The Rev. Gillian R. Barr, Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket, RI
There are several sermons in this morning’s texts, even more than usual. I will try to restrict myself to just one, however. The Road to Emmaus story.
This is a carefully crafted story—the author of Luke-Acts is probably the best story-teller of the 4 Evangelists, and this is one of his gems. In one story he manages to sketch not only a marvelously human account of one of the encounters between the resurrected Jesus and his followers, but also to paint a portrait in miniature of what the life of the Church is supposed to look like.
Cleopas and his friend are walking along dejectedly, trying to make sense out of what has happened over the past three days. They are going over their experiences together, trying to figure out what it all means, what they are to do next. They are headed away from Jerusalem, away from the larger community of disciples.
A third person joins them. They relate their experiences to him. He then leads them in a 2-hour long Bible study. He changes their focus from the events right in their immediate consciousness, zooming the frame out to a larger scene. He changes from a micro-lens to a panorama view, so they can see the broader currents and themes in how God has always acted, how God has behaved, in the lives of God’s people. And see how what they have experienced actually fits into those larger themes of redemption and new life.
The conversation continues over a meal. And In the experience of offering hospitality, accepting hospitality, being fed with blessed bread, Cleopas and his friend recognize Jesus. They know that God is right there with them, that death has not had the last word, that there is a new hope and a new direction.
Then they are propelled into motion, to share good news, to rejoin the larger community, to engage in ministry and mission. They run through the dark dangerous night the seven miles back to Jerusalem to rejoin the other disciples, full of new life and vision and energy.
This is the basic pattern of the life of the church:
- We reflect on our experiences together, trying to find where God is in them: we admit our confusion, we reflect together with close friends and companions.
- We go to the Scriptures and are reminded of the bigger picture.
- We gather in community for meals and fellowship and sacrament and worship
- We are propelled outwards—into an expanding community, an expanding mission, perhaps different from the one we had thought we had, with new passion and understanding
Two things in particular stand out to me:
1. Cleopas and friend were very discouraged. They have lost all hope. “But we had hoped.” How many times over the course of our lives do we find ourselves in the same space!
- job interview: we felt it went well and had hoped to receive an offer
- romantic relationship: we had hoped this one was the one, until he or she wasn’t, and our relationship ended in pain
- career trajectory: we had thought we’d stay with this company, in this line of work. But now we’ve been let go, need to shift into something totally different
- child’s future: we had imagined our child’s future in a certain way, but she is not taking the path we’d imagined. She has dropped out, or been arrested, or chosen a partner we don’t approve of
Whenever we find ourselves saying, “But we had hoped,” Jesus meets us right there, and walks with us, and leads us into a new future. It doesn’t usually happen over the course of 3 hours. More like 3 years. We aren’t given the old path back, but are shown a new path.
Example of my last call. “But I had hoped” it would be a place I could serve and grow. Instead, the reality of the ministry was in a totally different galaxy from what the search committee had depicted (search committees’ visions are often a little bit out of sync with reality, but this was several orders of magnitude out of sync.). I found myself feeling boxed in to a ministry which had few resources and little prospect of success. I coudln’t make sense of it. Friends helped me as I wrestled with it, helped me search the scriptures, joined me in fellowship over tables and in prayer and worship. Finally, I found myself en route to Rhode Island, a place I knew nothing about, doing 2 ministries I’d never envisioned myself doing–a new future full of hope and a strong sense of mission.
b) We need to know our Scriptures.
We need to go to them, together. We need to know them well enough to see the bigger themes, and also the smaller stories, that can give us insight into where God is in our story.
Where are you on this Emmaus road?
We are all at different points at different times.
We might be walking with our head down, lamenting lost hopes.
We might be enjoying fellowship and community and hospitality.
We might be fired up with new mission.
Wherever you are this morning,
join with your companions on the way,
come to the Table where Jesus is the host,
to be fed for a new future. Amen.