That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The Ever-Growing Cloud of Witnesses
As we gather at 6:30 a.m. in the courtyard for Easter sunrise, I will think of that ever growing cloud of witnesses about which the Hebrews writer speaks in 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, “ In the previous chapter, he had named a number of these Old Testament saints whose lives proclaimed: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). And now each of us has our own list of mostly unsung saints, whose deaths leave us devastated but whose lives of faith, hope, and love encourage us to press on.
This is the 262nd remembrance of some of my most memorable unsung saints since I wrote the first for Advent 2018. This Lent has been the most painful time of remembering as my dear sister Donna untimely joined the cloud of witnesses on the third day of the forty. She was joined by Alfred, my dear Bavarian former parishioner with whom I spent many happy hours during my seven years in Waco TX. Just last week, I buried Wayne, whose exemplary good cheer and persistence in adversity humbled so many of us at St. Matthew’s. Fifteen of this Lenten collection of 47 unsung saints were part of this family of God, and their physical absence from our midst has changed so many of us irrevocably, at least, in this life.
Sometimes, I can see faces and hear voices so clearly as if my unsung saints were still with us physically. I think of the rascals, who made me laugh in spite of myself. I think of those whose brokenness caused such pain not only to themselves but inevitably to others. I think of those whose lives were cautionary tales and yet whose wrecking ball moments were not too large for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to cover. I think of such aggravating failures to commend the hope within them and of the terrible betrayals which still have the capacity to wound in the remembering. Yet, these, like us, were marked with Christ’s holy cross, received His true Body and most precious Blood for the forgiveness of sins, and in their deepest weakness cried out, “Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy” and “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Each life, born and unborn, is precious, lovable, and valuable, yes, created in God’s image and one for whom our Lord Jesus Christ died. The homeless person who dies alone is no less precious than the one whose family pays for a three-column obituary in the newspaper. The cold cases that haunt family members to their own graves and unsettle the lives of retired detectives, who have sought to bring justice to victims and closure to loved ones, are no less remembered by the Father who drew their blueprint in His mind and the Son who gave them life and the Holy Spirit who called many to Holy Baptism and longed to embrace the rest. Death cannot have the last Word, dreadful enemy that it is, for today Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! These treasured dead will rise from the dust and even from the places their ashes were spread or carried on waves or tissue used in laboratories as if they were nothing. In this world’s histories, they may have been unsung. But never to the Lord God, who never makes junk!
In contented exhaustion this afternoon, I will lie down for a holy nap in practice for that yet unknown day when the Lord Jesus will call me by name saying, “Samuel, come home.” I will think of Daddy and Mama, of Norman and Donna, of my in-laws and outlaws, of beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Indeed, that list was part of my bedtime prayers from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. As an adjunct member of so many families these forty years since ordination and five more during seminary, I have added to my prayers my growing list of unsung saints and have been blessed and changed by them all. We do not grieve as those without hope for, again, our Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! So shall we.
Dear Father, thank you for the ever-growing cloud of witnesses, with whom we will rejoice to be reunited forever in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you set aside pennies each day during Lent, please write a check to your congregation for $11.28 and designate it for Unsung Saints 2021. If you set aside nickels, write a check for $56.40. If you set aside dimes, write a check for $112.80.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.