May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
The story of two people walking together deep in conversation along the road to Emmaus finds strong echoes in our own behaviour in the face of grief, fear and incomprehension. I don’t know about you, but grief both paralyses and galvanises. I am unable to sit and do nothing but I can focus on nothing with any capacity to be useful. Walking is a great healing activity and if I am walking with someone I trust, talking while doing something else, allows the mind to work things out subconsciously.
A friend and colleague of mine was caught up in the Rwandan genocide. She fled her home, leaving behind family and friends who had been slaughtered. She saved two of her children, a baby and small child. The rest were killed along with her husband. She was attacked on the way to the port, raped and abandoned by others also fleeingalongn the road. Terror gave her the energy to keep going until she reached the port where she started to hunt for a boat to take her out of Africa towards Europe and safety.
Her small daughter tugged her hand in the crowd and started to tell her mother she had seen daddy. Her mother did not believe and kept searching for a boat. The daughter let go her hand and ran into the crowd. Her mother panicked and followed her. Her daughter was hugging a stranger. She did not recognise her husband. Her grief and terror had made her blind and unable to accept joy and comfort in the midst of overwhelming sorrow.
I’ve told you this story before, but each time we read about the disciples and companions meeting the resurrected Jesus, my memory takes me back to the first time I heard my friend tell her story. And then I remember the women at the tomb not recognising Jesus until he calls them by name; the disciples locked behind closed doors unable to recognise Jesus when he stands before them until he shows them his wounds and offers them peace, on the seashore beside a fire offering breakfast, and on the road to Emmaus offering comfort.
Only when Jesus shows his body’s wounds or does something familiar such as blessing and breaking the bread and sharing wine do their minds unlock their grief and terror and enable his fearful friends to see him clearly.
The two friends walking to Emmaus are grieving and troubled. A stranger joins them and is invited into their conversation. It allows the two friends to tell their story, to think out loud, to say again all that is in their hearts. Jesus is a good listener. Luke tells us the name of only one of the two, Cleopas; the other remains anonymous. Commentators agree it was likely a woman given their identity is not named.
We listen in ourselves as we hear the heartbroken and confused outpourings of the two companions and Jesus joining in as they started to listen to the ‘stranger’, to Jesus. Jesus leads the conversation with teaching, wisdom, guidance and comfort as the two come to grips with their confusion and struggle over the resurrection.
As the two companions urge the stranger to stay with them, to join them for a meal as they complete their walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus about seven miles away, so Jesus changes from being a stranger to becoming the host as he sits at table with them and breaks bread.
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 recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:30-31
Like Abraham and Sarah who practiced hospitality at the oaks of Mamre with the strangers, they found they had welcomed the Lord instead.
Cleopas and the other disciple know something momentous has happened and although it is already evening, (v.29) they return to Jerusalem, to the 11 disciples and the other companions who are with them. Those already gathered are excitedly sharing their experiences and retelling the stories.
Luke also highlights the confusion of the other disciples who are together, struggling to believe and make sense. Their fear and doubts continuing in their hearts. Luke describes them as ‘disbelieving’ (v41).
And the grief and horror that has filled the disciples’ hearts mirror our experiences of recent times. There is a great desire to put down these days and return to how it was before with other people, relationships and activities that filled our hearts with joy. To celebrate and be joyful and return everything to normal.
At the same time, there is grief filling our land and the world. Our hearts and minds are unable to comprehend the enormity of what is happening, the bad behaviour by some, the courage of others, the daily confrontation with our deepest fears leading us to say unkind things about others, to scapegoat, ignore and ridicule others, our sudden loss of income and heightened awareness of the thinness of our welfare and health systems which we previously ignored, our loss of loved ones, a greater sense of our own mortality and closeness to death, the just and unjust decisions made by those in authority, particular groups of people abandoned without kindness and the expectation we will agree, significant groups left out of any available help, the apparent lack of care and compassion for the last, the lost and the least, and the overwhelming kindnesses by strangers and friends and family that is displayed over and over again.
We are lamenting. Jesus recognised this in his disciples and friends. There was no hiding the truth. The crucifixion happened, along with the betrayals, denials, abandonment, the torture, the ruthless and appalling behaviour by leaders, both civil and religious, and we then see the resurrected Jesus raised up with his broken body and his generous, loving offering of peace and comfort to us all.
We are lamenting, for the changes we can’t control, the losses we are experiencing and the brokenness of the world. Our desire to rush to the end of the story, when all will be made well again may lead us to ignore this grief and put it to one side as of being of no account. However, we cannot have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. We must acknowledge both and work with both.
The bible is full of stories that are too good to be true; Abraham and Sarah in their old age, having a son they name Isaac which means laughter; Moses, a stutterer and murderer is the means of Israel’s liberation; Hannah who is barren has a son who becomes a significant prophet, David, the least of Jesse’s sons becomes a liberator; Saul, a persecutor and inciter of hatred and vilification becomes the one who takes Jesus’ message into the whole Gentile world. The greatest surprise of all is the resurrection.
And it is not finished. We haven’t come to the end of the story, we are at the new beginning. Repentance and forgiveness now and forever must be proclaimed to all the world. As disciples, you and I today like those of Jesus’ time, are the ones who take this message out into the world.
Our purpose in life is to bear witness to these things. Lest they be tempted to return to fear and disbelief, blindness and the locked room, God has provided them and us with all we need, indeed God provides power from on high through the Holy Spirit.
As we journey with the companions to Emmaus, Jesus comes among us in surprise, we journey with him and each other, we journey from fear to trust, from doubt to joy, from disbelief to power, from grief to witness.
May your journey be blessed.
The Lord be with you.