Reflection for the third Sunday the season of Easter, 2017
Based on Luke 24: 13-35 On the road to Emmaus
Opening Prayer: Holy One, may the words on my lips be acceptable in your sight in this re-telling of one of the post Easter encounter stories found in Luke’s gospel. Amen.
In our reading from Luke’s gospel this morning we find ourselves transported back to Easter Sunday. In the Christian tradition, Easter Sunday happens three days after Jesus is tried, found guilty, crucified, and buried in a sealed tomb in a garden near to Golgotha in Jerusalem.
On Easter Sunday morning, the tomb is found empty and Jesus’ followers are advised by angels in a vision that he lives in some new and unfathomable way.
This morning’s readings takes us back to Easter Sunday afternoon as two dejected companions sorrowfully head back home to their village some 7 miles from Jerusalem.
On the road to Emmaus, they find themselves trying to think through the puzzle pieces of the story. This thinking and walking at the same time is hard work for the two companions who are understandably upset at this turn of events.
What has occurred was not at all what they had expected when they signed on to follow Jesus of Nazareth, one thought to have been a messenger from God whose good deeds and powerful teachings had rallied such a significant following.
Walking and talking together about all that had happened, it is clear that they are visibly distressed. This is not lost on a kindly and curious stranger who finds himself intrigued by the intensity of their conversation.
In a moment of dejected silence, he asks them what they are discussing.
The two companions stand stock still and gape at this stranger who seems to know nothing of what has happened these last three days.
Speaking for the two companions, the one named Cleopas says: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who has not heard this news?”
“What news?” the stranger asks in return.
From here the conversation shifts taking on a more prayerful than intellectual tone as the two companion fill in the gaps for this seemingly uninformed stranger.
Recapping the high’s and low’s of Jesus’ trial, persecution, and cruel death on the cross, and the puzzling events of Easter morning, the two begin to feel slightly less frozen in their grief.
Being able to hear their own voices describe the depths of discouragement and distress they feel, naming their lost hopes for a new and decidedly different future somehow proves helpful causing them to feel more grounded and present in this present moment.
Drawn in by the stranger’s ability to meet them where they are at, the conversation shifts into more of a teaching mode as he reminds them as per their faith tradition that betrayal is a common happenstance in everyday life. He reminds them that life has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and further to that, out of death and dying new life and new relationships are born.
Further to that, the stranger reminds them that Jesus of Nazareth, this messenger from God, the “Messiah” had predicted what would happen in Jerusalem. He reminds them that Jesus had predicted that indeed this needed to happen for “Messiah” to be reunited with God.
“Had they forgotten all these teachings so soon?” he admonishes them.
With that new thought in mind, the trio finds themselves having arrived at Emmaus. Because it is now dark, the two companions implore the stranger to stay with them for the night.
At first, the stranger resists, but finding their welcome so compelling, he soon agrees to stay as they suggest.
This, in keeping with the dangers of the night in an unknown community to the stranger and in keeping with local custom, proves to be a wise decision for all concerned.
The conversation tough prayerful in its own right up to now takes on a more sacramental tone as they share the evening meal.
Gathered together at table, the stranger so recently welcomed as ‘guest’ now becomes ‘host’ as he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and then shares it with his companions.
Immediately they recognize him and the story tells us that the stranger vanishes.
Realizing the stranger’s true identity, the two companions run as fast as their legs might carry them all the way back to Jerusalem so they can share with the others that “Jesus is risen!”
En route they recall how he had caused their hearts to burn within them once more as he opened the scriptures and as he did the most ordinary of things-blessing, breaking, and sharing bread.
This encounter with the risen Christ moved them from a place of thinking through the puzzle of the recent and most puzzling events to sharing in pastorally meaningful conversation together, to proclaiming the good news found in scripture, to communing together over a meal, and to the intentional embodiment of the good news for others.
This thinking and praying and opening ourselves to scripture and communing with God through Jesus so as to go out into the world as witnesses to the risen Christ is the very pattern of a regular Sunday worship service.
Funny, that, the road to Emmaus, an encounter story with the risen Christ might be the prototype for how worship happens here now this very day.
This weekend here at Knox, we had our annual thrift sale event, one I am sure was chock full of all sorts of encounters and encounter stories.
Which ones will you be thinking and praying about in coming days?
Which ones will you see as informing your faith journeys?
Which ones might you come to recognize as ones you will want to run and share with others?
Come, then, let us continue to reflect on all of that in more in a closing prayer.
Holy One, we are so thankful for all the road we travel alone and together. We are so thankful for companions with whom we can walk and talk and put together the puzzle pieces of our lives that confound us, our dashed hopes and dreams, our sorrows and our joys. Be with us always in our thinking and in our praying, in our coming to God through Jesus, and in our embodiment of the good news that Jesus lives in a new and unfathomable but still real way.
For all of this and more, during the season of Easter, we say “Alleluia and may it be so!” Amen.
A Lectio Divina paraphrase of Luke 24: 13-35
A road to Emmaus
By Liz Bowyer
Sunday, April 30, 2017
That same day, the third day after Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, two companions found themselves trudging along towards their home at the village of Emmaus, located just seven miles from Jerusalem.
Normally a reasonable day’s walk, this afternoon the two trudged along, each one’s footstep dogged by intense sadness and fatigue.
So engrossed were the two companions in their shared conversation, they hardly took notice of the stranger accompanying them along the way.
“What if all is not lost?” one said to the other who mournfully wiped away a dejected tear from his cheek.
“What if this whole fiasco of following Jesus into Jerusalem is nothing more than a bad dream?’, whispered the other.
“What if, when we get back home and have a good night’s rest, what if we will wake up tomorrow and we learn that the festival of the Passover hasn’t even happened yet?”
What if, indeed.
At this very moment, the stranger stepped between them and asked:
“What are you two talking about?”
The two stood stock still and gaped at him, the one called Cleopas said:
“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened?”
“What things?” asked the stranger.
Tired as the companions were, there was something in the stranger’s body language that suggested a genuine sense of curiosity and of empathy.
And so it was the three walked on together in silence.
After a slight pause, the companion called Cleopas said,
“We had such high hopes that our leader’s entry into Jerusalem was a worthwhile endeavour but now, we realize it has all come to naught.”
And his shoulders sagged as he shared his disappointment.
The stranger said nothing but listened intently.
The other spoke up with some vehemence:
“The hardest thing is the shame of it all: Jesus, of Nazareth, a prophet in word and in deed was handed over to the Roman authorities by our own leaders and was put to death on the cross three days ago.
Indeed, all our hopes and dreams for change and revitalization for our people has been lost.
Then, if that were not bad enough, this very morning when some of our women friends went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial as is our custom, they found no body there!
Instead, a vision with angels appeared and told them that Jesus was not dead after all.
When our other friends in hiding heard this idle tale, they, too, had to run and see the empty tomb for themselves.
The women were right-the tomb was empty!
No vision of angels however.
We really don’t know what to make of it.
Our families are expecting us home this night.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
After all, just how much sorrow can one heart hold?
Just how much distress does our God think we can manage?”
Still moving in the general direction of home, and after a time of brief silence, the stranger offered these firm but kind words:
“Have you forgotten already all that you have learned these last three years travelling with Messiah as your teacher?
Have you forgotten so soon his prediction that what has happened in Jerusalem must come to pass?
Indeed, it looks to me as though you have lost your way in the depth of your grief.”
After a time of brief pause, the stranger spoke once more:
“Betrayal is a part of life. Life as we know it involves dying.
Out of death, new life and new relationships are formed.”
Walking and talking together with the stranger, Cleopas and his companion could feel their hearts coming to life once more.
Arriving at their home village they invited the stranger to join them for the evening meal.
At first, he resisted their invitation but, then he had second thoughts.
In keeping with local tradition, the sure knowledge that he was at some risk travelling alone at night in unfamiliar territory, and their compelling welcome, the stranger accepted their hospitality.
When the time came to share the evening meal, in the most natural of ways, the stranger took the bread, blessed it, and broke, and shared it.
Immediately their eyes were opened and no sooner had they recognized the stranger for who he was than he vanished from their site.
Revived by their encounter with the risen Christ, they raced back to Jerusalem to find their companions and share the good news.
Indeed, in some strange and wonderful way, they realized all was not lost!
In some strange and wonderful way, they realized they had been accompanied and supported in the most unexpected of ways.
In some strange and wonderful way, they could see that something new was emerging and in the most ordinary of circumstances!
Something strange and wonderful happened to the two companions on the road to Emmaus.
Two companions, accompanied by a stranger as they walked and talked were affirmed in the midst of deep grief.
For them, being reminded that what had happened at Jerusalem devastating though it was, was not the last word.
A new beginning was being born in their midst as they walked and talked together and as they went about the most ordinary of things-giving and receiving hospitality and in breaking bread together.
May we, too, experience the abiding presence of the risen Christ when we grapple with our feelings of disappointment and discouragement.
May we, too, experience the consoling presence of the risen Christ in our own experiences of grief and sorrow.
May we, too, know the energizing power of the stories of our faith tradition to remind us that we are not the first to experience betrayal, death, and new life.
May we, too, know the love of the risen Christ in the blessing and the breaking and the sharing of bread.
And may we, too, find ways to be energized for the sharing of this good news with those others left hiding in their own places of fear, doubt, and despair.
May it be so, amen.