Emmaus

Preached April 26, 2020, on St. John’s United livestream service. Based on Luke 24:13-35 for Easter 3, Year A.

Two men were travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And as they moved farther and farther away – both in steps and hours – from all that had happened, they began to debrief it together.

They went over everything:

That triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, with the palm branches, and the donkey!

The meal they all had shared once they arrived in the city, the dinner they thought was a celebration – not a goodbye.

Their belief that the Teacher was going to rescue Israel from the oppressive force of Rome.

How the authorities took him, under cover of darkness, even though he’d been at the temple courts every day in broad daylight – in public.

The farce of a trial, and the execution, seeing his body hanging like a common criminal.

And, the question – what now?

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus came near and began walking with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.[i]

Besides, who was expecting to see a dead man walking on the road as if nothing had happened?

Jesus said to them, “What are you discussing?”

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s taken place in Jerusalem recently?”

Jesus asked, “What things?”

The Road to Emmaus story depicted in this carving from 850-900 CE,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters
, New York

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.”

Wow, you ever wonder what your friends or family say about you when you’re not there? Well, Jesus is about to find out.

“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, and besides that, it’s now the third day since these things took place.

And some women from our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they didn’t find his body there, they came back and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive.

Some of us went to the tomb and found it just as the women said; but they didn’t see him.”

Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Wasn’t it necessary that the Messiah should suffer and then enter into his glory?”

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in the scriptures.

“Wow!” the men say to themselves, “This guy really seems to get it, he’s just given us a whole TED talk while we’ve walked along. Maybe… maybe he’s the one we should follow!?”

As they came near to Emmaus, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But the two urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening and the day is 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.

For the briefest moment they glimpse Jesus. Remembered, not in chains, not on a cross, not in the grave, but at the table. It’s in the most ordinary action, the sharing of the most basic food – the kind we can’t live without – that he is found.


What do you miss about church and our community while isolating at home?

[Discussion]

This pandemic has disrupted our path, the patterns and routines of our lives. This disruption is physical, but also emotional and spiritual.

It has us asking the question: How do we recognize Jesus when the road is unrecognizable?

Where before we saw him in the quilts hanging in our sanctuary, in the burning candle of the Christ Light, in the familiar sound of the piano, now we are far away from that place.

Where before we felt him in the warm arms of a friend greeting us joyfully, in the smell of coffee and bacon grease at the diner, in the vast waters at Pebble Beach, now we are far away from that place.

Where before we saw him in the soil of the community garden, in the feeling of book spines at the library, or on the ski trails in the quiet melodious sounds of the woods, now we are far away from that place.

So then, Where is Christ made known now?


As our isolation continues, without an end in sight, we need to think about what it means to take care of ourselves spiritually.

We don’t know when we will be able to gather together again, in a building like this. So now is the time we can begin to ask questions of ourselves, that we may have been afraid to ask before.

Human beings are creatures of patterns and routines, they give us life. But we are also creatures of change. The cells in my body today are not the same as the day before, or the day before that.

We are in constant change, which is probably way patterns and routines are so appealing.

So, we may be afraid to ask questions like: Do we need a building to worship God? Because we’re scared that the answer means we’ll lose something we’ve come to love.

But in a moment like this that question becomes a necessary part of our spiritual survival!

If God only dwells in this building, and we can’t worship her anywhere else, what does that mean for our faith?

So we look to the scripture, to the early church, and the witness of the faithful throughout millennia for an answer:

They tell us of the travelling tent of the Israelites, how God’s presence dwelled among them.

We hear of the early church’s “gatherings” that took place in private homes.

We recount stories of those at worship in secret during different period of persecution in history and today.

We are reminded of the Spirit, sent to accompany us in Jesus’ stead in the Gospel of John, to dwell intimately with us.[ii]

So, our scripture, our tradition, and our experience tells us that God might dwell here, in this building, but only because her children are here.


It’s interesting that it’s in the home, at the table, repeating an action Jesus has done numerous times before in the Gospel, that he is revealed to his friends.

Have you thought about your home, as a holy place before? A place you can encounter Christ?

Have you considered that every breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, snack or late-night bowl of ice cream, is a moment to remember Jesus?

We create spaces to help us encounter God. We build churches, create music and art, we make rules about what you can and cannot do in the space, we develop patterns for how we use the time we’ve set aside together.

These tools can be helpful; they can also be constraining.

They are not the only way to encounter God.

Luke 24 points us to the table, to the sharing of a meal with friends, as the moment Jesus is most recognized amongst us. The passage calls us back to Jesus’ teaching that it’s in the face of a stranger we should look for him.

Not in wood or stone, in pews or chancels, but in relationship – there the Living God dwells among us.


So, this sounds like a challenge to me. A challenge, in this strange time, to think deeply about where we meet God – the familiar and unexpected places, in the unusual and the ordinary.

And how will this strange time, where we’re confronted with difficult questions, transform your faith journey? What new thing is budding up for you?

My hope is that the God of surprise encounters and the kitchen table be revealed to you in a deeper, more intimate way, during this time.

Amen.


[i] Citations from Luke 24, NRSV, adapted, [ii] John 17

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