“What should we do?” This is the question with which the crowd responds to Peter’s sermon in our reading from Acts this morning. But I can imagine that this might also have been a question that was weighing heavily upon the two travelers as they walked along the road to Emmaus that Easter afternoon. They “were talking and discussing”, Luke tells us, and perhaps asking, What should we do? What should we do in the midst of our disappointment? in response to our dashed hopes? in the presence of our heavy hearts? For Cleopas and his companion, that Emmaus road was a difficult road to travel.
We have all spent time on that road. The Emmaus road, in fact, is a road of countless miles: it winds its way through every village, every town and city, every state, every country. It follows interstate highways, main streets, and country roads; it meanders in places where tires never tread, be it back alleys, sidewalks, causeways, stair cases, mountain paths, and even right into living rooms and office buildings. We have all walked the Emmaus road.
Some stories from the road:
A home in Rockland, Massachusetts. A mom and dad, and their teenage daughter and son all go to bed early, for they’re all feeling rotten: headaches, nausea… in general, sick. They go to bed, but only two of them wake up—a silent killer, carbon monoxide, has taken father and son during the night; mother and daughter are taken to the hospital. No one can make sense of this heart wrenching loss. Faith community, school community, all gather to comfort one another in the midst of deep loss and sorrow.
An apartment house in Norwich, Connecticut, which reeks of smoke. Outside its occupant, a man in his 40’s, sits in the car of the nice older woman who gave him a ride home from Wednesday evening worship. “I hate to ask again, but I can borrow a few dollars for some food?” He has no family to help him out, and is physically in too poor health to be able to work. His Social Security disability check has not stretched through the month, partly because he’s spent some money on silly things, like a couple CDs, but mainly because, though he’s been alcohol free for a few years, his nicotine addiction is too much for him to overcome. And so from those who show him kindness, he always ends up asking for more.
A Lutheran church in Warwick, Rhode Island where folks have gathered for a three-day conference on church liturgy and music. Around one of the lunch tables in the fellowship hall, the topic of conversation turns, unsurprisingly, to the current events in the world of this past week. In particular they reflect on the successful discovery of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and of his subsequent assassination in our name. And of the resulting gatherings in Washington, D.C. and other cities which play out like a pep rallies; and then of the demands to see the photos of the terrorist’s corpse. Good has triumphed, evil has been defeated… by our violence. The question asked at that lunch table, on the Emmaus road in that place, was: “aren’t we called to a different way?”
What should we do?
On the Emmaus road we so often find ourselves traveling, we endure everything that life throws our way, from heartbreaking loss, to unending need, to… confusion and dismay as to where we should even stand… do we cry “got him!” or “Lord, have mercy!” Out on the Emmaus road we see it all, and perhaps wonder, “what should we do?”
And yet it is precisely out there on the road where Jesus meets up with the weary travelers. This is the good news: we encounter the risen Christ out there on the Emmaus road. And though it may be the case that our eyes don’t recognize him, still he travels with us—and more: he engages us! “What are you discussing with each other as you walk?” he asks. Oh, how many responses we have to give him! And he listens! To our pain, to our need, or our confusion and dismay. And then he opens our hearts with his word, such that we can’t help but invite him in.
Then comes the best part. The heart of this story of the Road to Emmaus is a great surprise: first, that the one invited to be the guest suddenly becomes the host; and second, that Jesus is revealed to the travelers through the ordinary, through the breaking of bread.
During the season of Lent I met regularly with a group of enthusiastic youngsters, and we talked about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of communion. We talked about gathering around the table for a family meal, we talked about the promises of love and forgiveness. But this morning’s story doesn’t touch on any of those elements—this morning’s story tells us one thing: that the risen Christ is revealed to us in the breaking of the bread. In hindsight, those two travelers said, “our hearts were burning as he talked to us”, but it is at the table where he was made known to them, and it is at the table where he is still made known to us today.
And with that revealing comes all that other good stuff, like community and love and forgiveness, and, especially in this story, the powerful promise that Christ will always be with us on our Emmaus roads. Another gift we receive at the table, then, may be the new eyes with which to see him out there on the road—perhaps in the community that gathers around us when we have lost, perhaps in the kind woman who loans another dollar for food, or in the needy fellow who is forced to ask, perhaps in the newly met lunch companions who wrestle with challenging questions in challenging times. We encounter Jesus in those places, and in so, so many more.
But better still, it is not we who go searching for Jesus, but rather Jesus who overtakes us on the road, who steps into our lives and asks what we’re talking about, who becomes, then, the host at the table, feeding us for the journey. In this narrative from Luke, there’s a word that gets lost in translation: we’re told that after Jesus vanished from their site, Cleopas and his companion “got up”… but really the word is ‘arose’, the same word Luke uses for resurrection. Jesus comes to us on the road, gathers us at the table, feeds us, so that we might arise, so that we might participate in his resurrection.
What should we do? We should come and eat. We should let our guest be our host. We should receive Jesus’ gift of himself, broken for us. We should arise. And we should run back to our own Jerusalems to proclaim the good news!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!