Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
1st Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
There's been so much rain this spring, I have almost forgot how much I enjoy a good walk. My mom stayed the night at my house two days last week with her greyhound, Gracie, while grandma has been in the hospital, and it was kind of nice to have an excuse to get out, since the dog needs walked. Whatever the weather the dog needs to go out and after being cooped up in the hospital so long, I was glad to get out a few times. Especially in a week like this one, it is good to get out and get some fresh air.
The disciples, I'm sure, felt the same way. Here are these lesser Disciples, not one of the 11 remaining, but maybe some of the 70 that were trained and sent out by Jesus to heal the sick and preach the good news. Here they are on the road to Emmaus, exiting Jerusalem. I always pictured them alone on the road. Maybe emotionally, they felt alone. But likely that day, there would have been many pilgrims exiting Jerusalem, having come there to celebrate the Passover. The road was probably quite crowded, making it a little easier for Jesus to be there among the crowd, making it easy for him to settle in walking next to these disciples and listening to their dramatic story.
We walk so many different roads, never knowing what others near to us are going through. Sometimes we walk in anticipation, sometimes in disappointment, sometimes in joy, sometimes in grief. Some steps are heavy and others are dancing. I walked hospital corridors a lot this week. The emergency room, and hallways, waiting rooms and cafeteria. I wondered a lot what others are going through. I heard parts of conversations whispered through tears. At one point, grandma was going into surgery and we were all in the cafeteria. We heard a code blue called. It is heavy to know that someone is in crisis in that moment, that their heart has stopped. We were on pins and needles. The anestesiologist had basically told my mom and her siblings that grandma's situation was quite tenuous. We knew that. It has been touch and go all week with her. About 5 minutes after the code blue was called, my aunt got a call. It was the nurse in the operating room. We all tensed up. My cousin started crying and her sister comforted her. I went over to sit next to my mom. We all had our attention on Aunt Jeannine. She finally breathed as she was listening and said something to let us know it was just that grandma had finally gone into surgery. It wasn’t her they called the code about. We all breathed a sigh of relief. A few moments later one of the cafeteria workers brought us two chocolate bars. He said he looked like we could use them. It was very sweet of them to notice and care for us. It made me wonder how many times a week this happens. It made me wonder who was watching us. It comforted me that we aren't alone. Everyone is looking out to be of help. Many people are on this road.
So we all walk these roads. And Jesus, himself, comes near and goes with us. We don't usually recognize him. I don't know if our eyes are kept from recognizing him or if we have some kind of blindness. That these disciples are second tier means they may have not spent much time with him, maybe even one of the 12 disciples had trained them. They may not have seen Jesus up close. We, too, can be considered disciples, which means "learners." We are trainees of Jesus, but since we haven't seen him in the flesh, we might wonder if that might be him or not when we think we might have encountered the risen Christ.
We are on the road and the risen Christ comes near and goes with us and converses with us. I love how he listens for a long time and then asks this kind of open-ended question that draws the disciples out and makes them delve deeper into their experiences and emotions. "What things?" he asks. Jesus has this innocent curiosity that gently encourages them to open up and tell their story. It is a question that isn't prying, but invites more, should the disciples care to share. So the disciples do share. They share their fears, their hopes, their confusion. They even share the good news before they even know if it is good news, yet. Their story is still in process, still fresh and as they tell it, some parts are becoming clearer and other parts muddier.
Jesus listens. Then he responds. He sounds a little harsh in the Gospel story, calling them foolish. But in their own language it is a much more gentle and joking, affectionate term, like silly goose, or something like that. Then Jesus links the story they just told to the greater story of God walking with people on roads just like this one over thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years. It all fits together. The disciples are beginning to see what their story has to do with all the other parts of the story of God and God's Creation coming near, walking together.
The disciples start to show signs of seeing more clearly, when they invite Jesus, a stranger in that moment to stay with them. Hasn't the whole story of God's love been about strangers bridging the gap, and inviting others to be in relationship with them, about hospitality? Jesus would never impose on them, but goes on ahead, giving them the chance to decide whether to invite him or not. How long did they stand their looking at each other before they called out to him to stay? Whether it was immediate or whether they had to go running after him, the disciples then extend the kind of hospitality to Jesus that God has extended to them, and he accepts.
I am starting to think that Jesus was always hungry. He never refuses a dinner invitation. So they eat together. Somehow this act of eating reveals the truth to them, that they knew all along. Their eyes are opened to see what their hearts already knew. This is a good reminder to us to pay attention to the burning of your hearts. We're not just looking for signs of a heart attack, although that is a good thing to do too, to listen to your body and call the paramedics if necessary. But so many times our bodies are having an emotional reaction or trying to tell us something and we ignore it. Our hearts may very well know when Jesus is near. Our hearts may tell us to open our eyes and confirm what the heart knows. Our hearts tell us to open our eyes to see friends where we once only saw strangers. Our hearts are telling us to invite, be open and curious, to seek. It is telling us to look beyond the surface, beyond what we think is possible to see deeply, to truly experience the good news.
Eating together opens their eyes. Jesus is made known to them in the breaking of the bread. There are some things our minds can't take in by thinking, but we can experience in other ways. Our other senses can help us access what the heart or the emotions already know. Eating can break down our barriers and bring us together and open up pathways to understanding that the brain can't access. Our sense of taste tells us what is good for us, what is life-giving. Our sense of taste links us to other experiences we've had, can bring up strong memories. A meal is nourishing for both the body and the spirit, because it brings us together in community for conversation, reflection, and community.
When the bread is broken and shared, when Jesus shares himself with us, we can begin to see. When we share our bread with others, we can begin to find wholeness in community, communion with Christ and each other.
I was reminded this week of the story of Jesus, early in his ministry, tempted in the wilderness for 40 days, famished. He was tempted to turn stones into bread and feed himself. Of course, he refuses. He says, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Here Jesus is, his body broken on the cross, his body broken and shared around the table, his body, the body of Christ broken and gathered again around the table, Jesus, both bread and word made flesh, God's promise come to us, staying with us. Jesus, both bread and God and love, a kind of eye-opening, inviting love, honest, and forgiving.
So our story is also unfolding, like that of the disciples, linked to the story of God's creation, leading the people to the promised land, guiding them, coming to walk among them, and revealing love to us in the breaking of the bread. That's us that Jesus is walking with along the road. That is us whose eyes are being opened. That is us who are learning to invite and welcome. That is us who are sharing bread and making strangers into friends. That is us, seeing Jesus, and experiencing love.