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The Road to Emmaus

 I do love the Emmaus Road story. Don’t you?  It’s so simple in the telling, but it’s so rich in meaning. The words are as straightforward as a 7-mile line drawn from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and yet the story pulls us aside with question after question along the way.

I don’t know about you, but the first question I think of is this: why didn’t these two disciples recognize Jesus right away? They walked along with him for quite a while, after all, listening to him teach. Why didn’t they know who he was? It’s sometimes been hard to recognize people wearing a mask during these pandemic times, but Jesus wasn’t wearing a mask. Were they just too shell-shocked by events to see clearly?  Or too grief-stricken to pay attention to anything beyond their sorrow? Did they just not expect to see Jesus because they knew he had died and been buried? Was it because as far as they knew, the missing body reported by the women was still a dead body?

Something else I find puzzling is this: who were these two disciples trudging home along the dusty road? Cleopas was the name of one, we’re told. The other traveler remains anonymous. Actually, this second person may have been the wife of Cleopas, because women were often left unnamed in those days. But, the point of my question is, no matter their names or relationship to each other, they are introduced here for the first time, and then they’re never seen or heard from again. Why did Jesus appear to them, and why did Luke write about the encounter?

One more thing – did you know that no one really knows where Emmaus was? The Bible says it was 7-miles from Jerusalem. But there’s no other record of a village by that name at the time of Jesus, and archaeologists and scholars have different opinions on its probable location.  Visitors to the Holy Land can visit three or four locations that claim to be Emmaus. The truth is no one knows for sure where it really was.

I don’t know about you, but when I get to this point with my questions, I find myself nudged to another level of meaning. Sometimes, I find, you have to move beyond “just the facts” in order to see the truth.

Maybe we can’t find the village of Emmaus on a map, but in the geography of our souls its place is clearly marked.  It may no longer have a physical location, but it surely has a spiritual one. The road to Emmaus is one that all believers travel at one time or another. You’ve been there, I’m sure. I know I have.

When everything we loved and trusted most disappears, and we’re full of doubt and despair, we’re on the road to Emmaus. When the foundation we built our life on crumbles to dust, and we feel more hopeless and helpless than we ever have before, we’re on the road to Emmaus. When we’re scarred by the past and scared of the future, when we’re on the verge of losing our faith altogether, when we’re indeed unsure that Christ is risen – we’re on the road to Emmaus.

Maybe we’ve been through a financial crisis and are struggling to get back on our feet. Maybe we’ve gone through a heartrending divorce or watched our children’s marriages fail. Maybe we – or a loved one – has been diagnosed with a frightening disease. Maybe a loved one struggles with addiction or mental illness, and nothing we do seems to help. Maybe someone we dearly loved has died, and our grief is so deep we feel we’ll never recover. Maybe we get so weighed down by all the problems around us – shootings in our schools and in our churches and in our streets, the ugly face of racism spreading poison, homelessness that seems impossible to fix.  Where are you, God?  Oh God, where are you?  Sometimes it can be very hard to keep the light of faith alive.

I bet if we shared our stories, past and present, we’d hear enough doubt and despair and discouragement to pave 100 Emmaus roads.  We’ve all been there. Some of us may be walking that road right now.

If so, I hope you especially hear this truth: On that road Jesus comes and walks with us. No matter how doubtful, how hopeless, how puzzled, or how faithless we feel, Jesus comes and walks with us.

It doesn’t matter whether anyone has ever heard of us before or whether anyone will ever hear of us again. It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone else knows our name.  What matters is that Jesus knows our name. Jesus knows the names of all his disciples – even the anonymous companion of Cleopas we read about earlier.

How does Jesus walk with us? I believe that the risen Christ comes to us and dwells within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. When my faith is strong, I believe that with all my soul.  But I believe the risen Christ also comes to us in another way, an even more tangible way, a touchable way – even when our faith is weak.

This is where the church comes in – the Church, who is the body of Christ in the world. I believe we experience the presence of Jesus through our presence with one another. Through the gift of companionship and the touch of a hand. Through one person coming alongside another who is suffering a pain, a loss, a brokenness. By someone being there to listen and to offer comfort and encouragement. By sharing our faith and the hope and promise of God’s Word with one another. By sharing bread and cup and giving thanks to God together.

That is the purpose of the Church: to be the body of Christ, to make the presence of Jesus real in the world. When we are feeling fresh out of faith, that’s when we need another believer to walk beside us. Someone to lean on. Someone to remind us of the kind of God we worship – a loving, merciful, caring, gracious God. Another believer whose faith will hold us up until we’re back on our own spiritual feet.  Someone to assure us that Jesus Christ is alive and well and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is present with us and in us and among us.

Sometimes we just need a witness to the risen Christ to confirm our faltering faith. I cannot tell you how many times on my spiritual journey I have depended on the faith of others – some in this very congregation – to light my way home.

There are so many ways we can walk alongside one another – prayers, calls, cards, small groups, even worshipping together can be witness. The key is to care for one another and stay in touch.

Bottom line:  Sometimes we are like Cleopas and need someone to walk with us. And sometimes we are the very face and hands of the risen Christ called to walk beside another. In a community of faith, no one should walk the Emmaus road alone.

Someone has pointed out that this passage from Luke mirrors the pattern of the Sunday worship service. Believers coming together in brokenness, seeking God’s presence, hearing God’s word, sharing bread and cup at the Lord’s table encountering the risen Christ, then leaving the sanctuary to “hit the road” as witnesses to God’s love and grace.

I pray that will be true for us this morning and that we will leave this place with our hope and faith in Christ Jesus restored and renewed