Sermon: April 15, 2012
Click the play button below to listen to this sermon.
Our text this morning is significant in two ways. First, this is the only place we hear this kind of detail about the walk to Emmaus, matter of fact the Gospel of Mark gives the two travelers one sentence. Secondly, this is the text studied to create the liturgical art Unexpected, which graces our Sanctuary. Emma read the exact text read by the art committee. I would like to expand that reading a bit to help set the stage for the part Emma read this morning.
The story begins with two of Jesus followers on a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One follower’s name is Cleopas, the other is never named. They are joined by Jesus; however they do not recognize him. Why they don’t recognize him we don’t really know and we could spend a good amount of time presenting different scenarios that would be feasible. But the fact is they don’t recognize him. He asks the two men what they are talking about. They are quite amazed by his question and are obviously grieving the events they have recently experienced. Cleopas responds to Jesus with these words, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Jesus response is, “What things?” So the two followers proceed to catch this stranger up on all of the details involving Jesus cucifixion. This is where the text began that Emma read.
Cleopas and the other unnamed follower continue telling Jesus that the women who went to the tomb early didn’t find Jesus body. Then the women said they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Following these two men sharing the events of recent days with Jesus, he began to tell his story. 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they come near to Emmaus, these two men must be amazed by what Jesus has told them. They are drawn to him; they don’t want him to leave. So they invite him to stay. They offer him hospitality. They are not ready to let go of this man that has grabbed their attention. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
What makes the story remarkable is how unremarkable it is. I can understand Jesus appearing to the remaining 11 disciples, to the faithful women who followed him, and even to Paul all very practical appearances in terms of establishing what his followers are to do in the future. But Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us. Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us travels every day. The roads we travel lead us to prison, to mental illness, to grief over losing a loved one, to living with someone who has dementia, to home foreclosure, to joblessness, to homelessness, and to _______, you fill in the blank. Everyday roads; and where does Jesus meet us? Jesus meets us where WE are on OUR everyday road. Jesus tells us the story again, through our friends, our family or a stranger. But we are, like Cleopas and the other unnamed follower, slow to learn. We are so focused on our own journey, we are so consumed with our own destination; we know what we need and that is where our attention is placed. We either don’t have the time or the ability to recognize God when God meets us on the road.
But then something strange happens. Jesus begins to tell Cleopas and the unnamed follower the very same story they just told him. However this time the story seems different. It seems even more familiar because Jesus tells the story in a passionate way. The two are moved to invite Jesus to “stay with us”, even though Jesus seems to be continuing on further. However, Jesus accepts the invitation and stays with them. While he is eating with them, he breaks and blesses the bread. Remember these were followers of Jesus, they had seen, if not experienced the breaking and blessing of bread in other situations. This was a sign of community, a sign of sharing, a sign of remembrance. It is not unusual for this to be the moment “their eyes were opened”. There are many rituals in our lives that we hear or do and we are reminded of our relationship with God.
I remember so clearly an experience from my days in seminary. I was doing a placement in a nursing home for a semester. One of my tasks was doing a morning devotional. However prior to the devotional they had a short Catholic mass. I would help move the residents from breakfast to the chapel. Some could walk, but most were in wheelchairs. Some of the residents had no idea they had even been moved from the dining room to the chapel. We would give each person a set of rosary beads for them to follow the recorded mass. Once the mass started, the most amazing thing happened. The people who seemed to be asleep, who seemed to be out of touch with reality, started moving their fingers on the beads and their lips began saying the words of the mass, without reading. A perfect example of how our repeated rituals remind us of our faith. And their “eyes were opened”.
This is what we hear in this text. Jesus is not recognized until he starts sharing the Word and breaking and blessing the bread. Yes, the story resonates with a sense of the church and its mission and of the tremendous power of the word and the sacraments to connect us with the presence of God. But its image is of God and a church that walk alongside human confusion, human pain and a human loss of faith and hope. Emmaus invites us to expect God to find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith and deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship.
The walk to Emmaus is a journey in everyday life; a journey ending in Jesus being revealed to Cleopas and the unnamed follower and a journey where their eyes were opened. Each day we have the opportunity to take a journey, a journey that could include Jesus being revealed to us, a journey where our eyes could be opened. Will we be too focused on our journey? Will we recognize Jesus when he enters our life? Will we listen to hear the familiar stories? Will we offer Jesus a place to stay? Will we share a meal? Will our hearts be burning?
Our journeys sometimes have more questions than answers. May we always be willing to take the journey and welcome God on the road. Amen.