Summit Presbyterian Church April 6, 2008
Delivered by Jim
Why were they going to Emmaus? Cleopas and the other one. Why were they making that seven mile journey, walking west into the sun late in the afternoon?
It was near the end of the first day of the week. It must have felt like a life-time ago they had left Emmaus to journey to Jerusalem. Perhaps they had come for the celebration of the Passover and had stayed with friends to eat the meal that celebrated the faithfulness of their redeeming God.
Perhaps they stayed on with those friends so they wouldn't break the law about traveling on the Sabbath. Perhaps they been so devastated by the crucifixion of their Lord that they could not travel, not even the familiar road to Emmaus.
I fantasize they were there that morning when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women came running back just after dawn and told them of the tomb that was empty. They must have been amazed by the report of the women of the conversation with the angels who announced that Jesus was not there, but was risen, just as he had said he would while he was with them in
So now, in the late part of the afternoon, while they walked, they talked about all those reports that mystified them so. They tried to sort out their grief and make sense out of all the non-sense. They walked west into the sunset, and some have suggested that the setting sun so dazzled them that they could not see the face of the person who may have had the hood of his cloak over his head as a sun screen. Is that why they did not recognize the one who caught up with them on the road and walked with them? How did they fail to feel the familiar as they walked and talked with this man who was on the road again, preaching and teaching the common folk, going to them in their houses and synagogues, not waiting or expecting them to come to him?
Maybe they were so convinced that Jesus was bound in the grasp of death that they could not recognize the one who came and joined them as they walked wearily home. They had seen Jesus crucified. They knew the trustworthiness of the women who had gone with Joseph of Arimathea as he took to body and provided it a decent burial. They knew the reality of a closed and sealed tomb. Maybe they were so convinced by the reality of that death that they couldn't remember the words Jesus had spoken. Or perhaps they had believed that Jesus was speaking in parables again, as he spoke of "rising to life after three days."
They were astonished when the stranger asked them what they were talking about as they journeyed. It probably took the better part of an hour, as the two disciples interrupted each other to explain the facts and the experiences. And after they had tried to explain their deep sadness, the words came, and I believe they came with compassion and love: "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!" And the stranger proceeded to explain how Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of all the promises, hopes and dreams of God's people from the time of Moses, from the time of the Passover they had just celebrated.
That's not something new for Jesus to do, is it? Jesus always seems to come into the very ordinary moment, into the places we least expect to find him. Even in the midst of a meal, in the midst of the breaking of the bread.
And it was the breaking of the bread that opened their eyes. They had arrived at Emmaus, and when their new found friend began to say good-bye, to walk on, they invited him to spend the night with them. That is the usual thing that happens in that part of the world. It's the law of hospitality. And as they sat down at the table, the visitor did something very unusual. HE assumed the role of the head of the household. HE took the role of the host. It was as if he were welcoming them into HIS house. For it was HE who said the blessing, it was HE who broke the bread. It was HE who distributed the food that would nourish and refresh them. And Luke tells us, "their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight."
It was now night, and they had already traveled the road at least once before that day, but they could not keep this life-changing news to themselves. They had to share it, and so, like Jesus and the women and Peter, they found themselves on the road again, traveling as fast as they could to that new creation that was becoming the body of Christ. And when they got there and shared the news, "The Lord is risen!", they received the response which has been the response of the Christian community down through the ages, "The Lord is risen indeed!"
The experience of the disciples on the road to Emmaus demonstrates that in the midst of the deepest valleys of our life, the times of confusion, the times of feeling deserted, the times of feeling all alone, we are in the presence of the risen Christ. We don't fully understand the Emmaus road experience. But we can understand that there is an amazing and mysterious Christ who comes to us. Who doesn't leave us floundering on the road alone. Who is sometimes beyond our understanding and always the Lord, not at our command at all. But the one who comes to be with us. And the one who calls us to be on the road again. The one who commissions us to preach this good news to all nations, to bring good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty for the oppressed. And as we do that work obediently, we find the risen Christ in our midst, once again taking the bread and breaking it, and we recognize him there.
Wendell Berry is a farmer and essayist. For all of his life, he has lived and worked and written in the hills of Kentucky. He is a faithful witness as he has watched the intricate ecological balance fall out of whack. He is a faithful witness as he has watched the roles of women and men take somersaults. As he has watched the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, he has proclaimed God's truth in his poems and in his furrows, in his essays and in his harvest. He has these words of instruction: So, friends, every day do something that won't compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
One of the wonders of the resurrected Christ is that he is not limited to one place and one time, the way you and I are. You are going to have lunch somewhere today, and the risen Christ will be there in the breaking of bread. The risen Christ will be there, on the road again, with you as you work and play, as you act out your stewardship of the moments and the hours you have been given. Use them wisely and well.
God our creator, help us to be disciples who grow this week; disciples who search for your spirit in the midst of our relationships at home, at school, at work, wherever we are. Give us new insight, give us a growing faith, open our eyes so we may recognize and serve you. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.