Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Let us pause for a moment and hold in prayer words from the Iona Community:
Stay with us, O Christ,
since the day is far spent and the night is coming;
kindle our hearts on the way,
that we may recognize you in the scriptures,
in the breaking of bread, and in each other.
The Road to Emmaus story has inspired and encouraged followers of Christ since the 1st century. It is a story that speaks to ordinary people in the context of their own experiences of life and faith. We can imagine that we know these weary and heartbroken travelers because we’ve walked the same road of shock and disappointment, grief and loss, at some time in our lives. We know what it means to want to walk away from something we don’t think we have the strength to face. We know what it’s like to yearn for the comfort and security of our own home and the desire to pretend, even for a short time, that everything is the way it was and that nothing has changed even though we know that our lives will never again be the same.
There had been such high hope, perhaps even a sense of euphoria, when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. Here, at last, was the people’s best chance for liberation both physically and spiritually. And then, it all went terribly wrong. Jesus was arrested, tortured and crucified. Jesus’ disciples scattered in fear for their own lives. Some hid behind locked doors in Jerusalem and others who lived close by walked home to rest and grieve. But, what they thought was the end of the story was merely the beginning. Despite their despair, and loss of hope, the disciples began to have experiences of the risen Christ that forever changed their lives and enlivened their faith. These experiences were so powerful that they were compelled to share their stories with others and they were transformed into people who lived with the conviction that Christ was constantly with them.
Luke’s Gospel has the only explicit account of the experience of the travelers on the Road to Emmaus. The only other passing mention is in Mark’s Gospel that states, “After this Jesus appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest…” (Mark 16:12-13)
For me, the story of the Road to Emmaus is the most complete explanation of the Christian journey of faith to be found in the gospel accounts. Even in the midst of hardship, and sorrow, followers of Christ offer a generous invitation to a stranger to share their food and shelter. On their arduous journey they take time to welcome a stranger, to share their experiences, to listen to what another person has to say, and to offer generous and heartfelt hospitality. In the blessing and breaking of bread they recognize the face of Christ who is both guest and host at their table. In that moment of recognition, the visible presence of Christ vanishes and the invisible and yet profoundly real presence of Christ fills their hearts. Their hearts are on fire, burning with the excitement of their experience of the risen Christ.
In this experience, these travelers move from death to life; scarcity to abundance; despair to hope; sorrow to celebration; isolation to community. Earlier that day, they had been concerned about the dangers of travelling on the road after dark and yet they do not wait until daylight to travel back to Jerusalem. Shannon Michael Pater says poetically, “Their burning hearts illumine their blind eyes and quicken their weary souls for a seven-mile nighttime run in the moonlight of Easter.”(Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, page 422, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
In my reading this week I came across an article written by the Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm in which he notes that today, “…we live in a culture that values self-sufficiency and independence, we tend to approach our faith journey as if we’re essentially on our own. We seem to think that we either can or should keep our faith struggles, our questions and doubts, our uncertainties and even confusion to ourselves. …The reality is that faith has always been a community endeavor. From the very beginning, we find the early Christians gathering together to share with each other the bewildering experiences they have had with the risen Christ. I find it interesting that a common theme in the stories about the disciples discovering that Jesus was alive is that they immediately went back to the rest of the group to tell the others what had happened. It’s one thing for them to race from Golgotha to the upper room in Jerusalem. It’s another thing altogether for the disciples on the road to Emmaus to run 7 miles back to share the good news with the others. [As Walter Wink says]. ‘The resurrection is not a fact to be believed, but an experience to be shared.’ ”(thewakingdreamer.blogspot.ca/2011/05/it-takes-village-luke-2433-35)
Thinking about this encouraged me to wonder in what ways we might recognize Christ in our midst today. I can’t speak of your experiences but I call tell you that I have experienced Christ’s presence: in the gentle and wise words of an elderly person reminding me to embody the words I speak; in the simple sharing of a piece of bread with another; in a child’s face filled with awe and wonder; in the peaceful face of a person with deep faith who understands that death does not have the final word; in the unexpected stranger that blesses me in ways far beyond what I offer to share; in the face of one giving the gift of time to another and in the faceof each one of you who have, in so many ways, been a blessing to me. These are but a few of the ways that I have experienced Christ embodied in our community of faith.
We may not always recognize the face of Christ in our stories and in our lives. But, recognize him or not, Christ is present in story and in spirit; in sacrament and prayer; in the songs and stories of our faith tradition; in the sharing of our own stories of faith; in the abundance and challenges of life in community; and in the simple ways in which we respond with faith and love to each other, to the strangers that we meet, and to our world.
I’ll close with words of encouragement from Seasons of the Spirit:
We live ordinary lives.
We go about our routines each day.
and sometimes we gather, as Christian community,
to celebrate our common faith.
We sing. We tell stories. We pray.
We remember Christ –
how he calls us, feeds us,
and sends us out to care for the world –
and in all of this
we see the face of the risen Christ
in each other,
in the strength of community,
and in the ministries we go forth to enact in his name.
(Seasons of the Spirit, Lent/Easter 2004, pg. 95)
May we recognize Christ in this Easter season and always. Amen