3 Easter – April 23, 2023
Today, Luke’s gospel has us walking on the road to Emmaus. This scene is set on the same day as the women’s discovery of the empty tomb from Easter. The scripture tells us that this was about a seven-mile walk. Not really that far in those days when people were used to walking. But, there are some walks that are longer than others — not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens. It’s a long trip between Jerusalem and Emmaus because the distance between “we had hoped” and “the Lord is risen indeed” seems like forever, the longest trip ever. Are we there yet?
The Emmaus journey appears only in Luke and is sometimes called “the journey of every Christian.” It has all of the elements of the Christian life: discouragement, disappointment, doubt, risk, times of deep faith, the spirit of companionship, interpreting the scriptures, the presence of Christ in the sacraments, profound wonder and incomparable joy in telling others the good news of God made known in the risen Christ.
So on this third Sunday of Easter, we find ourselves traveling a road that’s uncomfortably familiar. Every one of us, regardless of identity or circumstance, knows this road. We’ve walked it. We’ve lost our way on it. We’ve left it behind and then returned to it. The road is the road to Emmaus, and we recognize it by the words we speak when our feet hit its rough and winding way one more time: “But we had hoped.”
But we had hoped the tumor wasn’t malignant. We had hoped our marriage would get easier. We had hoped our son would come home. We had hoped the depression would lift. We had hoped to keep our jobs. We had hoped to experience God’s presence when we pray. We had hoped our faith would survive.
The words we speak on the road to Emmaus are words of pain, disappointment, bewilderment, and yearning. They are the words we say when we’ve come to the end of our hopes — when our expectations have been dashed, our cherished dreams are dead, and there’s nothing left to do but leave, defeated and done. But we had hoped.
Believe it or not, this is an Easter story. Sometimes resurrection takes longer than three days. Sometimes new life comes in fits and starts. Sometimes seeing and recognizing the risen Jesus is difficult. But what our story is telling us today is the good news that even the road to Emmaus, with its brokenness and failure is a sacred road. It’s a road that Jesus walks. A road that honors our deep disappointment, even as it holds out possibilities of nourishment and revelation.
As Frederick Buechner put it: “Jesus is apt to come into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. … He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.”
Jesus comes to us as we are, walking with us amid questions about death and darkness, loss and limits, questions about pain and wounds, fear and imperfection, questions about what just happened and how will we continue, questions about childhood and parenting, health and disease, work and money, growing up and growing together. In these very real questions of life, Jesus comes near and walks with us.
Two friends go walking. A stranger draws near and then leads the conversation, teaches them. The friends convince the stranger to stay with them as their guest. At table together, as bread is broken, we see the great reversal revealed. The stranger is Jesus. The guest is actually the host.
In death’s shadow when God seems most distant, our deepest, perhaps unspoken desire is Jesus’ companionship. In the words of the traditional spiritual: I want Jesus to walk with me. All along our pilgrim journeys, and when the shades of life are falling, our soul cries out: I want Jesus to walk with me. In our sorrows and when our hearts are aching, we plea: I want Jesus to walk with me”.
Jesus answers us by reversing the question. Jesus says: Walk with me. I’m already here. Jesus is with us on the road. Jesus is the Way.
Monica Furlong in her book Traveling In wrote, “The religious person is the one who believes that life is about making some kind of journey”. “Come. Follow me.” “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Christianity has never been simply a static body of doctrine, but rather a dynamic way of life. The first term used in the New Testament to describe Christians were “followers of the Way.”
But I suppose if we are honest, we’re not always quick to take to the road. “I think I am okay where I am now, thank you very much”, we tell ourselves. The call to grow and change can make us feel insecure and frankly scared. And yet that is what the resurrection life is about.
The story of Emmaus is deeply encouraging: wherever we are on our life’s journey, we are never alone. We are always joined by another: the Risen One. He is the one who always walks beside us: when we are at the extremity of our strength, he is with us. In our time of greatest loneliness or trial, Emmaus reassures us that “You are not alone: you have a companion.”
“But we had hoped.” Yes, we had. Of course, we had. So very many things are different right now than we had hoped they’d be. And yet. The stranger who is the Savior still meets us on the lonely road to Emmaus. The guest who becomes our host still nourishes us with Presence, Word, and Bread.
So keep walking. Keep telling the story. Keep honoring the stranger. Keep attending to your burning heart. Christ is risen. He is no less risen on the road to Emmaus than he is anywhere else. So look for him. Listen for him. And when he lingers at your door, honoring your freedom, but yearning to feed you, say what he longs to hear: Stay with me. Amen.