By: Eleanor Wellford, Priest Associate
My first reaction after reading this morning’s story from Luke was to wonder if the two men walking on the road to Emmaus were observing proper social distancing! That’s the kind of world we live in right now.
My next reaction was to wonder about who these two men were making the 7- mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus; and why we only know the name of one of them. Why did the risen Lord choose to appear to these two particular people? And why did it take them so long to recognize who he was?
I’m not so sure I would have been as hospitable to the stranger who appeared out of nowhere as these two men were. He interrupted their conversation, called them foolish after they unloaded the burden of their hearts to him and then overwhelmed them with a lengthy interpretation of Scripture. I’m pretty sure I would have been put off by him and happy to see him go his own way; but those two men weren’t.
They were intrigued by the stranger. Luke told us that these two traveling companions were sad as they recounted with each other the awful events of the last couple of days. Their hopes for a Messiah had died on the cross with Jesus. But something the stranger said made their hearts burn within them, exposing a deep hunger that began to be filled by what Jesus was teaching.
Jesus offered them a broad brush of biblical history. It was a history of human life, suffering, death and most importantly, rebirth. It was a story of order created from chaos, of freedom from slavery, of desert times becoming fruitful times, of destruction becoming construction. Maybe Jesus was trying to put his own story into a context that would help the two men focus less on the current events and more on how God has been with all who suffer – throughout history.
Although it was probably hard for them to take it all in, they knew that their hearts were telling them something. That’s why they then invited Jesus, still the stranger, to share their dinner with them. As Luke told us, Jesus sat down at the table, took a loaf of bread, blessed and broke it – and that’s when the two men got it. Their eyes were opened and their hearts quickened to the reality of who and what was right in front of them.
The hearing of Scripture and the breaking of bread completed their circuit of faith. They looked up in total recognition of who Jesus was only to find that he had disappeared, gone, vanished without a trace. But that wasn’t the end of the story. With their hearts still burning, the two men knew what they needed to do next.
They got up from the table and took that 7-mile trek right back to Jerusalem where they found the 11 disciples and the others who were gathered with them. They came right back to their community and after sharing stories with each other of recent events, they proclaimed with joyous hearts the Easter message that we still proclaim today: “The Lord has risen indeed!” Alleluia!
This morning’s gospel is a beautiful story of two men coming to faith. And it’s our story, too. We get their lack of understanding of what was right in front of them. They didn’t recognize Jesus because they were distracted by recent events – which included the fact that Jesus had died. He wouldn’t be there with them, now. And this stranger was hardly a ghost.
The Scripture that Jesus shared with the two men was filled with stories of hope – hope that God would be just as much a part of their present and future as He was of their past. It was just hard for them to hear or imagine that in the midst of their struggles – just as it’s hard for us to embrace that hope in the midst of our current struggles.
How do we make sense of what’s going on right now and how do we even begin to envision what the “new normal” will be like? The “old normal” was just fine, wasn’t it? Well…maybe not. Maybe we’re being given an opportunity to see things in a new light, to look at the way we’re used to doing things and consider doing them another way.
The two men in this morning’s story were used to their routine of walking the road to Emmaus. They were used to it being just the two of them sharing the events of their day with one another, They weren’t expecting a stranger to show up and walk beside them and they certainly weren’t expecting to have Scripture opened up to them.
They could have easily dismissed the stranger who showed up to walk with them. But they didn’t. They welcomed him and because of that, nothing was ever the same for them again.
This desert time, this time of exile and isolation that we’re going through right now – this too will pass. It always does. And at some point we will gather together again and we will pray together and break bread together again and be reminded that the God of our past is just as much a God of our present and future. In the meantime, be open to the unexpected – to the stranger who shows up out of the blue and walks beside us. It just might be Jesus.