The Walk to Emmaus
Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdelene] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then 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?” He 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and 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. Some 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.” Then [Jesus] said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They 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?”
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen
indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Here ends the reading of the Gospel of the Lord.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” These are the words the two of them shared while walking with Jesus.
BUT WE HAD HOPED–are there any sadder words that we can say?
BUT WE HAD HOPED–have you ever lost hope, lost confidence in the future, lost a vision of what can be, could be, should be?
BUT WE HAD HOPED–have you ever lost your grip on the promises of God?
In our Gospel these men had lost hope they were walking home to their village of Emmaus, returning to their former lives after years of following Jesus. They had given up. They had lost confidence in the future, they had lost the way forward, so they decided to go back, back to the comfort of their past. They had hoped in Jesus, but now that they had lost hope, they were feeling lost; until they were found by Jesus on the road.
- When they were at their lowest, Jesus found them and picked them up.
- When they were the furthest from God, God in Christ came to them.
- When they were on the road away from Jesus, Jesus found them on that road.
The first thing Jesus did was open up the scriptures to them and tell them about himself, explaining to them about how this Jesus they were lamenting was really the Messiah.
When they got home and invited him in to eat with them, they still didn’t know who he was, but they were good Jews who knew all about welcoming the stranger so they compelled him to come in and eat. Then he fed them, “and they recognized him.”
There are lots of good connections to be made in the Road to Emmaus story; for me. the tie between Peter’s instructions to the young church and this gospel story center around the heart. Peter is thorough in illuminating how our faith and hope have come to fruition in knowing Christ; now, he does not want the church to miss out on the importance of love from the heart.
Of course, the two who met Jesus on the road testified, after the whole event was over, that their hearts were burning from the experience. I don’t think that was a reaction to the meal they shared with him. We need not be afraid of the emotions that follow from an encounter with Christ. As I once read somewhere: Religion does not start out with the notion of God. It starts with personal experience, the overwhelming experience of ultimate belonging.
John Wesley famously experienced his heart ‘strangely warmed” at Aldersgate and encouraged others to seek a “religion of the heart.” Think of John what you want, but me thinks our hearts could do good with a little strange warming!
The “Road to Emmaus” story might suffer from familiarity for most of us, but there are pieces of this text that deserve a fresh look with Gospel eyes. After all, there is a reason that this text shows up in the lectionary on the heels of Easter, as it tells something important not just about the Jesus story, but about those of us who are invited to live Easter lives.
The first thing that caught my attention is that this story breaks into a moment of heartache like a record scratch. These disciples walking along the Emmaus Road are dejected, confused, and hopeless. It is into this moment that the resurrected Christ brings love & redemption for these disciples. In the moments when we are most hopeless and most confused we need to be on the lookout for Christ being discretely, but actively, walking alongside us. Make no mistake, this is no “silver lining” mentality, but an honest reflection that God’s redemptive work doesn’t happen in spite of our hardest times, but because we have hard times.
In the hard times God walks with us on the long road where our hopelessness is expressed and our confusion is real. God’s redemptive work isn’t for those who have it all figured out (as if there is such a person) but for those of us who don’t know where to even start.
The second thing I noticed is that Jesus reminds the disciples of the salvation that God promises not by asking them to “accept Jesus into their hearts,” but rather through story.
I said this before and can’t say it enough…stories are powerful. Stories contain deep truths that normal explanations and raw facts just cannot hold. Stories thread us into a larger garment of humanity where lives and love and liberation are all intermixed and intertwined, by God! The disciples are catechized in the same way that we all have been: through salvation stories old and new. Today is a day to remember and to tell our stories of salvation that we know by heart, and to express them with joy.
And finally, speaking of hearts, notice that the disciples felt that their “hearts were burning” as Jesus walked with them.
Our bodies are often good indicators of what is real and hopeful in this world, holding onto truths that can’t be adequately expressed. One of the reasons that Christians have for so long held on to the resurrection as a bodily resurrection, and not just a spiritual one, is because they knew that bodies are important. The resurrected Christ had a body that was scarred and not perfect, that ate and spoke, and that walked with other bodies. Bodies, in all shapes, sizes, and abilities, are loved, by God. And in hearing that, a number of bodies will have their hearts burning with gratitude and grace.
The fact that Jesus walked with the disciples on the road, not leading them in a new and different direction, but engaging with them on their pilgrimage echoes how we should also work in the world. We are in the work of accompaniment.
I have participated in all sorts of Communion Services over the years. I have communed at an orphanage and school in Haiti. I have also passed a plate full of little cut up pieces of Wonder Bread and a tray of glasses filled with Welch’s grape juice in Logan, OH.
I have celebrated communion with 30,000 rambunctious teenagers in Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit & Houston at National Youth Gatherings, and in hospital rooms with dying people. As different as all those sacramental moments were; they were all connected to one important thing; those of us who were there, “knew Christ in the breaking of the bread.” Our eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread.
Perhaps they were there the night of the Last Supper and the eerie similarity of his actions made them recognize him. Maybe something more mystical and mysterious happened. Maybe a bit of both.
It doesn’t matter how, but it matters greatly that they knew Jesus in the breaking of the bread. This action of taking bread and blessing it and breaking it, opened their eyes to who Jesus was and how he had died to save them. It also let them know that he was alive, he was risen, he was present in the world to give them life and joy and hope. And so it is with us.
When we participate in the breaking of the bread, we are reminded of what Christ did for us on the cross, what he continues to do for us each day of our lives. The Breaking of the Bread gives us hope, for it opens our eyes to the living Christ in our midst. “They 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
We too have a mission from God to share Christ with people, with all people. We have God’s call to share the story of God’s love with the world. We are called by God to get up from the table, go out on the road, and point people to Christ.
- The world is full of people who have lost hope.
- The world is full of people who have lost a vision of goodness.
- The world is full of people who are wandering about, dazed and confused, stumbling along the road to Emmaus.
- The world is full of people who are looking for someone or something to lift them up and give them joy again.
- The world is full of soul starved people in search of the true bread from heaven.
And we are called to go out and invite all these folk to the table where we have been fed.
- Are you one of those who have lost hope? Come to the table.
- Are you one of those who need a new vision of God’s love? Come to the table.
- Are you one of those who seek to understand the ways of God with the world? Come to the table.
Yes, Come to the Table.
- Come to the Table and receive Jesus Christ.
- Come to the Table and receive the True Bread from Heaven.
- Come to the Table and receive New Hope for New Life.
Come to the Table and See the grace, mercy & love of God in the breaking of the bread where our eyes are opened and HOPE is restored.