St. John's, Centreville
April 26, 2020
3 Easter A
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of my favorite post-resurrection stories. It is so vivid, so alive. Of the seven post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the gospels, this one is only recorded in Luke.
It is easy, I think, for us to imagine the hopelessness and despair that the two disciples felt as they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had seen Jesus, who they saw as a "prophet mighty in word and deed", condemned to death and crucified. They had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel. These disciples knew that Jesus was dead. That was a fact. And with his death, their hopes were destroyed. Then, that morning, some women said the body of Jesus was not in the tomb where he had been buried, and the angels at the tomb said that Jesus was alive. How could that be? It was hard to know what to make of all this. So they began their journey back to their home town of Emmaus, back to business as usual, and on their way they talked about what had happened.
Then a man appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and begins walking with them. He doesn't seem to know what has happened these last three days in Jerusalem. So they fill him in on the events of the week and they share their despair and disappointment. He listens to them and then he begins to interpret the scriptures for them, beginning with Moses. Wouldn't we all have liked to have been in on THAT conversation - Jesus interpreting the scriptures?
But these two disciples still do not know that this is the resurrected Christ who is walking with them and telling them about the scriptures. They do not truly understand who he is until they invite him to stay with them for the night. At dinner, he blesses the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them. Their eyes are opened and they now see who it is who has been with them - the resurrected Christ! It is Jesus who has been walking with them!
As soon as they are aware that they have been with Jesus, he disappears from their sight. You can just imagine their amazement, their disbelief, that Jesus had chosen to appear to them after his resurrection. "Did not our hearts burn within while he talked to us on the road, when he opened to us the scriptures?" Their excitement was so intense, so real, that they could not rest. They left right then and there to return to Jerusalem, walking another seven miles at night, so they could tell the eleven apostles that Jesus had appeared to them. That was news that could not wait. They had to tell the apostles now.
What an incredible story - a story of fellowship - the two disciples welcoming the stranger to walk with them; hospitality - inviting the stranger to stay for dinner and spend the night; and sacrament - Jesus breaks bread with them. This story has all the elements that we as a church profess to believe and incorporate.
Why do you suppose that the two disciples did not recognize the risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus? Perhaps he changed his appearance so he could walk with them and listen to them without them recognizing him. Or perhaps they were not expecting to see Jesus after his death so they really didn't see him. Sometimes we only see what we expect to see. Perhaps the disciples were so consumed with their own grief and despair that they just didn't recognize the risen Christ in their midst.
How often does Christ walk with us and we do not recognize his presence? Quite alot, I think. All of us at one time or another have walked a similar path like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Many of us are walking that road right now, because of the corona virus. Because businesses have had to close, many have lost their jobs and their income, while the bills continue to come in. Many are having to go to food banks in order to survive, some who would never have thought they would be in this position. This journey through the corona virus continues to be hard for many who are experiencing isolation and loneliness, depression and anger. Routines have been totally disrupted. People are having to stay home, without their usual activities of going to church, shopping, getting together with friends or family, going to the movies. These stay at home orders are having physical and emotional effects on us, and the end is not yet in sight.
But just as on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with us on this journey. In times of despair and hopelessness, Jesus is in our midst, walking with us, supporting us, encouraging us, even when we don't recognize him. Perhaps we are so consumed with our own problems and disappointments that we don't see Jesus walking with us. It is much easier to blame God for our problems and pain and struggles than it is to see that Jesus is with us through whatever life throws our way.
All of us have walked down our own Road to Emmaus, when we feel defeated, hopeless, full of despair and confusion. As Jesus walked with the two disciples, so he also walks with us, giving us hope, strength and reassurance, that things aren't always the way they seem, that good things can come out of what seems hopeless.
The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus hoped Jesus would be the one to save Israel. But that hope died when Jesus was crucified. In reality, though, Jesus liberated not only Israel but the entire world from sin and eternal death, which is much greater that freeing Israel from the Romans that the disciples had desired.
With God at the center of our lives, we need to expect the unexpected, of seeing God in the midst of people and circumstances where we might not expect God to be. As Barbara Brown Taylor says in her book "Mixed Blessings", "If we pay attention, we will approach each person we meet with care, just in case it is Jesus; if we are diligent, we will wash some feet along the way, feed the hungry, soothe some sorrows, just in case they are his. We can never be too sure. Chances are that, in looking for Jesus and wanting so much to find him, that we will begin to see a little bit of him in everyone we meet.
When we open our eyes to the mystery of God's life giving presence, we are more ready to see God in the world around us, in our lives and in the lives of others.
The eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw the Risen Lord. May our eyes, too, be open to see God who loves us and the whole human family, and walks with us now and forever. Amen.