Today I’d like to talk with you about how Jesus surprises us in the world, even as we walk our own Emmaus road. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There’s a thread of comedy that runs through the resurrection appearances of Jesus as they are related in the Gospels. Today’s passage from Luke is no exception.
Two disciples–perhaps they are a married couple–are walking back home from Jerusalem. Their hearts and minds overflow with what happened there during Holy Week, and its culmination, the death of Jesus. As they make their way home, they talk, attempting to make sense of it all. The entry into the city, the uproar of the crowds, the garments and branches scattered on the road in front of the donkey Jesus was riding. It seemed their dreams were coming true.
So much happened in that city in the space of several days, but the culmination was Jesus, nailed to the cross, dead. With his last breath their hope had died. They had seen his lifeless body on the cross; they knew it had been taken down and buried. All that was left to them was to brush aside crazy reports that he was alive again, and trudge their weary way back to Emmaus.
Where’s the comedy in this scene? It begins with the appearance of a mysterious stranger. He walks beside them, a fellow traveler, and invites himself into their conversation. They explain what’s eating away at them, astounded that he knows nothing about this. After all, the end of Jesus had been the talk of everyone in Jerusalem, that city a short distance behind these Emmaus disciples on the road. The pair trudges on, talking about how their hope had been in that man Jesus. They fail to recognize the face of the one who walks beside them.
There’s plenty of road still left to travel, and so the stranger launches into a Bible lesson. The Scriptures don’t just promise a messiah, he says, but a suffering messiah who must be killed before he can enter into glory. The stranger presents this messiah as central to the entire Bible. The couple listens with increasing interest.
Did this happen only once, on the road to Emmaus on a spring day shortly after the original Easter? Or does it happen repeatedly, in the course of your life and mine?
Our destination may not be Emmaus, but often enough we walk our own trail of tears. We may not have been inside Jerusalem and seen Jesus crucified, but something happens that shatters our faith, breaks our hope, violates our love. We walk home again, retreating like a defeated army. We don’t want a home so much as a place to hide, where we lick our wounds, turn our backs on life, and nurse our cynicism.
Yes, each of us walks this trail to tears from time to time. Sometimes we walk together, driven by our pain, but achieving no resolution.
Then something comic happens. Jesus appears beside us. But we don’t recognize him! He looks so ordinary. Just another traveler made weary by the road. Somehow he gets inside our conversation, and hears what we have to say, the load of grief we spew forth.
His response is not rejection. Nor is it sympathy, a patting of the hand. Jesus takes the situation, and hoists it up to a new level.
There’s more going on than meets the eye, he tells us. Our afflictions belong to a larger picture, some deeper mystery. Like the messiah’s death, our afflictions do not have the last word, but point beyond themselves.
At one time or another, we all walk the trail of tears, the road back to Emmaus. We want to hide somewhere, lick our wounds, and nurse our cynicism. There on the road a stranger joins us.
But do we see him? And if so, do we welcome him? Answer his questions? Hear his message? Recognize him for who he is?
Jesus seeks to present our story here and now as he presents his own on the original Emmaus road. He wants to reveal our affliction for what it is: not the final word, not meaningless pain, but rather the prelude to some bright glory, our own resurrection.
Jesus walks with us in our sorrows. He tells us that the God who worked in his life, led him from a cross to a throne, gave his immense suffering a redemptive purpose–this same God is at work in our lives as well, making sense from what seems senseless.
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Our achievements and failures, our mistakes and injuries–none of these is the final report on who we are, and none is without significance. Instead, they are rags, scraps of material, which in our hands look poor, but taken up by God are accepted, and woven into a tapestry that glimmers with gold thread and a multitude of colors.
This God Jesus tells us about refuses to stop with the resurrection of Jesus. There is our resurrection to accomplish as well, not only after this world is done, but in all the little Easters along our span of life.
Our experience in worship trains us for our experience in life. Here we learn to recognize the Jesus pattern in the Scripture story, the presence of Jesus in the broken bread. Everything in worship points us to this presence and this pattern.
But this recognition does not stop at the church door. We go forth from here equipped to find the pattern of Jesus and his presence there in the world for which he died, there in the world where he is risen to life.
We find him there because we find him here. We baptize people into the death and resurrection of Jesus so that they may find him, crucified and risen, not only at the end of time, but throughout the years of their lives. Recognizing Jesus as he walks beside them every day, seeing Jesus at the breaking of their life’s bread–we can encourage this ability in our children and in one another.
Dare to go forth from this place, my friends, dare to go forth from here, where you encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament, and recognize that he is alive out in the world for which he died.
When you must walk your Emmaus road, believing him dead and your hope dead with him, dare to recognize him, a stranger walking beside you, a stranger who offers you broken bread, who lifts from you your burden of hopelessness with his hands marked with wounds from the cross.
And once you recognize him, and know that the fire of love enflames your heart, once the great cosmic comedy has made you laugh, then run, run through the dark, sad night of this world, run like a fool for God, and let others know of your joy: that the Lord has risen and you are alive with his life.
I have spoken these words to you in the name of the God who wants to include all creation in his Easter: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
— Copyright 2002, the Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.