Homily prepared for Friday Red Door Healing Service, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 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?” 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The seminary where I study and this city where I live are on two different coasts of this country. So, traveling has become a frequent companion in my life. There is one thing that I have realized in all my cross-country schlepping around: the trip home often seems like the longest part of the journey.
So, as I read and prayed with this passage from Luke’s Gospel this week, I kept imagining myself heading back toward home on that road to Emmaus. The stretch of road that these two disciples of Jesus were walking is a seven-mile stretch from Jerusalem. What an adventure that Passover trip had been: time in the city where all of the events of Passover had just taken place; all of those narratives unfolding from Palm Sunday through Holy Week and Easter. This was the road back home, a place they had travelled many times without incident. But, this journey back home felt different. They likely had set out together for Jerusalem what seemed like a week and a lifetime ago, full of anticipation about promises of redemption and liberation swirling around their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. The intensity of their emotions surged with the events unfolding that week. And then, it all changed. I can feel their disappointment, their confusion, their bewilderment and grief still raw from the death of Jesus, mixed with their dumbfounded amazement and awestruck disbelief at the rumors that Jesus had been seen alive that very morning, as they prepared to depart home. If they were certain Jesus was alive, if they knew then what we know now then perhaps they would have just stayed in Jerusalem. But, they headed for home. As I try to walk that seven miles in their shoes, what I feel is the weight of their persistent and deliberate steps slowly moving toward home after what must have felt like the most surreal, unimaginable week of their lives. They were reliving it with each other, even as a stranger approached them. Their world had been so jarred, it was hard to fathom that anyone could not know what had taken place. The way the story is told in this Gospel invites us to speculate about why it is that these two disciples could not recognize this stranger, who we know to be Jesus. It stirs in us the timeless question: is Jesus also walking beside us when we don’t even recognize him?
But, before I can even ask that question, I have to examine my steps. Exactly where am I walking toward with such deliberate intention that my eyes cannot be opened to see who is with me on the journey? Where is my Emmaus and what I am hoping to find there?
That is a harder question, especially when we are taught to be goal-directed, to keep our eyes on the prize. As someone here at Red Door was talking with me about a few weeks ago, there are so many well-meaning people who set out a path before us: do this, go here, follow this road and you will eventually get home. I’m here to say to you that there is great truth and purpose in that, because often the services of this world are set up in exactly that way. The idea of “home” carries with it feelings of security, family, comfort. But Jesus is both of this world, and of another world. Even in this Gospel, when Jesus shows up it isn’t to lead or distract the disciples on the road to Emmaus from their journey home. He shows up just to be with them.
Let that sink it: Jesus isn’t the one who appears to tell us where to go. Jesus shows up where we are, just to be present with us.
Our lives are filled with steps, some of which are goal directed or walked in search of home, and others of which are off the beaten path. Today’s Gospel isn’t a road map about how to get from one place to another in our lives. Today’s Gospel is here to remind us that even when we don’t realize it, the risen Christ is in our midst, walking with us. Sometimes our eyes must be opened so that we can see, to respond to the fire burning in our hearts to remind us that God is near, working through the words and lives of others journeying with us. Our eyes don’t have to constantly search for God; it is God who opens our eyes so that we can see with the clear vision of divine presence by our side.
The disciples eventually do arrive home, and when they do, they invite the stranger to remain with them. That stranger of the road…who we know to be Jesus…accepts that invitation. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples who have welcomed him to the table. Jesus transforms a simple meal of hospitality into divine communion. And this is when his disciples truly come home. They recognize him: they know him in the breaking of the bread. That recognition revives and transforms them, even when the risen Christ disappears from their midst. They are not alone; they know they have been in the presence of the Holy One. Back on the road…seven miles later…they are reunited again with Jesus’ other disciples, sharing the good news and giving thanks. Maybe the journey home doesn’t always lead to where we think it will.
I happen to think that this is not just a story of something that happened one time, back in those first days after the resurrection. This happens every time we gather. This story is church. We gather and give thanks in the sacramental meal of Holy Communion, a time in which Jesus Christ is made known to us. In the taking, blessing, breaking and sharing of food, Jesus Christ is present in our midst, even here during our Friday Red Door lunch. Perhaps most especially then. With the resurrected Christ in our midst, we are home.
The roads we walk in search of home are not the end of journey. The road to Emmaus is a reminder that no matter what path we are journeying on, Jesus Christ is with us, sometimes taking forms that we may not even recognize. We have an invitation to the table, to seeing and deeply sharing in Christ’s presence with us, right in the daily ordinariness of our lives. We have a powerful reminder that our human eyes cannot see all that is divine, but that our God opens our eyes to see what is around us and right here with us. In that knowledge, we give thanks and we allow ourselves to be transformed…not only in our own lives, but to go back and rejoin those with whom we share the good news. We go forth together on the roads and pathways of our lives in the knowledge and love of Christ’s presence with us as we journey and break bread together. Step by step, we begin to realize that home is where the risen Christ is made known to us.