between our chief Christian festivals if we notice how their first celebration once was and how it appears today. Look at the first Christmas! Certainly there was great glory there: light in heaven, bands of angels, a heavenly song of praise, and above all, the Child who made us children of God was born. But if you look at the celebration of the people, of the church, where were they? It was dark in Bethlehem; everything was sleeping. Christmas joy, Christmas jubilation was only found among the few shepherds in the field, later in the stall, and among those who found out about the message. And nowadays, how everything moves at Christmastime! There is jubilation and gladness among many thousands of Christians.

Then there’s Easter. At that time it was said, “Let everything far and wide be cheerful.” And so it is. The day moves many thousands—even though not all are truly moved by the Holy Spirit. Bu still, there is a festive atmosphere and a festive joy everywhere.

How different was the first Christian Easter when God’s great work took place, when the Son’s resurrection and the entire world’s redemption was firmly sealed and attested by God! You certainly know how it was on the first Easter. Where were the festival’s Easter joy and jubilation at dawn then? The day did not dawn cheerfully for the disciples. They were sad. Their faith and hope were at an all-time low. That is how a good portion of the day went. But here you can also say, “Why are you downcast, my soul? And why are you so restless within me? Wait for God because I will still thank him for being my help and my God.” Now we want to hear something more about this. On the basis of the text we focus on:

The First Easter Festival of the Emmaus Disciples

  1. How it began very sorrowfully

  2. Yet ended so joyfully

I. How it began very sorrowfully

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” Thus our festival Gospel begins. We learn the name of the one disciple. He is called Cleopas. The other remains unknown to us. They probably belonged to the 70 disciples who were almost constantly with the Lord. Both traveled to the nearby village of Emmaus on Easter. The time in which we see them traveling is seemingly late in the afternoon of the first Easter. For shortly afterwards, when they arrived at Emmaus, we hear them saying, “The day is almost over, and it will soon be evening.”

Now the first dear Easter did not dawn as a joyful day for both of them, but as a sorrowful day, even though so great and joyful a thing happened. Not only did the earthly sun shine bright and clear early on this day and make a bright and cheerful day, but also the heavenly Sun, Christ, rose in the most wonderful brightness, for he emerged out of the grave and death as the Life. However, that day was certainly a dark and sad day of mourning for both of them from the start; it was the same even later in the afternoon.

Why was this day of joy a dark and sad day of mourning for them, then? The darkness that made this day sorrowful and sad for them was not outside of them but inside, in their hearts. How was it that way, then? We learn exactly enough from their words. For, as much as both these good people were greatly lacking that which is best--the illumined eyes of understanding—nevertheless, they were very open-hearted and honestly showed all the misery in their hearts.

We hear it now for the first time: their hearts were full of depressing memories. What must they have experienced in those days? What they never considered possible happened. Their hearts were full of misery because of it, their mouths overflowed with moaning and sighing about it. They were utterly downcast and bent out of shape about it. Everyone could see it: they were deeply afflicted people. And so they accepted their sorrow to the point that they did not care about anything else around themselves. They hardly paid attention to the man who joined them and traveled with them until he directed a word to them: “What are these things that you are talking about between yourselves along the way, and why are you so sad?”

I can imagine how both these good people looked at their companion puzzled and astonished by this question, how could he even ask such a question? Therefore one of them says, “Are you the one person, the only one who does not know what happened in Jerusalem these past few days? How is that even possible? Hear it now: the priests and the people have condemned Jesus of Nazareth and crucified him. Our hearts are bleeding, and we cannot stop remembering it because of our sorrow. You should have heard him. Oh, he could speak powerfully, he often nearly shattered our hearts, his words were sharp and cutting, they went to the core; but how he could also comfort, how it flowed so sweetly and dearly from his lips, how we were so often captivated when he spoke about the majesty of the kingdom of heaven to us! We sat at his feet for several hours, forgetting everything else; we could see and hear only him and could not hear enough. And what a friendly, affectionate way of dealing with us! He was like a mother and we like the children!—O blessed time!—And what deeds he did! Almost every day he performed some new miracle. We cannot list them all, but his deeds were powerful. What worship and praise!—To be sure, the godless, the priests, and the Pharisees were bitter enemies toward him. We were frightened about that at the beginning, but not any more. ‘The hour shall still come,’ we always thought and often said among each other, ‘when our Jesus, the great Prophet, succumbs to the enemy.’ We were sure that he was more powerful than them all.—And now what we thought impossible has happened. They captured him. Yes, one of the disciples betrayed him, and they crucified him. And how they dealt with him! And he who was otherwise so powerful let himself be led as if he had lost courage and power. As if he were not the great Prophet. He even cried out mournfully on the cross that God had forsaken him.--Now look at all that; now do you understand better that we do not know what to do because of this pain in our hearts?” Those are the depressing memories which weighed down the hearts of both these men so severely.

However, their hearts were also full of dashed hopes. They said: “However, we had hoped that he would redeem Israel.”—They meant to say to their unknown companion: “Perhaps you want to say to us, ‘You have to comfort yourselves. What happened to Jesus, whom you loved, has already happened to many a righteous person. Now that he is dead, keep him in your memory and do not sink so completely into sadness. Instead, revitalize yourselves with the memory of his lovely words and of your dear time with him.’—However, the bitterest thing is not that we have lost a dear Lord and Master in him, but that the most beautiful hope of our lives, no, the only hope was carried with him to the grave. All our hope was the kingdom of God and Israel’s redemption.—Surely you know how miserable things are in Israel, among God’s people. Oh, we are so miserable and poor.—And what beautiful promises are written about our people, how Israel shall become glorious!—And Jesus, our Master could lead extremely glorious discussions about that very thing. Often for us it was as if we were already in the heavenly kingdom.—And that was our entire belief and sure hope: He is the Prophet who shall come, now the redemption of Israel is here, now the establishment of the kingdom of God takes place; and he said so himself: It is so near. And now,--yes, we hoped,--but now our hope is lost. He, Jesus, in whom we hoped, is dead. We see that the establishment of the kingdom of God and Israel’s redemption came to nothing. Perhaps it will still happen sometime, but we will not see it, nor be glad about the redemption.”

Thus they had hearts full of dashed hopes and finally hearts full of doubt and helplessness. “Moreover,” continued Cleopas, “today is the third day since it happened. And several women who were at his grave are saying that they saw a vision of an angel who said: ‘Jesus lives.’ Several of us went there after that, and they found it as the women said, but they did not find him.”—With this he allows it to be recognized that their hearts are full of doubt and helplessness. They have remembered, together with the disciples, what Christ said about his resurrection on the third day. So they believed that something would happen. However, all remained quiet. Then indeed the exciting news that Jesus was alive came through the women. The disciples went to the grave, but they encountered it empty and did not find Jesus. Does he really live or not? And if he lives, where is he? Will he seek them out again? That was all in the dark. The hope that they had was lost,--and now there was no information, no news, nothing about which they could be certain and comfort themselves with.—Thus they were truly scattered sheep who had no shepherd and must have seen themselves as lost.

It was truly a sad Easter for both these disciples up until that point. To be sure, it was their fault that they did not have a proper festival day until then. We know well what they were missing. Yes, they were greatly afflicted. In all other respects they easily could have put us to shame.

There was once a great love for Christ in both these men. They depended deeply on him. Having him was their joy; losing him their agony. One hears it from their words. The Lord, who strolled with them unknown, asked them: “Why are you so grieved?”—They answer: “Are you the only one who doesn’t know?”—They wanted to express their surprise that someone would not say on his own that their grief for the much loved and now crucified Jesus was valid.—Today Christ could ask many that do not know him and do not love him: “Why are you so happy without Christ?”—And they would answer: “Are you also one of them who still knows nothing other than faith and being pious and loving Jesus and hating and leaving the world?”

Secondly for both these men redemption was their main concern. That was their hope in life.—How completely different it is for thousands upon thousands today, who also certainly want to be called Christians. There is hardly a concern about whether they are in need of redemption, not to mention concern for whether they are redeemed or not.

Now both men’s love for Christ and their care about his redemption can serve as a good example for us. It would be nice if we were the same as them in this regard. For both these things are surely commendable in these men. Nevertheless, they were deeply afflicted, which was the reason that the entire day of Easter was not a joyful holiday until now. It will be good for us to hear about that. For, as the proverb says, we all lie too much in the same hospital with these two, suffering from the same illness.

We will hear what their affliction was and how it was healed, when:

II. We hear how Easter began so sorrowfully yet still ended so joyfully.

How did this come about? At first they became even sadder because they had to allow themselves to be admonished. They were already sad, and they also thought that they were right about it and could not do anything else. Now they had to let themselves be admonished. It is utter foolishness that they were sad, and their sadness had its roots only in their foolishness.

They also accepted such an admonition. Note well! This is the way all act who are weak but in whom there is an upright new man, which is from God. There is so much in them that they are still favorably inclined to Christ and his kingdom. That still is something upright. Therefore, they accept the admonition. The rough and rude hearts, to which neither Christ nor his kingdom matter, neither want to suffer admonition from God, nor can they.

What was their foolishness? We arrive at this conclusion from the Lord’s words. Their experience—what they experienced—had been the main foundation of their faith; they had expected great things from Christ. They had made their experience (and adventure) with Christ their hope. And because the experience now left them hanging so utterly and completely, they were sad people without comfort or hope.

Their foolishness—relying on experiences and adventures—is often ours. That is the wrong way. That is not how you are convinced. It is only good here if we allow ourselves to be admonished with these two disciples who rely on a false foundation and are sluggish to believe everything which the prophets spoke and to rely on the Word, that is, on the promises of God.

If we allow ourselves to be admonished, to be shown from God’s Word, and to be made certain of what we are doing, then God will always be helpful for us, as he was for both these disciples. For what do we hear from them once Christ admonished them about their wrong way and showed them the right way from Moses and all the prophets? We hear them say that their hearts burned. It became so bright, happy, and joyful. It was now completely different from before.

Now their hearts were no longer full of depressing memories about the miserable and shameful end of their dear Lord’s life, but they were full of a happy realization of God’s saving work. Certainly Christ had to suffer. Yes, of course! But now his suffering appeared completely different. He surely did not suffer because the enemy had overwhelmed him, but he suffered because it was his Father’s will that he suffer. He suffered in obedience to the will of God, and he fulfilled the Scripture. Surely his sufferings were now no longer depressing memories, but rather the completely gracious fulfillment of God’s promised help.

Now also their hearts were no longer full of dashed hopes, but full of certainty that all hope was fulfilled beyond all their understanding. Now they knew it. And their hearts burned full of joy because of this: Israel is redeemed. The kingdom of God is firmly established in eternity. Heaven is open. Salvation is given.

Now their hearts were no longer full of perplexity and doubt. No! They were full of confidence and certainty. They know Jesus lives and is truly risen. It surely could not fail. As he had to suffer, so he surely had to enter to his glory.

Look! In this way they now had joyous Easter hearts burning with peace, joy, and salvation. Although they did not recognize Jesus physically, they still saw him, knew him, and had him in faith from God’s Word. And that is the right way. In this way he is with us as the Living One every day with comfort and peace until the end of the world.

See how then the sad Easter of these two still ended so joyfully. They now had the right joy through the Word. This same joy is not taken from them when Christ personally disappeared from them once they recognized him at the breaking of the bread, recognized that it had been he himself who had led them through the Word to true Easter joy. Rather, their joy remained. They turned to one another and confirmed the words of the disciples, “The Lord truly is risen.”

Now my friends, a few short comments about all this. Be certain. Christ is near the righteous, sincere hearts as he was near both these disciples. Therefore, if you have any sorrow weighing you down, then do not miss what you see here with both the disciples. Also, pour out your heart before him and tell him your defects and infirmities. Let him know! Do not think that, because you have an infirmity, you would not be permitted to come before him, that you would have to wait until you were stronger. No! You do not need to be shy. Where faith is, there must also be some hesitation. That is faith’s way. Cry to him. He will always make your heart burn again in gladness. Ask him, “Abide with me, for it is nearly evening.” And he will make good what he promises, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name. You are mine. I am with you always, until the very end of the age.” Amen.