The Road to Emmaus: A Metaphor for our Times

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New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a body in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark. – Barbara Brown Taylor

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scriptures

 

Luke 24: 13-35

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But 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 took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 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.

 

28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 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?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

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In this unprecedented moment in time where the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us on a global scale—we suffer massive isolation, live in fear and anxiety around our ability to survive economically, and grieve the loss of a way of life.   Our life as a congregation, as we know and love, has been severely disrupted.  In a matter of weeks, we have gone from keeping safe distances when we gather for worship in the sanctuary to on-site live-streaming worship in an empty sanctuary to now off-site Zoom live-streaming.  I am preaching this morning from my home and my colleagues are doing likewise.   Needless to say, this is very disorienting.  This pandemic has disrupted our well-formed habits of life and we have been forced on a path that none of us ever could have anticipated.  Alan Roxburgh phrases the question well: “What does it mean to be God’s people when it seems like the roads we have so intentionally built are no longer going to carry us?”  We are in unmapped, uncharted territory.  It is rumored that we may not return to the life we know for at least another year, if ever!  So to help us make sense not just of what is happening, but where this is all going, we desperately search for images, metaphors, and narratives to help us.  Thank God for the lectionary which we follow and rely on for guidance each Sunday.

 

This morning’s scripture reading is the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  These disciples are in disarray; they are filled with grief and confusion.  All their hopes and expectations for the future lay shattered before a sealed tomb in which a crucified Jesus had been laid.  There was no coming back from this ending.  So they are returning to their homes, walking away from Jerusalem.  They just needed to get away somewhere to dwell in their grief.  And there is a lot of grief and confusion in this story around loss and fear.  I’m reminded of what that feels like—I had just left my mother in the hospital, expecting to return for another visit the next morning.  And then the phone rang in the middle of the night.  My brother on the other end of the line said: “The nurse just came in to check on mom and she has stopped breathing.”  At the church, the ring of the phone had a sense of urgency, so I stepped away from the Session meeting to answer it:  “Our 21 year old son just shot himself.”  I’m thinking of the seventh game of the 1962 World Series, when Willie McCovey’s screaming line drive landed in the glove of Bobby Richardson, dashing the hopes of the Giants winning a hard fought series.  We long for different endings.  We want life to go on as usual, uninterrupted and we want success.  And when we don’t get it, we search for roads that can take us home, back to where we can find comfort and healing from loss, from defeat.  Like the two disciples, we take to the road in search of comfort, reassurance.

 

What I love about this story is that it is so much about us, because it is about us.  Who is Cleopas?  Outside of this story, have you ever heard the name?  Well, don’t fret about the level of your knowledge of the Bible; because after this passage, we never hear of Cleopas again.  Not only that, his companion is never named.  Unlike the familiar names of James, Peter, and John, the two disciples on the Emmaus road are not important people.  They are ordinary people.  They are the folks who always sit in the very back pews of the church or up in the far corners of the balcony.  They rarely sign the pew pads and quietly slip out the doors of the church after worship, avoiding the coffee hour.  Jesus appears to these two.  That is an interesting choice when you think of all the other possibilities for the debut of the risen Lord.  Why not appear in front of Caesar or the Sanhedrin?  The scene is nothing like the daily White House press briefings or the rallies with the bussed in crowds and their camera crews.  The stories the Gospel writers tell about the resurrection of the Savior of the world from the dead are undramatic, understated.  Jesus comes quietly, unnoticed, more gently than one might expect an unjustly murder-victim who has just risen from the dead to come.  Personally, I’d prefer reading a story of a messiah who comes back from the dead and takes down the political and religious establishment.  After all, Jesus was stripped naked, humiliated, mocked and tortured to death at the hands of a military regime in collusion with corrupt religious authorities.  This was the perfect moment for a resurrected revolutionary leader to bring them to justice.

 

That’s not the way it is with God, is it?  And isn’t that why when Jesus meets up with the two disciples on the road, they don’t even recognize him!  Their faith had a lot to do with the hope for a time when the good and the faithful would finally win the day.  You see, Jesus coming back as he does, acting as he does after he has been murdered by the powerful and betrayed by friends, somehow makes it clear that the Good News of Salvation cannot be about God and the good people against the bad people.  Jesus explains to the two disciples on the road, this had to happen—for revenge and retaliation, vindictiveness and lying, wealth and power—all had to be undone.  The good news of great joy is that God, the creative Lover of the world, is willing to die at the hands of his people and then come back again, not to make them pay, but to give them more love.  It is about turning your cheek, going the second mile, loving your enemy.  It is unstoppable transformative, scandalous forgiveness for everyone, for you and me.

 

And Jesus comes quietly, unnoticed and gently.  He doesn’t put them down or shame them into believing.  He doesn’t try to persuade or coerce or knock them over to get their attention.  Instead, he conducts a Bible Study.  And then they sit down to a meal together, and Jesus the invited guest takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.  In that moment their eyes are opened.  Is this not the way God so often enters our lives?  Not in the miraculous, but in the ordinary taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.  When our eyes are opened in the midst of everyday life, we are reminded that all is not lost, even in times such as these.  We are not defeated or alone.  Love has won.  Easter is here to stay.  Emmaus invites us to expect God to find us.  In these times of disorientation, loss, and grief Jesus is standing right beside us, whispering in our ear, warming our hearts.  God is here in these moments.

 

The next time a friend grabs you and pulls you in for a hug, take the time to appreciate the gift of their embrace. When school resumes and you are dropping your kids off, take the time to thank the staff for the amazing gift that they give to your family.  The next time you are sitting in a crowded restaurant, take the time to look around at the smiling faces, loud voices and be more appreciative of the gift of community.  When you are at the grocery store, take a moment to acknowledge the necessities of life and the amazing people who work so hard to keep us supplied. The next time you come to the Lord’s Table, remember all table gatherings—the kitchen and dining tables, the potluck tables, the cookie and coffee table.  Jesus is here not in the miraculous, but in the ordinary taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.  In these times, stay in the moment, and truly appreciate the daily abundance of blessings that are so easily overlooked.   Above all, love fully, deeply, and with wild abandon!  AMEN.