Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 Luke 24:13-35
Two friends walking a dusty road, returning home for what is the point of staying. They have heard the rumours of miracle from the women but cannot believe them so they go home, weary and disheartened. Talking, listening, sharing pain and confusion.
Another walks with them, a stranger, looks into their eyes, listens to lost hopes and wild rumours.
He speaks: they hear the story of salvation as though for the first time, as they travel on.
They arrive: he wants to go further on his way; they ask him to stay, as dusk falls on the dusty road.
They go indoors, sit, tired, at a table to share a meal – hospitality to one they don’t quite want to let go. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and offers it them – they see then who their companion is – but he has gone.
They remember: the journey, the words heard, the everyday presence of road, table and broken bread – they know the news must be shared.
They cannot stay put, but, here and now, they set out, back along the dusty road – feet getting ahead of them in their excitement, two people on God’s way.
This narrative from scripture of the two on the way to Emmaus is one of the most enticing and intriguing stories of Gospel literature. It is also one that I greet with expectation every time – for every time something new presents itself.
We have these two people – Cleopas and an unnamed other, who could well have been his wife – trudging home in despair, they had gambled their hopes on this saviour and, well, it ended back there on the cross.
We all know those moments don’t we? We have had high hopes – and they are dashed on the rocks. What do we do? Find sanctuary, go home, get back into normal routine and try to forget the crumbled hosannas and hallelujahs. T.S. Eliot in ‘The Cocktail Party’ succinctly and insightfully describes the return to the human condition by those who have travelled far in hope:
They may remember the vision they have had, but they cease to regret it, maintain themselves by the common routine, learn to avoid excessive expectation.
In the same way as the people surrounding Peter in our reading from Acts are asking ‘What do we do?’ so these two were facing how to respond to a vision, a hope that had proved to be of excessive expectation.
And one of the first things they did was to leave the despondent community and return to what had been. Go home, hunker down, try and find some normality, get on with life. Even the astounding news from the women at the empty tomb was not enough to penetrate their gloom.
So when a stranger comes along and asks what’s wrong, the response is best described as a verbal outburst – all the disappointed hopes and dashed expectations poured out.
I think we have all at some stage in our lives had some kind of experience like this – where our response is to retreat, to chastise our hearts for being so hopeful when our head told us all along that it the odds were against us.
Sometimes we get so that we won’t let any vision into our lives again – don’t want to get disappointed like that again. So we at best expect status quo and have no real hope that anything will change for the better in the future. We lower our sights – I may have told some of you that when I was a student here at the university my academic record was not exactly inspiring after my first year. So when I came to try again I remember going to see the results under the archway at the registry and having looked through the c passes for my subject went away disappointed that I had failed. It wasn’t until a friend congratulated me that I realised I had passed with a better mark. I was all too ready for failure. That taught me to raise my sights – a little anyway.
Then some of us can be at that point where we are hearing and sharing the words of faith – without recognising the very heart of the message. We are not listening, engaging in conversation with God but rather with each other only. As the two did not recognise Jesus, so we can be very good at the rhetoric, the debate, the dogma and be blind to the way we are judging our fellow human beings, being exclusive or moralistic or simply detached from the reality of need around us. The head is well catered for, the heart is kept on a leash. Jesus came to those two on the road and the passage says, ‘interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’ And they began to hear.
The interesting question for us – what is it that prevents us from allowing the way of Jesus to be a driving force in our lives – and you are listening here to someone who was the world champion at holding a bit back, rationalising the need to stay slightly detached, just in case. The Emmaus experience has been mine a number of times - recognising who walks on this road of faith with me and through whose eyes I must see and whose heart I must be. Without it I would not be here today.
I love that Jesus seems to require the strongest urging to come into the home and eat with them. Was it their sense of hospitality that made them so insistent or maybe it was because the words of teaching of this stranger were beginning to stir them in an exciting way? They wanted more, they no longer desired to shut themselves off from community for they sensed something special was being revealed.
And they were right – there among the bread and the wine, the ordinary things of the table, Jesus himself was recognised. And there they had a name to put to this sense of – how did they put it – their hearts burning within them as he opened the scriptures to them.
How could they have not seen, not recognised the living Christ walking with them! Easily it seems.
So I guess the first question for each of us is where we are in our Emmaus journey? Have we left the empty tomb, disappointed, perplexed that our plans have come to nothing. Are we on the road trudging home, eyes so downcast that we do not see the Christ beside us? Or has the fire in our hearts been ignited, even in the smallest way, to recognise and respond to the Christ with us.
And the second question is what are we to do now? Like the crowd that surrounded Peter, we too ask constantly for guidance and direction, for interpretation of the scriptures through the teachings of Jesus.
I don’t know about you but I am over people using scripture to bolster their own agendas, to use as a hammer of judgement or a badge of righteousness. Without Jesus at the heart of interpretation and as the reason for walking this road of faith we can head off into all kinds of blindness. As a church, as members of that church, what are we doing that disgraces the teachings of Jesus, or shows shallow understanding and limited vision? And more importantly, what are we to do about it? Knowing who journeys with us, do we have the courage to hear his interpretation and act on it with hope?
Do we live our faith as a disappointed people avoiding excessive expectation or as a resurrection people hearts burning with hope and vision of what can be when we walk knowingly in the company of Jesus? That is our challenge as we explore the Emmaus experience for each of us today.
Hear the good news, where ever we are at in our journey of faith Jesus gives us the light of the gospels and the presence of the spirit to guide us, the courage of the empty cross to speak out and to endure and the wisdom and love of community to encourage us. Thanks be to God.