Third Sunday of Easter
The two disciples mentioned in our gospel lesson had just left Jerusalem and now find themselves somewhere along the seven mile stretch to Emmaus. It is three days past the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. News had quickly spread about the women going to the tomb and finding it empty.
Already worn down and disillusioned, their hearts are heavy. Their minds confused. This moment is held for all of us who are overwhelmed and bewildered while walking the road of life. It is for all of us who grapple with the craziness of life when things turn out so mercifully wrong; when we cannot see our way and are on the other side of hopes and dreams. Shattered.
It is for all of us whose loved ones have been and are now hanging in the balance between life and death – more death than life. It is for those who stand or sit in a car during long lines – hour after hour – waiting to get food to feed their family. It is for those of us worried about the financial future. Though we keep telling ourselves that it is the secondary thing, we know that sooner or later (and likely sooner), the money supply is going to dry up. This moment, this path, this reality that these two “faith people” are on, is held for those of us learning a new reality and not knowing how things will work out.
These fellows were just walking along, talking about things and processing. They were sharing what is in their heart and on their mind about things that had just happened.
Thank God there were two of them because sometimes we need someone to talk to about our troubles. And I’m guessing that some of us have a whole new appreciation for those who walk along beside us. I mean, really walk with us. Those who listen to our stories and woes with love and patience, empathic ears, without judgment or criticism.
They were on the road to Emmaus – the road of broken ideologies, disappointments and frustrations, the road of unknowing.
Luke tells us that one of their names was Cleophas and the other is not named. He is but a fellow traveler on the road somewhere. Those of you who listen to me on a regular basis know that I like these “unnamed” characters in the Bible because it allows me to insert my own name there. Cleophas and Cathy – fellow travelers on the road of life.
Today, I might say Derrick, Isaiah, and Cathy were walking along after something incredible had happened that shook the world to its core. And they were saying to themselves and to one another, “What shall we do now that we cannot worship like we used to?” And one of them said, “We’ll get a camera and string some lights and get a beat-up old podium and put a cross in the background. And we will stand on our feet and sit at the piano for as long as we can. We’ll livestream or do whatever it takes.”
It might look like Molly, Presley, Liz, and Nicole walking along the road of life when the unthinkable happens and they are talking to one another about their common struggle. Perhaps frustrated and disappointed, but sticking together nonetheless, figuring it out somehow amid the chaos and confusion of the present moment. Determined to make sense of it all somehow.
I think all of us can put our names in this story and give our own witness of how we are making it through.
If nothing else, COVID-19 has reminded us how to rebound, how to press our way, how to be grateful for good companions who help us along the way. We cannot walk alone, my friends. How precious are the feet of those willing to walk with us.
Luke tells us that these men were disciples. They were not just people in the room or the crowd. They were disciplined people, adherers of the Way, although frustrated and bewildered.
They had experienced one of the most significant moments of their lives and now they are headed back home or on to the next thing. They had held such high hopes about this Jesus and this Movement that promised new life, liberty, and hope for all – a reversal of all they had known. They wanted to believe – they had believed in good times. But tragedy had struck. Hopes had been dashed. Defeat was real.
And they were talking about all that had happened, and they were sad. And I’m guessing that at least one of them was downright angry. The Scriptures do not tell us that, but I’m just imagining.
You have had those conversations have you not? You keep talking about it over and over, trying to make some sense of it all.
And out of nowhere another traveler joins in. And here I go again, imagining things.
Luke tells us that Jesus is unrecognizable. Well, what does Jesus look like here? Jesus incognito! Perhaps wearing the equivalent of cool sunglasses or – like Isaiah mentioned last week – maybe someone did not recognize him because he was wearing a mask covering his nose and mouth and only his eyes were showing. Or perhaps Jesus had on an outfit that did not fit the occasion. I do not know. After all, Jesus was supposed to be dead, so no one would have ever imagined seeing him anyway.
They do not recognize him. And I wonder how often we have also failed to recognize God in our midst because we were so weighed down? How often are we just as guilty of not looking for God to appear as these travelers?
And so, at Jesus’ request, they began to share their sorrow. “Man, where have you been? How have you not heard?”
Jesus rebukes their unbelief and begins to help them understand. These men are blown away. Can you imagine?
Jesus sat at the table with them, took bread and blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. And there in the breaking of bread their eyes were opened, and they saw. Is this not the assurance and awareness we long for most of all? That when our hearts are broken and weighed down, Jesus is in our midst feeding our soul? And is this not the gift we long to give others by generous acts of grace and mercy? Here is sweet relief. Here is what it looks like for me to follow Christ so dark. Here is what that broken body represents for me – and for you. Here is bread for your body, bread for your soul, love that makes a difference in your circumstance.
Jesus goes away but they pack up their things and head back to Jerusalem. And Luke tells us that their hearts were on fire.
The day is spent; they have eaten the evening meal. It would seem like they should settle down, get a good night’s rest, and go back in the morning. But there is an urgency now. They understand in a way they did not before.
And so, they get up. They arise amid the darkness to go tell the news that hope is not lost.
On their way back to Jerusalem the two disciples were saying to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us? Were we not set on fire as Jesus spoke to us?”
When our hearts are on fire, we also rise to meet the crisis. We learn new things, new ways. We form small groups so people can be connected. We listen differently because the pain of the speaker is different now. We lean in to hear their heartbeat because you understand that they prefer to not speak, since saying things out loud makes them even more vulnerable than not speaking at all. You have to listen carefully, prayerfully.
Once we are reminded, we pick up the telephone and check in, whether or not the person calls you back. We pull out the sewing machine and make masks and give to others, so they will have some. We say “thank you” in the checkout line and we gladly wait our turn. We lean out of windows at seven in the evening and bang on something because we know that it does not have to be that way.
Their hearts were on fire. And so, I guess the question is – is your heart burning? Is it burning with anger, rage, disappointment, and bitterness? Or is it burning with love, gratitude, and hopefulness?
Tomorrow it might burn with something else but at least today, in this moment, may our hearts be on fire for the light that shines beyond the tomb.
My brothers and sisters, what will be our witness of this hour? What is the witness that we have seen, and heard, and experienced through the risen Christ?
I shudder to think what might happen if enough of our hearts start to burn with the fire of the Holy Spirit – pushing us out and pushing us forward. Burning with new purpose and new vision. Burning with how we might be able to transform the world and live into new iterations of ourselves, a new understanding of the word of God. Those who heard and believed were changed in profound ways. Whatever they were before, they are now so different that they have been born anew.
Here we stand at the crossroad. What shall we do with ourselves?