Easter 3A Road to Emmaus, A road we all have travelled
April 30, 2017, Trinity Searcy
Jesus does not appear to everyone before he ascends into heaven, which leaves plenty of first century Christians as well as all of us/ to listen to stories of those who were there/ and decide what life is like in the resurrection. We base our decision about resurrection on these stories/ as well as our own encounter today with the risen Christ. The question always is,/ exactly where is Jesus’ address?
Today we find Jesus somewhere on a road between here and Emmaus. Luke is the only writer sharing with us what happened on that road,/ but all of us here have walked that road at one time or another. It is the road we walk when we are trying to get away from reality, trying to deal with something very difficult that is happening in our lives, something beyond our control. It is the road we walk when our team loses,/ our candidate is defeated,/ we lose our job,/ our children leave home, our grandchildren move to another state, or our loved one dies. This is the long road back to that empty house, the piles of unopened mail, to life as usual, if life can ever be usual again. It is the road of deep disappointment,/ and walking it is the living definition of sad.///
In today’s story, we know one of the disciples on the road is Cleopas. Is the other disciple possibly a woman, Mary the wife of Cleopas whom John tells us was with her sister Mary at the cross? That would make them part of Jesus’ family, /and yet they do not recognize Jesus./ The Emmaus Walk takes us two hours to go those seven miles as we relive and process with the disciples the trial, crucifixion,/ and this rumored resurrection. Suddenly, a stranger appears. Actually, the Greek word is “resident alien,” someone very different coming up from behind asking, “what are you talking about.” We answer, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know what has happened?” Have we played this scene before?/ After a very close friend or family member dies, we meet someone who has not heard. We want to say, “Are you the only one who does not know that my husband has died?”//
Back on the road, we hear we had hoped he would redeem Israel, but now there is no more hope. He died. Suddenly our new walking companion no longer remains an active listener. “How foolish, and how slow of heart!” he tells us. “If we had read our Bibles, none of this would come as a surprise to us. What happened to Jesus is right there in black and white. Soon it will be in red. The scriptures tell us that our Messiah, does not win the power struggle; he loses it. Christ is not the undefeated champion. He is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes into his glory with his wounds still visible. These hurt places are the proof that Jesus is who he says he is. We will recognize our God and his followers not by their muscles but by their scars. /
This mean that we interpret the painful parts of our lives in a new light. This mean we should no longer see our defeats as failures. This mean we should no longer fear our enemies, not even fear death itself// This may mean we are to follow our leader sometimes into the scariest, more dangerous places in the world armed with nothing but a small black bag or maybe a first-aid kit, because we are like him, not fighters, but physicians,/ and all of us are wounded healers, whose credentials, our diplomas, are our own hurt places.//
Starting with Moses and working his way through the prophets, this stranger reveals a story told over and over in scripture of how God redeems us in our brokenness. We are wounded, but the stranger is telling us that maybe we are not losers. Maybe the rumors are true. Maybe our hope that was crucified will be transformed and resurrected.
All too soon as the scriptures have come alive we reach our destination, but we will not let the stranger go. “Stay, please, stay with us.” We invite him in to our home, our food, our table, but when the four of us sit down together, it is he, the guest, who acts as host, who reaches out, takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread, and gives it to us. Maybe it is the oddness of the act that causes us to put on a new pair of glasses to see for the first time that this is the Christ, a member of our family. Maybe it is the familiarity of the act. We have seen him do this before on a green hillside with five loaves and two fish and in an upper room with unleavened bread and Passover wine. We have a moment of clarity/…and then he vanishes. //
Our blindness and the blindness of the two disciples will never keep Christ from coming again and again to them and to us. Christ does not limit his post-resurrection appearances to those with full confidence in him. He comes especially to the disappointed, the doubtful, the dispondent. He comes to those of us who do not know our Bibles as well as we should. He comes to us who do not recognize him even when he walks right beside us, even when he is a member of our own family./ He comes to us when we have given up and are headed back home.
Jesus seems to prefer working with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. If someone hands him a whole loaf of bread, he takes it, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it, and he does the same thing with his own body. That is the way of life Jesus has come to show us: to take what we have been given, to bless it, to say thank you for it, whether it is the sweet satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow, and then to share our story in community.
Beginning to end, Luke’s story of what happens on the road to Emmaus is a perfect address book for finding the risen, the living Christ. Two people in distress intimately share their story with each other, and then they openly share their story with an interested stranger. They are then open to hearing what the scripture says from someone with a different pair of glasses. They then insist on sharing what sustenance, what food they have with the stranger. Fellowship, hospitality, word, and sacrament. These are all the ways Christ has promised to be present with us, all of which happen to be the everyday activities of this church. Not the building, or institution, but the people of God—us—who attend to one another, to strangers, to God’s word, to the sacraments as a way of life.
I know that each of you here, like Cleopas and his wife Mary have experienced how the hearing of the word and the breaking of bread at the eucharist at the church can break you right open. Sometimes you are right in the middle of it when suddenly tears start. It is like the gates to your heart open and everything you ever loved comes tumbling out to be missed and praised and mourned and loved some more. It is like being in the presence of God. One moment you see Jesus and the next you do not. One moment your eyes are opened and you recognize the risen Christ, and the next he vanishes from your sight.
Take heart. This is no ghost. Do not fear. You cannot lose him. This is one of the places he has promised to be at the church, and this is the place he returns to meet us again and again.
Risen Lord, be known to us at this moment, in the hearing of your word and in the breaking of the bread…. and as we depart from this place, also be known to us in the stranger /whom we will meet/ on this road back home.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Blessed Brokenness,” Gospel Medicine, pp. 19-23.
Jake Owensby, “Lessons from a Condemned Man’s Last Meal,” Looking for God in Messy Places, April 29, 2017