May 4, 2014
It is hard to understand how two faithful disciples of Jesus could have traveled with him, side by side, without recognizing him. Maybe disappointment blinded their eyes and their hearts to the truth. In Jerusalem, they had learned the devastating news about Jesus’ death. Despite having heard about the women and other disciples reporting that Jesus was still alive, they continued to focus on his death. They had hoped he was the one to bring redemption to the oppressed and subjugated people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend concluded that he was not the one. They did not understand how he could be alive or how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them it was still Good Friday, and they left for home.
But their experience along the road and at dinner in Emmaus changed their disappointment to joy and hope. When the disciples heard Jesus blessing the bread for the meal and saw him break it and give it to them, they suddenly began to understand. They recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days. And they remembered how they had begun to gain new insight on the road, when Jesus had recalled for them the great stories of Israel’s past and compared them with himself. These actions provided a telling insight into the reality they had missed.
Though Jesus disappeared from them, they now knew they had experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus. The context of living out their disappointments while somehow remaining open to what seemed impossible, allowed them to discover for themselves that what the women at the tomb had witnessed was true after all.
St. Luke’s story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus is very instructive for us. Like the disciples in this account, we, too, can miss the resurrected Jesus in our midst. But also like them, we can use our experience in recalling the deeper truths of scripture to transform our lives.
Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and place them in the extraordinary context of Jesus, our Christ. And we recall his powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction for having a fulfilled life.
For us, in so recalling, we are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. In so recalling, we are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. Such experience is a kind of reverse post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead of trauma, though, we recall and relive the most glorious reality of knowing the resurrected Jesus and feeling that we are as much in the presence of God as were the disciples of old.
In worship, we experience both examples from today’s gospel account of reliving the resurrected Jesus. Both are critically important – word and sacrament – as we recall who and what we are as followers of Christ no less than the two men on the road to Emmaus. The church recognizes this in setting the Holy Eucharist into two equal parts in the prayer book: “The Word of God” and “The Holy Communion.” The font size for each of those two titles is the same in the Book of Common Prayer, revealing the fact that each is equally important and equally necessary for our spiritual health. We hear the scriptures and experience them interpreted for us. This sets a specific, weekly context for the communion in which we recall Jesus instituting the special meal, meant for each of us.
With the word of God still resonating in our minds, drawing out the meaningful contexts of our lives, we reach the altar rail and literally experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. Everything is as it should be as we recall in peace the moment that expresses all the values of God.
This experience regularly re-empowers us to walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play. On our journeys of faith, we find truth in action, in living out the daily reality of re-calling Jesus to our presence.
Again and again, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and go to where the re-birthed action lies. The resurrected Jesus can show us that the forces of evil and destruction will not prevail against the power of love.
Again and again, we recall that we are the body of Christ – and so in our lives, in our actions and in our words, we can reach others, helping them understand the presence of the resurrected Jesus. As Jesus did with the bread and wine, making it his body and blood, God in our midst empowers us to discover in the ordinary what is truly holy.
The encounter of two disciples with the resurrected Jesus came in the commonest, most familiar of ways. They came to know him walking and talking on a road, and sitting down with him to eat and pray. We encounter him, too, in common, familiar ways. The resurrected Jesus is with us, available to us, within us – always, as we live our daily lives.
When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion? Can we open our hearts and our minds, the action of our lives; to the challenge of the resurrected Jesus in order to live out in our time what he lived and died to prove? Can we open ourselves to the possibility of using the life-giving force of renewal and newness – or will we just wonder what has upset us so?
When we encounter the resurrected Jesus in our midst, will we respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus? Will we respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to meet the world head on, ready to face the risk and change that his presence allows? Or will we do nothing and just add to the heap of escapism and apathy and negativity that characterize what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?
The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. Can we become like them? Will our hearts, too, burn with the desire to use the power of the resurrected Jesus? Will we use this burning as a light to recognize that God loves us? Will we use this burning to empower us to reveal God’s love to others, continuing his ministry through our acts of compassion and caring to help heal a broken world?
— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.