Cleopas and his companion, who was a fellow disciple, perhaps a woman, maybe even his wife, were discouraged, anxious and certainly confused. It was Sunday evening, just a few days since the death of Jesus. The shock and horror of his crucifixion was still very powerfully in their minds. It was the image they imagined every time their eyes were closed.
This was not how it was all supposed to turn out. This was not the result they expected when Jesus finally entered Jerusalem in triumph just over a week ago when the palm branches were laid at his feet. No one anticipated the rank power of politics, the fickle nature of crowds and the scheming of those who were threatened by the message and very person of Jesus. Now he was dead. The promise of change and a new life ended with him. His followers were afraid and in despair.
Then there was the strange message from those who had been at the tomb where the body of Jesus was placed. The women had seen a vision of angels. The other disciples confirmed that the tomb was empty. There was a claim that he was alive. No one knew what to make of all of this. It was too overwhelming. They weren’t sure they were ready to hope again, to trust again, to offer themselves to the possibilities of a new way and a new kingdom when it had all just collapsed.
Cleopas and his companion just wanted to get away from it all. They took the road to Emmaus. We don’t know why. Maybe they didn’t really know why. The journey gets them out of town. Like many before and since, they took the geographical solution to their sorrow and stress.
You know what it’s like when you are on a long walk or hike, covering the miles one step at a time. There is time to think. There’s time to talk things over, to consider and reflect. Walking does more than get you from point A to point B. Walking is transition time. Those who make pilgrimages remind us that “the way is made by walking.”
So it is for Cleopas and his companion. They begin to walk with a stranger, a stranger who starts by listening to all that they had recently experienced. The stranger listens as they pour out all they had experienced, the message and teaching that had changed their lives, the crucifixion and death that had crushed them, their dashed hopes, their sadness and grief, and the strange rumor that their Lord might be alive. The stranger listens and listens and listens.
Finally he speaks. He speaks to them of the everlasting love of God as revealed in the Hebrew Scripture. He reminds them of the promises God made to Moses, Miriam, and countless prophets. Their hearts, which were cold and shuttered, began to beat and burn as they remember all that they knew and had experienced of God.
When they reach Emmaus they’re not ready to say “good-bye.” They offer hospitality. They share a meal. When it’s time for the traditional prayer over the bread, the stranger takes the role of host. In the ancient Jewish tradition, he takes the uncut loaf of bread and raises it high, chanting the blessing. He breaks the bread so that he might give it to each of them. And in that moment, at last their eyes are opened and they recognize him, not just as a teacher of Scripture or as a companion along the way, but as the One to whom the Scriptures point and as the One who has gone before them on the journey from death to life.
Jesus walks with them in their grief and sorrow. Jesus opens the Scripture to reveal the grace and mercy of God. Jesus breaks bread and shares it to create the new community of love in his presence.
When disciples experience Jesus as he is revealed in the Scripture and the breaking of the bread, they get up from the table and practically run all the way back to Jerusalem so that they can share the good news with others. Lives are turned around at the revelation of the risen Christ. Hope springs anew. There is new purpose and promise. The body of Christ is restored and re-membered by the power of his presence at the table.
The Emmaus experience is not a one-time event but a universal offering for those who follow the risen One. Jesus has promised to be with us every time we gather at table in his name. He has promised to send his Spirit to open the Scriptures to us so that our hearts may burn with hope and be stirred by God’s passion for justice. Christ is made known to us in the breaking of the bread. Christ is revealed in Scripture. And just like those first disciples, we are compelled to leave this table to share good news with renewed passion and purpose.
Have you ever thought about why we break bread together at this table every week? Have you ever questioned why we use real bread instead of wafers? Maybe you’ve even wondered where the bread we use comes from. It looks homemade because it is. Every month a woman named Sally spends the better part of a day mixing, shaping and baking bread for St. Luke’s and for her home church. She has been doing this as a gift to us for nearly two years.
Sally and her husband were not practicing Christians most of their lives. They were busy running a small business and raising a family. They were good secular folks, ethical and generous. When they were in their late 50s, they met the pastor of a nearby church when he became a customer. Over the course of time they got to know him and he invited them to come to church.
They visited, they came to the table, they took part in the breaking of the bread, they joined the “Way,” which is like our Spiritual Pilgrimage and walked the journey of faith with their companions. Their eyes were opened in new ways. Their hearts burned with new compassion. Ken became a sponsor for other new folks. Sally started baking bread. For her it’s a spiritual discipline, a time for prayer and to draw close to Jesus.
This past month their journey took them into grief and deep sorrow. Although her husband’s health is not good, it wasn’t a health crisis for him but rather the suicide of their beloved granddaughter that overwhelmed them and their whole family. Sally and Ken are the only Christians in their extended family. Their son and his wife didn’t know where to turn for the funeral of their beloved daughter. Sally and Ken offered the help of their own church. They were confident that the loving welcome that had introduced them to God would be offered for all.
The service was held right after Easter. The pastor helped the family by choosing Scripture that speaks to an Easter hope in the midst of the sorrow of death. The table was open for those who wished to draw close to the presence of Christ in bread and wine. Of course, Sally baked the bread. Surrounding the family and all those who grieved was the Christian community, the companions along the way who shared with Sally, Ken and the entire family the faith, hope and love that they had experienced in the Body of Christ, the Word made flesh in that place.
Sally and Ken’s family had never really understood this late-in-life conversion of their parents. But something changed as they were offered hospitality during the very worst that life can deliver. Their eyes were opened as they saw Christ in the community. Their hearts were moved by the words of hope and healing they heard in Scripture. And as they witnessed Christ offered for all in the sacrament of bread and wine, they cried. They wept in sorrow but also in hope that the same one who broke bread with outcasts and sinners, the One who walked the long journey of grief with Cleopas and his companion, this Jesus who offers himself for all will welcome their beloved daughter to the great heavenly banquet of unending love. Amen.
Easter 3, Year A – April 30, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
The Rev. Canon Britt Olson