Luke 24; 13-35; 3 Easter; 04302017
While thinking about our Sunday lessons this week, I was remembering my very first day at Nashotah House seminary. As I unpacked my stuff that day, it came to me that everything I’d done for the past two years had been focused on getting to the room I now was standing in. It occurred to me that I had been dealing with getting there. As I thought about that, I realized that now I had to deal with three years of just being there. It was a bit overwhelming, and I decided to let the unpacking go for a while, and to take a long walk. Back in those days, Nashotah House was still surrounded by forests and farms, so walking was a pleasant thing to do.
But as I walked along the deserted road, I was filled with much anxiety. I considered all those things I’d given up, so that I could go to seminary. What if I had presumed too much and I really wasn’t ready? Three years was a very long time to be without a job, and to be away from my family.
So went my walk, as I wrestled with my anxiety. And then, I felt God’s calming presence, deep within me. I heard this voice, which said in no uncertain terms, “Stop the whining!” As I processed that remark, there came another; a gentler voice that said, “You’re where you’re supposed to be. Do you really think that I don’t know what I’m doing?” Well, after that, I meekly walked back to my room and continued with my unpacking.
I suppose that we all have some kind of road stories. There a number of them in the scriptures. Perhaps that’s why this morning’s Gospel story is loved by so many of God’s people. We can all identify with the two disciples wanting to get out of Dodge. But even more so, we can identify with being found by Jesus.
After two thousand years, we still don’t know where “Emmaus” was. Its location has been passionately debated for over twenty centuries. The great Jewish historian Josephus wrote this, just a few years after the death of Jesus: “Now Emmaus, if it be interpreted, may be rendered `a warm bath’ for therein is a spring of warm water useful for healing.” [i] We know that Josephus was referring to the hot spring near Tiberius, on the Sea of Galilee, seventy-five miles north of Jerusalem. It is doubtful that the two disciples would be seeking shelter in a Roman city, after the hoopla in Jerusalem. But no one knows where Emmaus was, and it really doesn’t matter. The story would be just as powerful, if the disciples had been walking on their way to Midland.
The story takes place three days after Easter, and is connected to what will occur on the Day of Pentecost, the Sunday of June 4th this year. If you were here last week, you may remember how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples. That was impressive, but as the saying goes, there was a lot more where that came from. Jesus was not the kind of man who abandoned his disciples, and he wasn’t above going after the lambs who’d wandered off. The shepherd wanted his flock all together in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost.
Now it appeared that the two disciples in Luke’s story had had enough anxiety. We have the name of one disciple, Cleopas, but the other was unnamed. Given the number of female disciples who followed Jesus, the mysterious disciple could easily have been a woman. They were walking to Emmaus, wherever it might have been. Perhaps they were thinking of those relaxing hot springs, and washing off the dust. As they walked, along came Jesus, incognito, and he walked along with them. They told Jesus what they’d seen and heard, back in Jerusalem. Jesus let them talk, sand to process their anxiety. They were Jewish Christians, but they hadn’t yet connected that the Scriptures prophesized both the arrival, and the acts of Jesus. And so they’d understand all that, Jesus interpreted the Scriptures.
Now some of you might be thinking, hmmm, first Jesus interprets the scriptures about himself, and then at dinner, he breaks the bread. That sounds a whole lot like our Sunday Eucharist, doesn’t it? Isn’t it amazing that we’re doing both those things this Sunday morning after two thousand years?
The disciples are intrigued by him, and they ask him to stay for dinner. Jesus does so, but only for a while. He breaks the bread, and we’re told their eyes were opened and they knew who Jesus was. Jesus immediately disappears, perhaps on his way to round up some more of his stray disciples. And the two disciples speak to those wondrous words: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They left that very moment and skedaddled back to Jerusalem. And, we’re told they exchanged Jesus stories with the disciples that they met there.
Perhaps we might consider anew what it was that Jesus did, when he died upon the cross. How did Paul phrase it in his Second Letter to the Corinthians? “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! There is a new creation, made possible through the death of Jesus Christ. God set things right forever, even if we as his disciples, sometimes mess things up. Through the actions of our Sunday liturgy, we are each made participants in God’s most holy plan. Through the blood of Jesus, we each help make all things new.
This week, I would ask you to pray about your own faith stories. The disciples, when they came to know their faith, couldn’t wait to tell their stories. Even our Sunday liturgy itself is a spoken sacred story. Our story mingles with the stories of those gone on to glory. Do not think that death has the power to end our stories. For Christ has triumphed over death, and we are now eternal members of his wondrous story. Even if he has to track us down on some road that we’ve escaped on.
[i] http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/emmaus/words from Josephus (trans), accessed 04292017.