They’ve never been able to find Emmaus on a map. All those archaeologists and Biblical scholars, sifting through every square inch of the “Holy Land,” have never uncovered anything within that 7-mile radius from Jerusalem that remotely suggests a village called Emmaus.
But as Frederick Buechner suggests, we often seek Emmaus, a place to run or escape to, when we’ve lost hope, when we’re overwhelmed, when we don’t know what to do, when we’ve given up, when we want to forget. [Magnificent Defeat] Some people come to church when they’re looking for Emmaus, a place to forget all the other stuff that’s pressing in on them, a place to escape….which is good and also not so good. All that “other stuff” has a way of tagging along with us and popping up in the most inconvenient moments to surprise us.
“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem…” I know that some of you have walked, indeed run, certainly biked or skiied, seven miles. “That’s a short day,” my daughter Meredith would tell me as she trained for her marathons. My knees and torn meniscus make 7 miles more of a marathon in itself, but it was a long journey between Jerusalem and Emmaus that afternoon because, as Karoline Lewis says, “the distance between ‘we had hoped’ and ‘the Lord is risen indeed’ seems like forever, the longest trip ever. Are we there yet?” “Yet,” Lewis says, “if we’re honest, that’s where most of us are, most of the time–somewhere in between distress and belief. Between disillusionment and acceptance. Between dashed hopes and promises fulfilled.” [workingpreacher.org, 4/23/17]
Maybe for you its between how you used to feel and how you’d like to feel. Between the injury or the diagnosis and the cure or the “new normal.” Between feeling valued and competent and useful when you worked and….what? now that you’re retired or no longer able to do all those things you used to be able to do without thinking. It’s a long journey. Maybe it’s between being involved with your kids’ lives everyday while they were home and growing into an adult relationship with them. Or elsewhere along the spectrum, maybe it’s the journey from being the child, with your parents definitely the adults and in charge, to a reversal of roles, where you need to be the adult as your parents become more and more childlike, more dependent. Maybe you’re the parent now being taken care of by your children. It can be a very long journey, the longest journey ever.
For me right now, it’s the journey from being able to talk with my mom every day, thinking that the Energizer Bunny would somehow go on forever, to getting to the point where I can sense her real presence in my heart and mind–or when I see her face to face on that far shore. It’s a long journey indeed. Some days I can see Emmaus in the distance, and other days it’s just one foot in front of the other…or behind.
“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” The Greek words used to describe this conversation are fairly intense. They have an almost concussive sense about them, emotions slamming up against one another, it’s no wonder they barely noticed the stranger who came up beside them.
“What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” he asked them. And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” [In other words, Dude, where have you been?] And he said to them, “What things?”
“What things?” Robert Hoch says that resurrection can be less of a flash of light and more “the gentle probing of our hearts’ entanglements.” [workingpreacher.org, for 4/30/17] It can be so overwhelming, so entangling, as it no doubt was for those two disciples. So much had happened in those last days, those last months–their lives transformed by Jesus and being part of his movement, seeing the world from a whole new perspective, and then those awful events in Jerusalem, not only what happened to him but what they saw in themselves as well–the cowardice, the betrayal, the doubt– And now these unbelievable stories from the women, that he had risen, like he’d said?!
It was–it is–emotional overload. “What things?” he asked them. And they began to tell their story, articulate, name, speak the truth of their pain and confusion. Between the beginning and the end of the journey, Jesus shows up. He shows up, doesn’t he? But that can be too glib a promise. “Oh, Jesus will be with you as you walk that lonesome journey.” It’s true, but sometimes–maybe even most of the time–we don’t recognize him, do we? As Karoline Lewis warns, resurrection is not just an easy resolution, the happy ending, to the deaths we experience in our lives. The road itself might actually get us somewhere…eventually…she says. In the walking, in the telling and naming, in the untangling of our heart’s longings and wonderings and cries, we might eventually move from “We had hoped….” to “The Lord is risen indeed….” “What things?” he asked them. Real, if not present, at least in a way we can recognize.
Somewhere between the beginning and the end of our journeys we begin to make sense of what has happened, begin–if we are lucky, if we are open, if we don’t deny our brokeness but allow someone–that Someone, in the form of a stranger, to walk beside us– begin to see beyond just what’s happened to what might yet happen, begin to tell stories not just of the “then” and “now” but also the “next,” as John Bennison puts it. [Words and Ways blog] “The road might actually get us somewhere…eventually…to a place where we can recognize and start to live out the life-changing presence of the resurrected Christ.” [Lewis, op cit.]
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
He took and blessed and broke the bread, in his broken hands. And they recognized him in their brokenness. He was known to them in the breaking. And then he vanished from their sight.
If you used the UCC Devotional, Diving Lessons, during Lent, you will have read this story that Matt Fitzgerald told for Easter Sunday–
I knew a woman who had a baby. She was addicted to heroin. She cleaned up, relapsed, had another baby, quit cold turkey and relapsed again. She lost custody of both children. Then she got serious. She went to meetings. She got clean.
Eventually she got supervised visits. Twice a month her living room would burst to life. Her toddler and her infant, crying, babbling, shouting, filling up the room with diapers, laughing in her arms.
At the visit’s end the babies were taken again. She would stay in her empty living room for hours. She would sit in her daughters’ glow, letting it linger, stretching her sense of their presence as long as she could. She stared at the indentation on the couch where her three-year-old sat, watching it slowly disappear. She kept vigil, smelling the air as their scent faded.
Christ is real, Fitzgerald says, but he might be gone. What if we let God be absent? What if we took time to learn the ferocity of our longing? Perhaps we’d become sensitive.
I can still smell my mother on some of the clothes I have of hers. She may be gone, but she is real. He is not here, but has risen. He has become known to us in the breaking…. What if we let the absence teach us the ferocity of our yearning for god? What if we let that longing heighten our senses, our sensitivity, for glimpses, whiffs, echoes of the Beloved in the times and places we might have otherwise never noticed? What if we embraced our brokeness as the way the light gets in?
“Then they told what had happened on the road [to Emmaus] and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” May our eyes be opened as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark