“Some women of our group astounded us.”
That was Cleopas’ remark to the stranger who had joined him and his friend on their way back home in Emmaus, some seven miles from Jerusalem: “Some women of our group astounded us.”
That word, astounded, literally means to stand outside one’s self, so it can mean that one has lost his mind or is out of her senses, to be profoundly displaced, so that it carries with it both a feeling of astonishment and fear. When Cleopas tells the stranger that the woman astounded him, he’s admitting, whether consciously or unconsciously, that part of the reason he is leaving Jerusalem and going home is because he is afraid of what the women have told him, that Jesus is no longer in the tomb and that a vision of angels has said that he is alive. To be astounded is to experience the fact that your life is out of your control, that the events of your life have caused you to stand outside yourself, that you have lost your grip on life. This is a scary feeling. This is what Cleopas confesses to the stranger.
The Bible records many other instances of people being astounded. Isaac was astounded when he discovered that he had blessed his younger son Jacob rather than his firstborn son Esau. The one last privilege he had as a father, to pass on his blessing to his children before he died, he literally mishandled, no thanks to his wife, Rebecca, who had been telling her husband all along that God had chosen Jacob to be the heir of the promise that all the world would be blessed through him and his descendants. Isaac was astounded: God had taken matters into his own hands. Isaac was reminded that God, and not he, was in control.
Boaz was astounded to discover that Ruth was sleeping at his feet. This, too, was a bold and fearful move on Ruth’s part, who had no earthly security but trusted that Boaz would not scorn and reject her astounding advance, but redeem her from the death of her husband, even though she was a Moabite and the privilege of redemption fell to a younger man who was a closer relative. Together, Boaz and Ruth, in the fearful and astonishing providence of God, brought Jesse into this world, who, in turn, brought David, the heir of the promise that the Messiah would spring from his descendants.
The gospels record that the disciples were astounded at Jesus’ walking on the water and calming the sea, of his curing a blind and deaf demoniac, of his raising a twelve-year-old girl from death: each event prompting a reverent and appropriate fear of God that Peter tells the newly baptized Christians in his letter this morning should characterize their new life in Christ. In a world that would persecute them for being foreigners and strangers in this world, they could trust in God’s astounding providence to guide them to their eternal home and native country.
The astounding events of the Bible are meant to drive home the truth that we are exiles on earth. We don’t belong here. The mighty acts of God lift us up and out of our circumstances and the control we naturally try to impose upon our lives. God is the author of our lives and he has a script and a part for us to play that is astounding, that will require us to leave behind our former lives and enter into the new lives he has prepared for us to walk in.
Cleopas confessed to the stranger his sadness and misery that the death of Jesus had crushed his hope that Jesus might have been the one to redeem Israel from her earthly enemies. The stranger responds by showing Cleopas that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and to be raised from the dead, and that the prophets, beginning with Moses, had declared that this greater freedom from sin and death was what God had in mind all along.
If you find yourself wrestling with events in your own lives which suggest that your life is out of control, that same stranger is prepared to explain to you how your life is actually part of an even grander narrative and plot than the one that you have been living.
More than that, Peter reminds us that we are not alone, that God has called each and every one of us here this morning to make the journey through this life and this world together to our true home, loving one another deeply from the new and grateful hearts we have received in baptism.
God has a role and a part for every person who is receptive to the astounding acts of God, even those who listened to Peter’s sermon and were stabbed in their hearts by the truth of his message, that they had a hand in crucifying Jesus, who was now risen from the dead with the power to judge them and condemn them for what they had done. “What should we do?” they asked Peter. “Repent,” Peter replied, “and be baptized. You certainly share some responsibility for his death no less than I am responsible for denying him three times on the night he was arrested, but God has astounded us. The death of his Son has made it possible for us to be forgiven, to bury our old life in baptism in union with Jesus’ death so that we might rise to a new life with a new script and a new part to play in thanksgiving for his great love and mercy.” And so it was that 3000 people were baptized that day.
As Christians, we should not be surprised by astounding events, moments when we are no longer sure of ourselves, when we are tempted, like Cleopas, to retreat to the relative security of our home and to what is comfortable and familiar. By God’s grace, may we come to recognize his larger plans for our lives and may we find in the fellowship of the church the love and the support we need, as fellow exiles, to finish our journey through this life to our eternal home, a home which we have already discovered right here and wherever two or three are gathered in his name, like those two or three on the road to Emmaus. AMEN.