On the Road
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
April 23, 2023
Main Idea – Jesus walks with us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today on the third Sunday of Easter we are still exploring stories from that first extraordinary day when Christ was risen, defeating evil and death. On Easter Day we heard Matthew’s account of the Resurrection and Jesus’ first risen appearance to the women. Last week we heard John’s account of Easter evening and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. Today we have Luke’s account. In Luke’s telling, Jesus does not first appear at the tomb to Mary, or to the other women, or to Peter and the disciples. In Luke, Jesus first appears on a road outside Jerusalem, to two people not mentioned anywhere else. He walks along with them, listening to their stories of grief and disappointment, completely unrecognized. Jesus walks with us, whether we recognize him or not.
On that day, long ago, two people walked away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus, a village whose location is now lost to history. Luke tells us that it is 7 miles from Jerusalem but where exactly is unknown. These two walked away from their community, their hopes and dreams, their understanding of what was important and was possible. They had been true believers! They had listened to Jesus, and they had worked for Jesus, and they had been certain that Jesus was the Messiah who would free them and all of their people. The most poignant verse of the whole story is “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21a). After all they had been through, their hope was now gone. They were grieving the death of their friend, they were exhausted from the tumult of the days leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and they were confused by the outrageous stories told by the women of empty tombs and visions of angels.
So as they walked, they talked together trying to process all this and make sense out of all that had happened.
They are so deep in their conversation that they don’t even notice when Jesus starts walking with them. They are startled when he asks them a question. “They stood still, looking sad.” They were so wrapped up in all that had happened that they couldn’t imagine anyone not knowing it. What they don’t realize, is that with his questions, Jesus has invited them to tell their story.
They tell this stranger everything – their grief, their loss of hope, their incredulousness about the women’s stories of an empty tomb, and the Stranger tells their story back to them, connecting it to Scripture and reminding them of Jesus’ teaching that the Messiah would suffer before entering into glory. They begin to feel a bit better but they still do not recognize him.
They continue to walk along the road and when they get near Emmaus, the stranger walks ahead as if to leave them. The two invite him to stay in Emmaus since the day was almost over and it would soon be night. This act of hospitality helps them to turn from their inward focus. But it is not until they share a meal, when Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to them, that they finally recognize their teacher, and Savior, and friend. And then he disappears! This recognition jolts them out of their self-focused ennui and they race back to Jerusalem to share what they have learned with the rest of their community. [Jesus reappears when they get back to Jerusalem and share their experience.]
This story leads us to think about when and where and how we can recognize Jesus in our lives. It affirms that Jesus walks with us whether we recognize him or not.
When we are grieving, like these two were, we turn inward. We are overwhelmed and we have no energy to see beyond our grief. We say “We had hoped…” about many things. Jesus walks with us in these times. He quietly accompanies us, caring for us and sustaining us, until we are able to perceive life beyond our grief.
When we are tired, or afraid, or simply burdened by the obligations of our overextended lives, we turn inward. We become short sighted, wedded to our own point of view with no energy or desire to reach out beyond ourselves. Jesus walks with us in these times. He encourages us, cajoles us even, saying affectionately, as he said to the two, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” until we are able to open our hearts and minds to other people and other points of view.
And let’s notice that Jesus comes to these two on a little road to a little village now lost to history. He does not show up on the steps of the temple of Jerusalem or at Pilate’s palace. Just like in Luke’s Christmas story, Jesus comes to nobodies, in an out of the way place. We would love it if Jesus came with flashing lights and a big sign saying “Here I am!”, bursting onto the world stage for all to see. That would be convenient, yes? But that is not how Jesus works. Jesus comes from unexpected quarters, as a stranger, at first unnoticed, and he lifts up and honors those whom society tends to overlook or discount.
And let’s also notice that Jesus was going to keep on walking if the two had not invited him to stay with them. Jesus comes to us quietly, and invites us to invite him in. There is no pressure or any coercion. We are given the freedom to welcome him or not. But when we do recognize him and welcome him our life can be transformed. Our hearts are warmed, our day is brightened, our spirits are renewed, our understanding is expanded, and we are given power to reach beyond ourselves to share Christ’s love and welcome with others.
So, as we go about our day, how are we to recognize Jesus with us? Last week, Shay and I were looking for a long black skirt and a scarf to wear for Shay’s Indian dance class. I looked online for an Indian clothing shop near me and was directed to Deepa’s Clothing Store in Winooski. When we got to the address, we saw a small sign for Deepa’s in the window of Sagarmatha Grocery Store. The store was full of grocery items but no clothes, so I asked the Nepali woman behind the counter if she knew of another store where we might find an Indian or Nepali skirt. She looked at me and looked at Shay and considered for a moment. Then she said, “Follow me.” We wound our way through the market and down narrow cellar stairs to a big storage room full of clothing. She immediately picked out a black skirt that was perfect for Shay and when I said that we were also looking for a scarf, she picked out a black and gold beauty. She handed it to Shay, saying, “This is a gift for you.”. Like the two on the road to Emmaus, our hearts were burning that morning as love and acceptance was shared with us by an unexpected person.
As we move through this Easter season, may we know that Jesus walks with us, all the time, whether we recognize him or not, supporting us, encouraging us, cajoling us to look for him in the stranger and in the unexpected encounter. May we pay attention to those in our lives who welcome us and feed us and may we welcome and care for others, sharing Christ as we travel through our day.
Let us pray,
Companion Lord, we are grateful to travel this life with you by our side. Empower us to recognize your presence in our lives and in those around us. May we share your love through our welcome and service to others. Amen.