Meg Peery McLaughlin
April 23rd, 2023
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
“He’s been loved by this church his whole life”
– she said to me on the phone, across state lines–
“and Sam is just going to sit there while everyone else gets confirmed.
I am not going to force it, that’s not who am I am as a mom,
and that’s not who we are as a church, but I’m disappointed.
I guess I didn’t know how much I had hoped for this.”
How many times have we strung those two words together?
We had hoped the surgery had gotten it all.
We had hoped the grades
and that college essay would have swayed the admission decision.
We had hoped she wouldn’t get Alzheimer’s like her mom did.
We had hoped the divorce would be amicable.
Hope in the past tense is a sadness like no other.
Cleopas and the other disciple knew that sunken sensation.
The one they had hoped was the king, the savior, the liberator of all things—
had been mocked, condemned, and nailed up.
The empire still ruled, not the kingdom they were told about—
Jesus had made no difference, no lasting one anyway.
There were rumors of some women making some noise back in Jerusalem,
but Jerusalem was the last place in the world they wanted to be.
No, these guys were on the road.
As Frederick Buechner puts it,
“There was nothing left to do that Sunday but get out of town.
And where did they go? They went to Emmaus.
Which was no place in particular really,
and the only reason that they went there was that it was some
seven miles distant from a situation that had become unbearable.”
Truth is that the location of Emmaus is disputed, historians can’t find it.
Luke’s Gospel says Emmaus is seven miles out,
other manuscripts say twenty miles-nowhere else is it ever mentioned.
Buechner adds, “Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go
to make ourselves forget that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die;
that even the noblest ideas that people have had about
love and freedom and justice—
have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish people for selfish ends.”
It’s a road to nowhere, which means you’ve likely been there before.
And of course, of course, that’s exactly where Jesus shows up.
Luke says that the disciples are “kept from recognizing Jesus.”
That makes sense to me. It’s hard to see straight in Emmaus land.
A grieving mom told me that a few weeks after her son died,
she got utterly lost in Target,
a place she had been almost weekly for the past 10 years.
Suddenly, it was like a foreign land .
Jesus asks what is going on, and “they stood still, looking sad.”
That wordless pause; the lump in the throat; they feel the catharsis coming.
And it all spills out—they spoke of a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God,
whom they had followed. All in. Hook line and sinker.
And now, it was over. Brutally, totally.
But they finally said it out loud… we had hoped he was the one.
And Jesus, oh he doesn’t say, “I’m sorry to hear that.
Your disappointment is completely natural.”
He obviously hasn’t taken a pastoral care class, no Stephen Ministry training for him,
because instead of listening, he starts lecturing them on the Bible, starting with,
“How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe.”
Say any of this to grieving people with nothing left to lose
and you might get cussed out.
And rightfully so.
And then you remember what happens.
They invite their not-all-that-sensitive-stranger-friend to stay for supper.
And when he was at table with them,
he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
THEN! Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,
and they said, did not our hearts burn within us?
Oh, this story. It’s really one of the best there is.
But I wonder how we hear it today.
When perhaps Emmaus has become as common a stop on our journey
as the Harris Teeter that we’ll hit on the way home from church.
It may not be on a map,
but we surely know the way to Emmaus by heart.
And truth be told we’re no longer stunned by shattering grief,
we are accustomed to it.
We are no longer shocked by people’s inability to recognize Jesus,
it happens every day .
And the breaking of the bread is the thing that stands between the sermon and the final hymn.
For many of us, we were captivated by this holy story,
pulled into the church’s covenantal community,
drawn into God’s amazing grace
because it torched our hearts with uncontrollable beauty.
We were set ablaze.
But like the people who work at Disney,
when you know the script, the song and dance, some of the magic fades
But church, if I understand the text,
this gospel means that the fire has not gone out,
that there are still surprises up God’s sleeve.
Jesus will continue to show up wherever it is we wander.
And maybe it will feel like a warmth in the chest
or like you ate too much of something spicy,
but you’ll realize you actually weren’t alone on the road.
My friend’s kid did not choose to confirm his baptismal identity.
On confirmation Sunday, Sam sat in the pew with his mom.
After worship, all the other 9th graders
cross necklaces dangling their necks on leather strings,
left for special lunches with their grandparents
who’d come to town for the occasion.
In the parking lot, Sam’s confirmation sponsor caught him.
Chuck has indeed known that boy his whole life long.
Sang in the choir at his baptism, taught him 3rd grade Sunday school.
Chuck asked my friend if he could drive Sam home instead.
Sure, she said. On the way, they got lunch.
Over and Iced Tea and Dr. Pepper and two slices of greasy pizza,
they talked about high school and soccer
and parents and questions of faith that don’t have satisfactory answers,
and how Sam would always have a place in that church.
And I cannot help but wonder if their hearts burned.
I wish I could, but I can’t promise you that living on this side of Easter
will save you from past tense hope.
But I do know that as we walk down the road to God knows where,
paying attention to the ones who walk with us,
we may very well find ourselves caught by surprise in those encounters,
staring into the eyes of Jesus, risen indeed.