Scholars[i] confidently link an awareness of Christ-Presence to our need to be gathering for worship. We know that God is omnipresent – everywhere, all the time, like the air. But like the air that we need to engage with in order to benefit: open our airways, allow our diaphragms to draw down, fill our lungs, breathe. In order for us to recognize and so be impacted/ changed/ empowered by God’s enlivening, everywhere presence, we understand that we are also given to do certain things, and we glimpse some of those things in this text!
Luke tells of those two disciples walking the 7 or so miles from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, and that they were struggling. They’d probably gone to Jerusalem for the Passover and, after witnessing that triumphant entry on Palm Sunday, come to believe that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah here to fulfil all their hopes for national liberation! But instead, their leaders had felt threatened and managed to get him killed, and with him died all their hopes. Why did he have to die? And what did all these latest resurrection rumors mean?
And then Jesus appeared with them, but they had no idea who he was. They just poured out their hearts to this curious stranger – all their deepest disappointment and disillusionment – exposing what Norval Geldenhuys [ii] called ‘the violent struggle between hope and fear that raged within their hearts’. Jesus’ response was to hear them, and then to reframe their experience in the light of scripture, bringing their perspective into alignment with how God would have them see: Those shocking events of Easter were in fact fulfilling a truth infinitely deeper than any superficial expectations of national liberation! …and they were blown away!
And so, when they arrived at their village, and it seemed that Jesus was to continue without them, they pleaded with him to stay longer. He did. And it was as he broke the bread at suppertime, that they recognized him.
I’m left especially curious about 3 aspects of this narrative.
We’re told that they were together. It was as they were ‘walking and talking and discussing together that Jesus came near and was with them’ even though they had yet to recognize him. There is something essential about our gathering as opposed to our isolating![iii] Remember how he said it in Mt.18:20: ‘…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there’. Unless there is something wrong, some mental health issue perhaps like a lurking agoraphobia, we all need community! Even the most profound introverts among us are suffering as a result of our enforced Covid-19 isolation. We need community for our mental, psychological & emotional health, and we need it for our spirituality. As it says in Genesis creation narratives: ‘It is not good for humanity to be alone’. Made in the image of a Trinitarian God who is always in community of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, so we too are most profoundly communal beings that come alive in our awareness of our holy communion with God, and with one another, and all creation – this mystical union of everything.
And so, it’s not a stretch for us to embrace how it’s as they came together in Christ’s name that Christ was with them, even though they may have known nothing of it.
But it’s not just that they were together: We’re told that their whole struggling to make sense of things – was brought into the light of scripture – God’s Word. This gift of God’s Word that we get to host, and to gnaw upon, sometimes to understand, mostly not so much, though always to be stretched and to be challenged by, always blessed by. I know the wisdom[iv] that speaks of ‘the finger that points to the moon is not the moon’, or as we could say here ‘that points to God is not God’, but still, scripture is what we are given as our primary and most powerful pointer!
We know that their encounter must have been life-giving for them, because they didn’t want it to end. As they got to their village and Jesus was about to leave them: “The disciples urged him strongly, ‘stay with us’” …and so he did. But it took eating together before they recognized his presence as having been there all along. And that’s the 3rd point, that they ate together. It wasn’t just in Jesus’ walking, listening or talking, but in the sharing of bread that their eyes were opened and they recognized him as having been with them all along.
I’m curious that the act of eating is so powerfully revelatory. Perhaps it’s the point where all of what had been going on as a fascinating but still fairly remote exercise became very real and personal. It seems that it’s not just in intellectual discussion, however erudite and convincing, but in the actual taking in of that blessed and broken bread of Christ, that we are given to see Jesus for what and who and where he is. It’s not only our acknowledgement of presence, but our participation in him – our allowing of him to impact our lives and make his organic difference within us that opens our eyes. That’s what empowers the loosening of the constraints of our ego selves, releasing our awareness of what is most real within.
I’m also struck by how, unless Jesus had been specifically invited to stay, he wouldn’t have. I find myself wondering to what extent Jesus is still constantly joining us in our journeys through life, talking, walking, but needing our invitation to stay before he is recognized? Again, as Norval Geldenhuys wrote: If not invited Jesus would have moved on and they would have missed the inexpressible privilege of discovering that it was Jesus himself who had been with them[v].
Is it Christ alone who is able to release within you all of whom & what you have been made to be? I believe so! When last have you invited him in to help you do so? This invitation is a real thing! It’s too bad that the overly simplistic & clichéd theology of the last century has kind of beaten those words to death, but seriously: What does it mean to ‘invite’ Jesus Christ into our lives? I think it’s all about our longing, our intention to become who we’ve been made to be – our truest selves, and the recognition that it’s only as we somehow engage in this awesome Christ-secured Easter mystery of life and death and new life that THAT is possible. Until then we remain stuck in our pointless egoic cycle of greed and fear and self-obsession!
It doesn’t end with us. Immediately those two disciples realized that he had been with them, they were compelled to share that insight with others: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
All of this leaves me/us encouraged to:
- Connect in community. We must make sure that we are not alone – even now, during physical isolation. If you don’t have a family easily with you, then you need to become creative: use your phone, engage social media, but reach out to someone to be with you through this…
- Take scripture seriously. Begin to read again, be prepared to wrestle with what you are reading to find how it applies to your life. Find someone to help you. I thank God for Elaine smith and the Tuesday Bible study that continues to connect online. I also plan to be starting something online soon, feel free to let me know if you would like to be included.
- Continually invite the living Christ in. Be prepared to ensure that all this becomes very personal for you. Allow him to draw out from within you whom he has already made you to be!!!
As we do so may we, like those Emmaus Rd disciples, come once again to feel the presence of Christ-given-life burning/stirring – very real, closer than our breath, making it possible for us to continuing to welcome our truest self home.
In Jesus’ Name
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited.
[i] Will Willimon and others
[ii] Commentary, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London (3rd Ed 1956)
[iii] I once heard an interview with John Lennon where he explained how the hit ‘Come together’ came to be written. It was apparently inspired by a request from the psychedelic drug activist Timothy Leary who, according to Wikipedia, had asked John to write music for his 1969 campaign for governor of California against Ronald Reagan. His slogan was, ‘Come together, join the party’. All that promptly ended when Leary was sent to prison for possession of marijuana: John took it back and after writing a whole bunch of gobbledygook lyrics to go with his slogan, turned it into a major hit. But I think that if Jesus had a campaign jingle, it could be just that: …for us all to ‘Come together – over me’
[iv] As taught by Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh
[v] Commentary, Geldenhuys, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, London (3rd Ed 1956)