When you think about it, it’s hard to understand how two of Jesus’ disciples would not recognize him. I imagine that they had spent time enough time with him when he was alive to know what he looked like.
But there they are on the road, the morning of the resurrection, and Jesus is walking along slide them. Maybe they are blinded by their grief, by their disappointment in the whole situation. Their hearts heavy with the devastating news about the death of Jesus. Perhaps they have already heard from the women who arrived earlier that morning and reported that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive and yet- still were focused on his death. They had hoped that Jesus would indeed be the one to redeemed the oppressed people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend, could not understand how Jesus could, in fact, come alive and how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them, it was all over, it was time to go home.
But “a funny thing happened to them on the road to Emmaus” to borrow a phrase. And their disappointment turns to wonderment. Not recognizing him in on the road, they invited him to sit and eat, a sign of gracious hospitality that is reminiscient of other messengers who brought good news of God’s work such as when Abraham welcomed the strangers into his tent was told of God promise that he and Sarah would give birth to a child. Is nothing impossible for God?” the question was asked.
And here, at the evening meal, nothing is impossible for God. The stranger takes bread, says the blessing and then breaks it to share and they suddenly began to understand. WE cannot know what wen through their mind that night, whether they recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days; remembering how he shared with them the stories of the prophets along the Emmaus road as he also shared with him the teachings of the prophets in times past.
And as suddenly as their eyes were opened- he is gone. We don’t know if Jesus vanished right before their eyes, but we DO know that they had experienced the resurrected Christ. Having witnessed the events of the life and death of the man from Nazareth and now having witnessed him alive in their very midst, they were forever changed. They were not the same as they once were, they can never simple “go back” to a time before. There is only now and there is only the future.
In these great 50 days of Easter Season, these are the days we are to spend on the road to Emmaus, talking, wondering, moving back through our lives. We are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. We are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. We are asked to remember and tell the stories about what God has done. Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and the story of God’s Dream for creation and of the Eternal Word made Flesh in Jesus, our Christ.
And when we hear this story of Jesus being at table with his disciples, we recall that powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction.
The road to Emmaus is a road that is both Word and Sacrament. Of Jesus, nourishing us in our journey through life by opening the scriptures to us and of Jesus, nourishing us around tables at which he gathers us.
Word and Sacrament are both critically important to us as Epsicopalians. And I know many of you who are watching or listening miss Communion. It is a vitally important part of our Church’s expression of faith as well as our own.
The two on the Road or Emmaus wonder in awe after Jesus disappeared- they said, were not our hearts burning while we were traveling and he was talking to us on the road?
And now our hearts are burning at the prospect of being able to worship again in the church with Holy Communion. I promise you that we will again gather here around this table for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. There are active discussions on how we might do this and what that might look like in the near future. We do not know when this will be but it certainly wont be until after mid-May.
But until we are able to feast on the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we will have to settle for feasting on the Word of God. For even before there was the Bread and Wine, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” My point being my brothers and sisters is that the word of God still resonates in our minds and hearts, and enables us to experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. It is that same word of God that comes to us in Acts through Peter’s speech that has hearts repent and turn to God. 1 Peter that reminds us that we “have been born new, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring words of God.” Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. “Wasn’t our hearts burning on the road?” they said to each other.
How will you walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play? Allowing that imperishable seed of love planted inside of us to grow and flourish?
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and see life re-born. The resurrected Jesus who walks with us and talks with us will show us that the forces of evil and destruction- that this global pandemic- will not prevail against the power of love.
When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion?
When we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst, we will respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus. We will respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to challenge what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?
The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. I pray we will become like them. That our hearts, will burn with the desire of the resurrected Jesus. That we will continue to nourish ourselves on the Sacrament of the Word so that when we gather again to break bread, Christ will be no stranger. That the love that continues to burn in us will be a light that others will use to recognize God’s loves.
The gift of Emmaus awaits. Wherever you are on that road, pray that when the Risen Lord comes to you, your eyes may be opened so you can behold him in all his glory; and then, renewed in faith, run to tell others the Good News. Amen.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.