In this season of Easter, may you guide our steps and meet us on the path, Loving God. May we recognize your presence, may our hearts grow warm in the glow of your Spirit, and may the good news of resurrection we celebrate in this Easter season fill us with joy and inspire our living all year long. Amen.
There once was a preacher who died and went to heaven… He arrived at the pearly gates and joined the back of the long line. He had been waiting a few minutes when Bob, a bus driver, died and joined the line. From way up at the gates, St. Peter sees him and waves at him – “Bob! Come on up to the front! Welcome! Please go on in and enjoy heaven you deserve it!” The preacher was a bit irritated by this, so he goes up to St Peter. “Your holiness! I don’t understand. I have dedicated my entire life to God. How comes this Bob guy gets to cut the line and get in before everybody else?” “Well, you see… when you were preaching, your congregation was falling asleep, but when Bob was driving his bus all his passengers were praying.”
You know what they call someone who regularly falls asleep in church? A bored-again Christian.
Hopefully this sermon won’t put you to sleep. It is a heartfelt message – with some silliness sprinkled in. And please, for the sake of everyone who loves you, drive better than Bob!
So, today, we are continuing the celebration of Easter as we reflect on this story about the journey to Emmaus. I love this story! It’s probably my favorite encounter with the Risen Christ in the gospels, in part because this story highlights some of the ways we still encounter the Risen Christ in our lives today.
So, here we find two followers of Jesus, a man named Cleopas and his unnamed companion (who might have been his wife) have left Jerusalem on Easter Sunday to travel to Emmaus. By now, they have heard the astounding news from the women that morning: news of the empty tomb, a vision of angels, their proclamation that he was alive, that he had been raised… a tale perhaps too miraculous for them to believe; perhaps too extraordinary that they were hesitant to get their hopes up.
Were they running away in fear? Or were they just going home because they didn’t know what else to do or where they should go in light of this new revelation? We don’t know. But, while they are walking, they are discussing everything that has happened. And, in that moment, Jesus shows up, incognito perhaps, and simply asks them, “what are you talking about?”
They don’t recognize him – not yet. Maybe he looks different than he did in his pre-Easter life? And they are a bit flabbergasted by his question. “What do you mean, what are we talking about, stranger? Haven’t you heard about the mighty prophet of God, Jesus of Nazareth? How he was condemned to die? And we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem us all.”
“And now, his body’s missing. The tomb’s empty. The women who went there this morning say they met some angels who told them he has been raised from the dead.” Do they believe it? Can they believe it?
They still don’t recognize him. The Risen Christ is right there with them, has met them on the road, has invited them to tell his story. But their eyes, and maybe their hearts, aren’t yet able to perceive the reality of resurrection right there in the one walking alongside them.
You kind of wonder what Jesus is thinking at this point. Is he frustrated? Ugh, these disciples! When will they get it? He’s been wondering that for a while. But he still doesn’t reveal himself directly in this moment. He isn’t like, “Hey y’all, it’s me! You know… Jesus Christ, Superstar, you thought I was gone, but here we are!”
Instead, he starts preaching and teaching, doing some of the things he did in life. He does call them foolish. But, more importantly, he then retells the story, his story. He goes all the way back to Moses, and to the prophets of Israel, and, in doing so, places his story in the broader narrative of God’s liberating love.
They talk all the way to Emmaus. Now evening is approaching, and something has begun to change. These two are drawn to him. “Stay with us,” they urge, when it appears that he will be going on without them. And so, he does.
And it is there, at supper, at the table, when he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, that their eyes are opened. They recognize him. And then poof… he’s gone.
I guess Jesus had to vanish so he could pop back over to Jerusalem and make another appearance. There is a lot to do and no rest for the risen!
And now, in this revelatory moment, these two people realize that as they walked, as they took this journey with the Risen Christ, their hearts had been burning within them, their souls were starting to perceive and believe before the rest of them could catch up.
Moved and inspired by this encounter, they don’t even stay the night and instead head back to Jerusalem. No rest for them either, I guess!
As I mentioned, I love this story because it illustrates some of the ways we encounter the Risen Christ in our lives too. In many ways, the journey of these two followers of Jesus reflects our own spiritual journey.
The fact that this story takes place on a road, on a journey is itself a metaphor for how we encounter the Risen Chris on the road, in the walking, in the journey of life and faith. As followers of the Way of Jesus, we encounter the presence of the Risen Christ in the process of following. We are inspired by his life, ministry, and way of life. In striving to walk in his way, we are embodying our prayer that his way may become our way – and each step in the right direction brings us a little closer to that reality.
That’s a daily practice of course. And sometimes we’re walking an easy, even trail. But at other times, it may feel more like an uphill, rocky scramble. But the more we walk, the more we train, the better walkers we become. And remembering that the Risen Christ is always our traveling companion, our walking buddy, is part of that training.
And isn’t it interesting that even these two followers of Jesus who knew him, who were in Jerusalem when everything happened, needed to hear the story again? They needed to hear the scriptures recited and interpreted again. That was true for Luke’s first audience and is for us too! Do you know what they call a book club that’s been stuck on one book for years? Church.
It’s a joke. But it’s true. And it’s not a bad thing. We get to know Jesus and we experience the presence of God in scripture. When we revisit these stories, ruminate on them, and put ourselves into them in a way, they become our stories and help connect our lives to the bigger picture. And, by the way, the presence of the Risen Christ can be found throughout the gospel stories, not only in the post-Easter appearances. As biblical scholar Marcus Borg said, we read the stories of the pre-Easter Jesus with post-Easter glasses on.
We also find the Risen Christ in acts of hospitality. Something was starting to dawn on these two when they got to Emmaus. It wasn’t fully formed yet, but they didn’t want the conversation and their time with this traveling companion to end. So, they invited him to stay. They invited him in.
This is a reminder to us to invite Jesus in too – his Spirit, his teachings, his way of life and love – into our lives, into our relationships, into our discernment and decision-making. In practicing hospitality towards one another, we experience God’s presence. In acts of kindness, care, and hospitality to one another, we are embodying God’s love. As Pastor Dave said last week, we are practicing resurrection.
It’s okay to have good boundaries though. You don’t have to go overboard in order to practice hospitality. I mean did you hear about the nun who was just finishing her shower in her bathroom at the convent. As she turned the water off, she heard loud, frantic knocking at the door to her room. Deeply concerned, she ran to the door and yelled “who is it?” A man yelled back, “A blind man.” So, neglecting her towel, she flung open the door and staring right at her was a man holding a set of window blinds.
Yeah, have some boundaries. Put on your bathrobe first!
And then, there’s the table. At the meal, when the Risen Christ does that familiar thing of taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and offering it to them, the eyes of these two are now fully opened. Resurrection is a reality for them. The Risen Christ may not linger for long, but this moment, this memory, this encounter will inspire them not only to run back to Jerusalem, but for their rest of their lives.
It was miraculous. But it’s also a regular occurrence. We meet our Risen Christ at the table every time we partake in that simple meal he offered. In remembering, in eating and drinking, and most importantly in sharing this sacrament in community with others, we are nourished by God’s love – all of us, for everyone is welcome and everyone receives a feast of grace.
And this isn’t just about the practice of communion in worship. We can take it further. Whenever we gather together for a meal, a cup of coffee, a chili cook-off, a potluck, or simply time together, we are practicing a kind of communion – and the Risen Christ is present. God’s Spirit is alive in community! This is a communal journey of faith. We don’t have to walk alone.
And don’t worry too much about the specifics and formalities. I’m pretty sure Jesus thinks any kind of communion (in this broad sense) is good. He shared a lot of meals with people. And, I mean did you hear about the priest who gave his congregation noodles instead of wafers for communion? He was a Ramen Catholic. And apparently St. Frances really loved French fries. He was a deep Friar. And, word on the street, is that Jesus himself loved donuts. You know why? Because they’re not self-centered – and that’s what makes them holy.
Jesus also washed his disciples’ feet. That is part of the story of the Last Supper story in John’s gospel. It was an act of love and caring service. And, in washing their feet, he cleansed their soles. Seriously though, service to others is also a form of communion in which the Risen Christ is present with us. I know you’ve experienced that.
Finally, this story encourages us to pay attention to that “holy heartburn” that these two experienced that day on the way to Emmaus. We don’t always recognize God’s presence at first, in the moment. They didn’t either. It took looking back on their journey to recognize that their hearts had begun to burn within them (in a good way) as the Risen Christ was teaching and guiding them. Inspiration and connection were taking hold of them all along. But it took some time and reflection for them to figure that out.
So, if it’s not acid reflux from circus treats and too much chili, and you sense something more Spirit-led is happening to you, pay attention. It might just be Jesus! We can and do experience God’s presence in that inner knowing, that intuition, that speaks to us and guides us. Listen for it, trust in it, share it with trusted companions.
And you never know where Jesus might show up in your life – sometimes in the most unexpected of places. I mean, did you hear about the Tibetan monk who saw the face of Jesus in a tub of margarine? He was shocked, to say the least! And he thought, “well, the best of Judaism, Christianity, my own Buddhism, and many other religions have a lot in common – caring for others and compassion. So, it’s wonderful that Jesus appeared to me in my margarine, but I can’t believe it’s not Buddha.”
The moral of the story really is this – keep your heart open, along this journey of life and faith, tend to those most basic practices of prayer, devotion, study, service, and nurturing community, and you too may be surprised in the most wonderful way where the Risen Christ will show up in your life.
Amen and Ha Ha Hallelujah!