By Rev. Joan Kessler
Luke 24: 13-35
Two weeks have passed since we gathered to celebrate the empty tomb of Easter Sunday. The special company has long since left, the Easter chocolate and colored eggs consumed. Thoughts are turning to the Spring that is slow in coming and of getting into the dirt of our gardens and landscaping projects. To those who were sick, we pray have made their recoveries. But this day, we are still very much in the throes of the Easter Day story as told from Luke’s perspective. The women followers of Jesus went to his tomb to find the stone rolled away and his body missing. The women were greeted by two heavenly beings with the news He is not here. He has been raised. Rumors of this event begins to spread throughout the community, and we take up this Easter story walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of the disciples.
They do what we have also done. When things go sideways, when tragedy befalls us, we walk that Emmaus Road. It is our instinct to head for home, to the safe place so we can begin again. As they walk along the road that afternoon, they come to realize that there is a stranger coming along side of them. And after exchanging pleasantries about the weather of the day and where they are headed, the conversation turns to the events of Jerusalem. And the Stranger wants to know what are they talking about? He wants them to open their hearts and give voice to those things that are grieving them in this moment. And because of the circumstances, this unexpected meeting, the disciples feel freed to share their disappointments and sadness with him. We had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth was to be the one to redeem Israel.
As their story pours out of them, the day begins to turn to night and they reach their destination, this Stranger appears ready to carry on his journey. But the two others invite him to come and stay with them. They sit down at the table and the guest picks up the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and shares it with his hosts. And, in this breaking of bread Luke tells us, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus. Then he vanished from their sight.
This story raises all kinds of questions and maybe at the top of the list is what is there to “see” here? Historians and theologians widely agree that Emmaus was not a geographical location… the distance of seven miles journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and then another seven miles back to tell the other disciples of their encounter with the Risen Christ seems unlikely. So, what is there new to see in this familiar story of walking and talking and sharing bread? In my preparations for this week, I encountered a quote that has not left me, and I have been turning over and over. It comes from American writer Paula D’Arcy who said, “God comes to us disguised as our life.” She wrote these words back in 1975 after a drunk driver took the lives of her husband and one-year old child, leaving her alone and pregnant at the age of 27.
…God comes to us disguised as our life… I invite us to consider these profound words for a moment. I think that sometimes we only sense the divine within us and around us when things are going well in our lives. We equate spiritual experience with that which is good, which enlivens us, and I am not discounting this. However, how do we experience the God presence when life is falling apart and we don’t know how to begin to pick up the pieces, our very bodies, our hearts and souls laden with the heaviness of sorrow and grief and having to face a monumental decision that will bring about change. The Emmaus story invites us to see with the eyes of our Heart. The travellers along the road that first Easter afternoon experience an epiphany that leads to transformation. When Jesus joins these two travellers, they do not immediately recognize him; perhaps it was their grief and sense of loss that blinded them. When they offer their new friend hospitality, a sign of love and compassion, when he breaks bread, it is in this act that the revelation of who this stranger is comes to light. Suddenly, their hearts burn within, and they are on fire with Hope. And with great haste they walk all the way back to Jerusalem to share their good news of what they have experienced: Christ’s resurrection and their own.
Richard Rohr once wrote that you cannot truly see or make sense of anything if you begin with a “No”. You have to start with a “Yes” – to make the first move towards accepting something that you maybe do not have a rational explanation for. It means seeing with your heart; not putting labels to things as a first reaction, of sorting our lives into dualistic categories. Instead, you leave your innermost being open to change. Rohr contends that if you begin with “yes” you are much more likely to get a “yes” in return. This does not preclude some “no’s” from showing up along the journey because a “no” is sometimes necessary to chart a new course. Once the disciples emptied out their dashed hopes and disappointments on the road that afternoon, it was like they made a space for something new yet familiar to fill them. This story reminds us that God comes to us disguised as our lives.
We watched our news this week and saw stories of senseless violence and destruction; of a young black 16-year-old, Ralph Yarl, who was asked by his mother to go and pick up his brothers and made the error of going to the wrong address and ringing a doorbell. That mistake took his life when he was shot through a window. And the response of his community was to walk – hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people marched in Kansas City while they chanted “We Love Ralph”, fed up with hate and racism. We must see this story and so many others like it with the eyes of our hearts. What cuts to the heart to cause change? What does your heart see that your eyes cannot?
We all know the Emmaus Road. We have walked it… we have cursed it. We have lost our way on it. We have left it behind and come back to it. It is the path of reckoning those things within us that burn within us…we had hoped for a benign diagnosis…we had hoped for an easier job of parenting… we had hoped for a more full-filling career… we had hoped… and I will let you fill in your own blanks. This is our Easter work. This is what resurrection asks of us. To dig within, to ask our questions, to tell our stories and then wait in the silence and deeply listen and act for change. This morning, I end this reflection with a song that speaks to Easter transformation. It is called Eyes of the Heart by Indie Arie. https://youtu.be/hPAWAzjKxmI
May it be so… and Amen.