Luke 24:13-35 The Walk to Emmaus
That long walk back to the car. I’m willing to bet you’ve all experienced it. You know the one, the fireworks are over and it’s time to go home. You’re carrying one kid whose too heavy to be carried and pulling another along by the hand. And of course, the car seems like it’s about seven miles away. You know the walk I’m talking about.
As we come to this narrative from Luke’s Gospel this morning, I wonder if that’s how the two disciples felt as they made their way toward Emmaus. I would imagine that their feet were as heavy as their hearts and their grief was as palatable as the dew gathering in the evening air. But as we’ve seen so many times in the gospels, or when we find ourselves travelling down some long and broken road, God has a way of showing up. And the story of the Walk to Emmaus is no exception. At first, of course, they didn’t recognize the Risen Christ. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, once said, “God is at home; it is we who have gone for a walk.” Sometimes it’s only with 20/20 hindsight that the presence of God becomes apparent.
Take Cassie’s story for example. I’ve previously shared her story in Bible study but it bears repeating. Cassie suffered from epileptic seizures which had greatly affected the course of her life. But as a 20 something Cassie decided to move out on her own for the first time. It was only a couple of weeks however, before she had a seizure that landed her in intensive care. As a matter of fact, when I arrived at the hospital, she was in a constant state of seizure. Her family was there and we gathered around her bed for prayer. Some of them touched Cassie while the rest of us joined hands. I lead a prayer but left the hospital that day with little confidence that Cassie would be alright. This all took place on a Saturday. The next morning Cassie’s mother came to church and after the worship service was over, she shared with me that our prayer had been effective. “It worked,” she said, “it really worked!” When I questioned her further she said that while we were praying at Cassie’s bedside, there was a nurse monitoring her EEG. Before was started it was all over the place. But while we were praying the seizure subsided and when we said “amen” the disruption in her brain started again. Now, there could be many “rational” explanations for this occurrence, and they would most likely be accurate. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God was present in that hospital room. Yes, God is present all the time, but there are moments when, what’s been called the “veil between God and humanity” is especially thin. Times when God makes us very aware that we are in the company of the Divine. In the context of today’s gospel lesson, these might be called “broken bread” moments.
“But even so, the experience of these two travelers was fleeting, just as our glimpses of God, or brushes with the Divine, tend to be. We look back on our experiences and process them, understanding them better “in the rear-view mirror” than we did face-to-face. How does God still speak to you today, not only through the encounter these early Christians had with Jesus, but through your own encounter with Jesus, in the breaking of bread, the sharing of stories, the study of Scripture?
You see, we’re not just hearing a story about something that happened to other people, long ago and far away. The same amazing things, the wonderful works of God, are happening here, today, in our lives, too, if we open our eyes and see, and then, maybe our hearts, too, will burn within us. When we struggle with questions concerning the meaning of life or we just can’t understand why so many bad things are happening in the world today; often, the answer is often right before us.”[i]
And for the two Emmaus Road travelers, the answer to their grief; the understanding about what had taken place was right before them and it was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread. They didn’t recognize the Risen Christ until he broke bread with them. I wonder how often we too miss the presence of God in the blur of our lives or as we traverse the broken roads of grief and despair? But what if we didn’t? what if we were to become attuned to the still speaking voice of God? What if we were to discover and experience these broken bread moments for ourselves? What might that look like?
Well, our first thought, of course, is of communion. Communion is the time when we are invited to renew our covenant with God. A covenant that was established at our baptism and reestablished every time we partake of the sacred meal.
But beyond the communion table, there are other times, other breakings of bread, when we are keenly aware of these broken bread moments. A family meal perhaps. The warm sense of belonging and hospitality that comes from dinning with family or friends. Thanksgiving immediately comes to mind. A time when we gather to break bread and give thanks for all the blessing in our lives.
But it goes even further than that. As I studied this text, it quickly became apparent that hospitality is the intended lesson here. Jesus himself challenges us to provide bread to someone who’s hungry and that provision is a form of hospitality. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
So, hospitality, in the form of bread, physical bread, has the potential to transform the lives of those who are struggling, but it can also change us. If we open our eyes and our hearts and our doors to all who need God’s grace, who long for Christ’s love; to all who are travelling that broken road of hopelessness and stand in need of the healing and restoration that the Divine Spirit can provide, then, we are the living embodiment of Christ to those persons. Hospitality, when viewed from this perspective, then, “is not simply a matter of being nice; hospitality is justice and generosity embodied, a spiritual practice that both requires and brings spiritual growth.”[ii] “Now, as the United Church of Christ strives to extend and embody extravagant hospitality, where are the possibilities of transformation within our congregations and ourselves? How is God still speaking to us in the simple breaking of bread, the sharing of the story, the study of Scripture? We need to open our eyes to what is happening, each time we come to the table of God’s grace and each time we venture out into the world.”[iii]
One final thought. Hospitality is a fluid thing. By fluid I mean it is both given and received. One is not more important than the other. In the church and as individual people of faith, we are proficient at being the givers of hospitality. And that’s a good thing. We are not, however, always so good at receiving it. But if hospitality is justice and generosity embodied by someone seeking to care for us, why would we deny them that opportunity to share the love of Christ with us?
As we go out from this place today, in this Easter season, I think we would do well to focus on being and becoming even more deeply, both, givers and receivers of hospitality. God’s hospitality and that of our fellow human beings. And if we can do that, whatever broken road we may face can be smoothed over, or at the very least, negotiated side by side and hand and hand with our neighbor. And who knows, through the experience, maybe the presence of God will become apparent to us in some new and awesome way. Perhaps even in the breaking of bread.
May it be so.
[iii] Ibid. Matthews