Once upon a time, two companions were walking on the road to a place called Emmaus. Now, Emmaus isn’t on any map, which, of course, hasn’t kept the archaeologists, the scholars, those who would “re-trace” His steps, from trying to find it. There are at least 4 places within that 7-mile radius from Jerusalem that have been identified as “Emmaus,” but I prefer to think of Emmaus, as Fred Buechner suggests, as “the place to run to when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do, the place of escape, of forgetting, of giving up, of deadening our senses and our minds and maybe our hearts, too.” [The Magnificent Defeat, cited by Kate Huey in Sermon Seeds, 5/4/14]
So, once upon a time, two companions were walking on the road to a place called Emmaus, when a stranger fell into step beside them, and asked them what they were talking about. They could hardly believe he hadn’t heard. The events of the past days seemed so all-consuming to them, in fact, seemed to be boulders all around and in front of them–Don’t you see them? Ooh, look out! You’d better be careful….
But he turned out to be their guide through the rock-strewn path, re-reading the guidebook that had led them up to this point, drawing them into his calm, assured narrative, so that when he appeared to be heading on after they had reached the inn, they invited him to join them for a meal. It was only then, when he sat at table with them, and blessed and broke the bread, that the vibrations of their own bodies caught up with his, and they recognized him. And then he was gone again.
“Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens,” writes biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan. [The Historical Jesus, p. xiii] In this one, exquisitely written story, the early Christian community described their life in those days and months and years after Jesus was crucified. It was in the encounter with strangers, with scripture, in the breaking of the bread as he had done, that they encountered the Risen Christ in their midst, over and over again. Traveling two by two, being invited into homes, sharing meals, telling the story, bringing healing and good news, they experienced His presence, saw His face, and then he vanished from their sight…only to turn up again as they were walking down the road, sitting at table, telling the story, again, still, always.
Once upon a time, two companions were walking on the road to a place called Emmaus… “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” It was their self-pity and nostalgia that kept them from recognizing him, Cynthia Bourgeault suggests. “Clearly they are stuck in their story, [she writes] and their stuckness is what makes them unable to see the person standing right before their faces.” [Wisdom Jesus, p. 129]
Are you stuck in a story that keeps you from recognizing the Risen Christ walking beside you? Maybe it’s a story about how the world “really” works–that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that might makes right, and that the one who dies with the most toys wins, and you’re a fool if you think otherwise. You won’t find salvation in hanging out with homeless, powerless people. Is that the story you’re living? Or maybe like the two companions stuck in their story of self-pity and nostalgia, you can only see how much you’ve lost, how much better things used to be. Or maybe you’re just so busy you don’t even think you’ve got time for stories–you’ve got this meeting to go to, and this practice or lesson to get the kids to, or this doctor’s appointment or that deadline. Maybe there’s just so much noise and distraction and so many text messages and e-mails that whatever vibration the Risen Christ is on, you’re pretty sure you’re not on the same frequency.
Once upon a time, two companions were walking on the road to a place called Emmaus, that place we run to when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do, the place of escape, of forgetting, of giving up, or deadening our senses and our minds and maybe our hearts, too… Do you know that road?
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. But the story of Emmaus tells us that resurrection is not enough. “You still need scripture and eucharist,” Dom Crossan writes, “tradition and table, community and justice; otherwise, divine presence remains unrecognized and human eyes remain unopened.” [The Birth of Christianity, p. xi.] The risen Christ doesn’t invite his companions on the road to share a meal. They invite him. It’s the same, still, always. He won’t barge in unwanted or uninvited. That’s not the kind of power God wields. But hospitality and openness make transformation possible. Our transformation. The world’s transformation.
Once upon a time, two companions were walking on the road to a place called Emmaus… and they invited the stranger who had joined them in to have dinner with them. “When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
So may we invite friend and stranger – and the Risen Christ – to the table. Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens. “Lord Jesus, be our holy guest. Our morning joy, our evening rest. And with our daily bread impart Thy love and peace to every heart.”
May it be so. Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark