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Meeting Jesus on the Road

Luke 24:13-36
Psalm 4

Today in our scripture, we read another story of this transition time we call Easter. These are stories of the first people to have to learn how to live when the Jesus as they’d known him was no longer there. These stories also offer metaphors of the growing experience that the early Christ followers had that the power of Jesus was not destroyed by death. that the spirit and presence of Jesus was alive…among them, giving them energy and courage to begin again.
 
These stories illuminate archetypal soul movements of living between times. One way has ended. … But another has not yet begun. They begin with ending but also shed light on the painful empty space that follows….that endless no person’s land in between before the gradual realization begins to dawn…that life begins again, that hope and possibility come alive and with it a call to continue the ministry that Jesus began. It is a dynamic we’ve all lived through in our own lives, and that this congregation has lived through many times in its 110 year history. Through these stories we leare that Easter is the power and energy to begin again just when you thought it was all over.
 
If we had been there, I wonder how much of the content of this story of Jesus meeting the two on the road could we have captured on a videotape? Would we have been able to record the risen Christ joining them, walking with them, conversing with them, and finally vanishing from the room as they received the bread from him? For me, one has only to ask these questions in order to begin to wonder, “Maybe it’s not that kind of story.”
 
The scene is the journey – It begins with leaving.It begins with being controlled by fear, wanting to walk away from…We’ve been there ourselves perhaps; when the pain is too much, when the trauma makes us just want to walk away. The two are walking away from Jerusalem, away from community, going to a town called Emmaus, a town no one is sure exactly where it is.  There are two journeyers; disciples. One is named, Cleopas. We are told that one of the women at the foot of the cross was the wife of Cleopas. Could this be a couple fleeing in trauma from the city where only three days earlier their hopes and dreams had been shattered? 
Imagine what it must have been like to live the terror and the grief after the execution of Jesus. The authorities were on the lookout for other Galilean followers perhaps to make more examples for anyone else who might think of stirring up people against the system. These travellers were terrified, reeling with grief, talking to one another, telling the story over and over again, as if somehow by going in circles retelling the story, it would make more sense. They were leaving the community still in Jerusalm. They were trying to put as many miles as possible between them, and the whole catastrophe in Jerusalem.  The prophet they had so hoped would have been the one to redeem Israel-to bring the nation out of enslavement; was dead. They’d been lucky to escape.
 
Marcus Borg points out that no ancient sources contain the name of any such village outside of Luke’s 24th chapter. He, along with Frederick Buechner, another new testament scholar conclude that Emmaus is “nowhere”; Emmaus is “everywhere.” 
 
Buechner suggests Emmaus is wherever in your journey you throw up your hands and say “let the whole damned thing go, it doesn’t matter anyway.” 
Emmaus is where you are tempted to give up and throw in the towell. Emmaus is where you feel you’ve lost everything and you can’t see the way to begin again. It’s where we let fear control the direction of your journey. BUT Perhaps Emmaus is also is wherever the dead encounter the resurrection and live again. I’ve been there. How about you?
 
But the story is also about accompaniment. Who walks with you on your journey?…who helps you make sense of your spiritual journey? Who listens to your questions, and your angst? …On the Emmaus journey a stranger comes; and walks with them. But they are totally self-absorbed in their own pain. They can’t really hear or see this stranger. All they are concerned about is themselves and what they have lived through. Grief creates that kind of blindness.  They pour out their story, the hopes dashed, the dreams destroyed, the traumatic loss, the fear that still grips them even though they are out of Jerusalem.  The stranger listens, accompanies; and when he talks about the stories of their faith;  it is as if their dead burned-out hearts were being kindled to new fire. They “saw” him but didn’t recognize him; they “heard” him speak but didn’t recognize him. When we are locked in grief, we often so turned in upon ourselves that we don’t see what is around us.  The two disciples invite him to spend the night with them.
 
And then it happened! It was as he took bread, blessed it and broke it and shared it with them, that the light went on for them. Their inner eyes are opened. They had a knowing moment – a recognition moment, an aha moment. What had happened to them when Jesus was with them before was happening again now. They must have remembered previous experiences of Jesus’ radical open table fellowship. His hospitality to outcasts; a genuinely counter-cultural witness to people starved for hospitality.  This, more than anything else, gave them the clue to his identity. They knew that Jesus was in their midst, not in the way he had been before, but in a way that they simply knew he was there.
 
  You may have had that experience as well, sensed the presence of one who has died after their death?, I know I have, and many of you have shared similar experiences.  We don’t tend to talk publicly about it lest people think we are crazy, but when you open the discussion, we discover that it is actually quite a common occurrence. I share a story I have shared here before. I was once in a room with two other people receiving Reiki, a spiritual hands-on healing. I felt a flow of healing, golden light pouring into my heart, flowing unconditional love and blessing that was palpable, and I knew, in my intuitive place of knowing that it came from a Dan Price, one of our elders who had died recently. After the treatement, I said “Dan was here”, Both practitioners agreed. One had caught a fleeting glimpse of the very distinctive shirt this man had worn, and the third had had a thought experience of Dan. Despite our different ways of knowing, but there was no doubt in any of our minds that Dan was with us that night.  I know that this story is not unique to me.
..Margaret Taylor told me about an experience she had at one of our evening meditative worships that her father Victor Rose who had ministered her for over 25 years, was there…right near this very pulpit….I said” Gosh, I hope he was not horrified at what we were doing!!!, and she said “No that he was very very happy, simply there with love and blessing” Believe what you will. This is not an experience one can seek, or expect. It always comes as surprize, in my experience. But it certainly gives me a different lens for looking at these post-ressurrection stories.
 
Rembrandt painted the Emmaus Road scene a number of times.  In one of those paintings Rembrandt captures the very moment when the spark of recognition erupted in the eyes of the two disciples. You can see the sense of awe, the awakening of faith and insight, reflected in their eyes. The light turns on. BUT in that same instant, a bored and weary servant is offering them a plate of food, seeing nothing remarkable going on at the table. I think Rembrandt catches the truth of the gospel: that the reality of the living Christ is apparent only to those whose eyes are open to see it.
 
This story has many rich resonances of meaning. Most centrally, the story makes the claim that the risen Christ journeys with us;  is in our midst whether we know that or not, whether we realize that or not. The Christ Incognito, that has been such a central image in the Eastern Christian tradition, and much of the mystical Christian tradition. 
 
It is the heart of the story of Martin and the Cobbler, a story of a cobbler looking so hard for the Christ that he does not recognize Jesus in the many faces of the poor and lonely who come to his shop. 
Parker Palmer, an American writer says that if we “really believed in resurrection, believed it not just in theory but in our bones, we would have no choice but to risk all that we have by taking action for justice
Bone-deep knowledge of resurrection would take away the fears that some of us presently use to justify our cautious, self-protective lives. Death-dealing fear would be replaced by life-giving faith, and we would be called to do God-knows-what for God-knows-who.”
(From Work, Creativity and Caring by Parker Palmer)

For us on this anniversary Sunday, this story challenges us to reflect on our journey as a congregation.  Which direction are we heading?…away from the struggle, or towards it?…away from community or towards it?…Is fear controlling our actions? or the life-empowering spirit of Christ?  Are we open to listen to the stories of our faith in a new way so that they can nourish us, enliven our hearts …and become springboards for hearing God’s call on our lives? And are we able to share deep communion and encounter with God and with one another…For that is what opens our eyes and nourishes us for the way ahead.
 
 The Emmaus road story encourages us to have our inner eyes and our hearts expectant and open to meet the risen Christ. For this is not just a story about one meeting, one time, many years ago. It is about the Spirit of Christ who comes to his followers again and again and again offering profound communion and presence.
 
But the clincher for me is in what they did AFTER they recognized the risen Lord. They immediately got up and walked 7 miles all the way back to Jerusalem, back to their community.  Isn’t that astounding? I don’t know about you but it would have taken a lot of motivating to get me back out on the road in the dark, after having walked 7 miles already that day. They went back to the place where they had experienced so much destruction, back to the struggle, back to the community that they had decided to leave. In spite of the fear, they returned to engage in life, and to share their news that Jesus indeed lived!
 
Resurrection presence had created change, not just in thinking, but in action. It transformed despondency into surprize and hope. It turned fear and running away into courage to face into fear and struggle. It changed giving up into going back to engage. It changed isolating from community, to returning to community, even to a community under siege. Instead of leaving to return to the past and the familiar, they went to Jerusalem to deal with the future and the unknown, confidant that they were no longer alone. And they encounter the company of disciples and tell their story, and Jesus comes among them again with those life-giving words…Peace be with you….Peace be with you.
 
May our inner eyes be open to the presence of the One who meets us along the way. May our inner ears attune themselves to the stories of faith that make our hearts burn within us. When we are tempted to give up, may we find the courage to come back to community in the spirit of the risen Chist And may we look for Christ in one another.

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