Luke 24 The Walk to Emmaus
They say misery loves company. I think that’s true. In the hospital nursery it’s called “social crying.” One baby starts crying and all the rest follow suit. In the workplace, one person complains, and all the others join in. Yes, there’s more than a grain of truth to the old adage: “misery loves company.”
In the narrative that we have before us today, two disciples shuffle along, keeping each other company, miserable company, but company, nevertheless. They’re immersed in their sadness, they had left everything behind to follow Jesus and now, he was dead. All was lost and they were headed home. Who can blame them for feeling hopeless? But, at the same time, their grief had blinded them, at least temporarily, to the hope of resurrection. Their loss was all they were willing to embrace. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they said. But their faith was foiled by what they considered to be an insufficient evidence of Resurrection.[I]
This is the first point-of-contact with our world that we see in this text; this idea of an “insufficient evidence of resurrection.” What does that mean? Well, I believe in order to get-at the meaning here, we need to ask ourselves a simple question: What does resurrection mean to me? Well, maybe it’s not that simple of a question after all. I mean, is resurrection only an old story about the physical resuscitation of an iterate Rabbi who was executed because he dared challenge the powers-that-be? Or is resurrection something more.
Something more. In ancient Celtic Christianity they often referred to God as “the more.” I like that. I like it because it alludes to the mysterious nature of God of which we can know only bits and pieces. And resurrection is one of these pieces. A piece that by its very nature indicates the presence of God. A Presence that we have come to understand as within, around, and through all of life; even when, maybe especially when, life is difficult. So, resurrection then, is about taking those places in our lives and places in the world around us, those dark and painful, isolating places; it’s about taking those Emmaus Road, misery-loves-company moments, and exposing them to the healing and light and life of the Spirit. How do I know this? I know because in my own life I have experienced Christ; not as some distant event in the past, or some dusty old doctrine, but as a real, Living Presence. A Presence, an Energy, a Consciousness, that is both beyond words and yet as real as the very breath I draw.
And, as you already know, this is where our two Emmaus Road travelers ended up as well. At first, they didn’t recognize Jesus and perhaps they might even have passed right by him if not for a culturally defined expectation to provide hospitality. That’s the second point-of-contact with our world: hospitality. It was the custom, the tradition of people in that day and age to provide hospitality to anyone who darkened their door. And these disciples displayed that expectation of hospitality by not only walking with the stranger but inviting him to share in a meal and stay the night.
Now, as you know, the expectation of hospitality in our time is very different. But I would argue not completely absent. I co-lead a mission trip a number of years ago to the Appalachian Mountain region of North Carolina. Now, we didn’t know what our work detail would be until we arrived. It turned out that our task was to replace a leaky roof on an old house. Luckily, it was a fairly flat roof, so it wasn’t overly difficult for this group of teen-aged kids to move around and work. That is, except for one young girl in particular. Hanna. Hanna was terrified of heights and no matter how much encouragement or coxing she received, scaling that ladder was out-of-the-question. So, as you might imagine, Hanna found herself disconnected from the rest of the group. Yes, she was our ground support, gofer if you will, but that occupied very little of her time. But you know what? Hanna made the best of it. You see, the residents of the house included two little boys and as the week progressed, Hanna filled her day with imaginative ways of befriending them. She playing with them, read to them; Hanna made them feel special, wanted. And this was confirmed on the very last day, when saying our goodbyes, one of the little boys came up to Hanna and whispered something in her ear. Later, as we were on our way home, someone asked Hanna, “What did he whisper?” To which, Hanna shyly smiled, and said, “I love you.”
I shared this story with you today for a couple of reasons. First, I believe Hanna demonstrated what hospitality should look like in our world. She met those two boys right where they were at and she showed them unconditional love. And for the rest of us, it doesn’t matter if we’re listening to a friend vent, or working at the food pantry, or visiting a lonely person, or helping out at the Humane Society; if we can connect with people on a personal level, without hesitation or judgment, and if we can show that person the unconditional love that we have experienced from our creator; then we are practicing hospitality.
That’s the first lesson from Hanna, and the second is this: Hanna was imaginative in her hospitality. When faced with a situation in which she could have pouted or done nothing, she chose to think beyond the pale, coming up with a constructive way to serve in that context. And its imagination that brings us to the third and final point of contact between the Emmaus Road experience way back then and our experience of the Risen Christ here in our time. In the narrative, in spite of their misery-loves-company attitude, and over and above the expectation of hospitality, there must have been some vague memory emerge when Jesus blessed and broke the bread for their meal. Because it was in that moment that they came to understand the true power of resurrection. It was in what we call the sacrament, that “the More” became real to them.
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus only became known through teaching and sacrament. But perhaps we sometimes try to limit what qualifies as teaching or sacrament. Maybe we should consider expanding the concept of teaching and the meaning of sacrament for our time. I mean, is there sacrament, a sacred space or time, beyond the communion table or the baptismal font? Can Divine Wisdom come from many places, many people, from a diverse collection of religious or philosophical texts; might God be revealed through everyday conversations, with everyday people, in our everyday context? Can God come-to-life in new and imaginative ways?
I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but I think it would be a worthwhile task to explore them. And maybe, just maybe, if we begin to explore and experience teaching and sacrament in a new way, maybe we will begin to imagine a world where all people live in peace and practice justice; a world where there is no place for greed or hunger or homelessness; maybe we could even imagine a time when all people choose to coexist with nature and each other.
And all of this brings us back around, full circle, to the words of John Lennon; words that I echo still today. “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”
May it be so, for you and for me.
Amen and the people of God said, Amen.