Emmaus Journeys; Or There and Back Again

 I wrote this for a talk I gave at Renovatus, Eagle Rock, California, January 20, 2012

Have you ever been on a terrible trip? One you didn’t want to have to make? Or one that you thought you wanted to go on but ended up awful? Maybe you had to attend an event that you weren’t so excited about attending, or maybe you had mixed feelings because someone you weren’t very happy about traveling with a specific person?

I’ve been on many journeys in my life, but I haven’t really had a terrible trip. I’ve had some travel mishaps—such as getting stuck in New York City because of a freak storm and getting hopelessly lost in Siena, Italy, with my family. But I can’t recall a really terrible trip.

But tonight we’re going to talk about a trip that started off terribly. If you want to read along, the story is found in Luke 24, starting with verse 13.

“And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”

Many of us are familiar with this story, but maybe we haven’t talked about it for a while. So let’s get the background on this story. When the writer says, “that very day,” what day is he talking about? Right. “That very day” means the day of the empty tomb, Easter Sunday. Jesus died on Friday and was quickly put into Joseph’s tomb. By the time our story takes place, Easter morning has already happened. So our characters are excited, right? They’re running home to tell their friends and families that Jesus is alive, right? No? Why not? Because, unfortunately, the Easter story has just managed to confuse them even more.

So that’s how our story starts out. Two of Jesus’ disciples, not the “famous” ones, just some people, were going to the village of Emmaus, about seven or eight miles from Jerusalem. Interestingly, this story is the only place in the Bible that mentions the town of Emmaus. Today, if you visit the Holy Land, you will find that there are at least three towns that claim to be this historical place. So we don’t actually know where it was. What we do know is that this is a story that we can learn a lot from. 

So these two were walking and talking and thinking and musing and mourning and trying to figure stuff out. One of the disciples was named Cleopas, and we don’t even know the other person’s name. Some scholars have speculated that the other person was Cleopas’ wife, or maybe that the companion was Luke himself. In any case, what makes this story pretty great is that it starts out quite ordinary. A couple of people that we don’t know a whole lot about have suffered a tragedy and are talking together. They’re not celebrities, there’s no dramatic music on the soundtrack, there’s no wind machine blowing. It’s just a pair of companions walking along.

 And in the middle of this, Jesus appears. Isn’t that how it often is? In our lives, Jesus often appears in the midst of the ordinary. Those of you who come to Renovatus regularly know that this is one of my favorite themes – finding God in the ordinary, but I think it’s one that we all too often forget. The omnipotent, omniscient, creator God doesn’t always come with thunderbolts and herald trumpets. Sometimes – often – God appears in the ordinary.

I’ve been reading – very slowly because I’m supposed to be reading other things – the autobiography of famed French chef Jacques Pepin. Chef Pepin had spent much of his adult life cooking in the finest restaurants in France. He also served as the head chef to many important dignitaries, including Charles De Gaulle. In the book, the chef tells of leaving France and coming to live in America. He befriends the adult sons of his boss, and one day they invite him to spend the day at the beach. At around midday, his hosts pulled out the sandwiches that they had made and at them – standing up! Having made his living in some of the best restaurants in France, Jacques declined the offer of a sandwich, not wanting to spoil his lunch. He spent the next several very hungry hours regretting the fact that he hadn’t realized that the sandwiches *were* lunch.

 But aren’t we like that sometimes? We are so full of our own expectations that we sometimes miss the best parts of life, even the parts that we are hungry for.

Back to our story. So Jesus shows up, just starts walking along next to these guys—let’s call them guys, even though one of them might have been a woman—and doesn’t say anything for a while. If you think about it, what Jesus did right here was pretty extraordinary, because he knew the whole story. Jesus could have jumped right into that conversation. He could have said, “Wait, didn’t you guys listen to the women’s story this morning? And on top of that, didn’t you even listen to ME?” But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus walks beside the disciples and listens.

Isn’t this a great example for all of us? Sometimes we are called to be companions. Not scolders, not fixers, not know-it-alls. Just companions who listen and walk beside those on our collective journey. It’s something to think about.

 But we haven’t even gotten really deep into the story yet. Let’s go back to verse 15.
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”

I’ll have to admit that this part of the story kind-of confuses me. Because the Bible doesn’t say, “They didn’t recognize him.” Instead, it says, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” Am I the only one who thinks this is a strange choice of words? This lack of recognition is not unique to the Emmaus story. When Mary met Jesus at the tomb, she did not recognize him either. And neither did the disciples who were fishing when they saw Jesus on the beach.

What about you? Would you recognize the face of the risen Lord if he showed up at your job next week? What if he came and sat next to you at Renovatus? What if he was at the freeway off ramp when you were driving to the mall or interrupted your dinner by knocking at your door and asking to do some yardwork? Would you recognize him? Would I?

So then I started wondering, what exactly was preventing these disciples from recognizing who Jesus was? Was it the sheer grief of their loss? Was it because they weren’t expecting to see Jesus, considering that he had died two days earlier? Was it because they were expecting a different sort of savior than the one they got? Was it because although they were disciples, they really didn’t know Jesus all that well? Perhaps it was some combination of all of these. It’s hard to know.

But here’s an even harder question. What is it that keeps us from recognizing Christ in our lives? Grief? Loneliness? Laziness? Busy-ness? Facebook? Is it because we haven’t bothered to get to know who Christ is?

Once upon a time there was a little boy who decided to go look for God. He packed a lunch, was sure to wear a jacket, and kissed his mother good-bye. “I’m going to look for God,” he told her and was on his way. Because he was just a little boy, he got as far as the neighborhood park before he got tired and hungry. He sat down to rest on a bench next to an elderly woman. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. After about an hour, the boy waved good-bye to the old woman and said he was going home.When the boy got home he announced to his mother, “I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile!” At the same moment that the boy was saying this, the elderly lady was at her own home, saying to her son, “I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!”

Can we recognize God in those around us? Sometimes God is easy to recognize, such as in the person who stops to change your flat tire on the freeway or your parent who makes you dinner or the stranger who offers you a Twinkie. But what if God is in your incompetent boss or that friend who needs just a little too much attention or the person who always wants to talk to you on the elevator. What is keeping you—and me—from recognizing God?

So along the road to Emmaus, Jesus becomes a companion to Cleopas and his friend and he asks them why they look so sad. And then in true Jewish fashion, they tell a story. You gotta love the writer Luke. He is a real scientist. When he tells a story, he doesn’t leave anything out. So in the part of the story when you or I might say, “So Cleopas and his friend told Jesus everything that had happened over the last week,” especially since we just read everything that had happened over the last week in the previous chapters of the book, Luke retells the story. And we kind-of roll our eyes and say, “typical scientist,” but I think it’s a good reminder to us that the story of Jesus is what’s important. Luke didn’t gloss over the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection, because maybe Luke thought that it was something that should never be glossed over. Luke said, “Yeah, I know I just told you this story, but, hey, let’s tell it again. Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”

And after the story, Jesus connects it to the teachings from the Old Testament prophets. This is actually how Biblical rabbis taught (and possible still teach today). They started with the teachings of the prophets and then put a new spin on them, making connections between the listeners’ lives and what they knew from the scriptures. So that’s exactly what Jesus did. It was a method of teaching that the disciples would have been very familiar with and could easily understand. And as they walked along, Cleopas and his friend began to understand what had previously been so confusing. And they started to feel better, because they were finally putting all of the puzzle pieces together.

So they invited their still-unknown companion to have dinner with them. It was partly hospitality and partly their not wanting the conversation to end. Now this is the part of the story where it gets a little spooky. Up until this point, the story has been, as I mentioned before, been quite ordinary. If the book of Luke were a movie, the incident on the road to Emmaus would have been included by the filmmaker to give the audience an emotional break from the dramatic scenes of the crucifixion and resurrection. Not really advancing the plot very much, and something that could possibly end up on the cutting room floor. But then something extraordinary happens.

The three of them sat down to eat, and Jesus gave the blessing and broke the bread. This is a little out of the ordinary, because the guest usually doesn’t take the lead at the dinner table. I suspect that it’s the same thing that happens at our extended family dinners, when the one pastor in the family always has to say the blessing, no matter how many other capable people there are in the room. By allowing Jesus to give the blessing and break the break, the two were acknowledging that Jesus was a rabbi – a teacher. But it was only in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and his companion recognized exactly who Jesus was. And then—poof!—Jesus disappeared! I think that’s kind-of spooky. Do you?

But what I want to focus on is why the disciples, after everything that had just happened, finally recognized Jesus when he broke the bread. It was because as Jesus broke the bread, they looked at his hands and saw the nail prints in his hands. Cleopas and his companion needed to see the nail prints to know who Jesus was. Do you remember someone else who needed to see the nail prints? Sometimes we give the apostle Thomas a hard time, because he needed physical proof of Jesus’ resurrection. But these disciples, although they did not declare publicly that they required proof, obviously needed to see those nail prints as well. So I think we should give Thomas and the other disciples a break. I’m not sure that we wouldn’t require the same.

But when they did recognize him, it was one of those, *sigh*, why didn’t we know this earlier? Obviously! “Didn’t our hearts burn when we were on the road?” I love that phrasing. They knew because their hearts were burning with the joy of knowing who Jesus was. Their hearts recognized Jesus long before their minds did.

But once they did recognize Jesus with their minds, what did these disciples do? They had to tell someone. Imagine the difference between the walk to Emmaus and the walk – probably a run - *from* Emmaus. In that split second, their sorrow turned into joy, and the seven or eight miles to Jerusalem were no distance at all. Because when you recognize Christ Jesus in your life, you can’t help but tell people about him.

Sometimes we feel as if we *have to * witness or that we *should* be sharing Christ with people we know. And we should. And if you’re not great at witnessing, I’m all for pushing your comfort boundaries when it comes to talking about Christ. But for the most part, we should be telling people about Jesus’ influence in our lives not out of obligation but because it’s the only thing we can do. When we truly recognize Christ and his presence in both the extraordinary *and* the ordinary, what once felt like an obligation becomes something that is a part of who we are and who we have to be.

Have you ever been around one of your friends when he or she falls in love with someone? And all you hear about is how great this person is or what they did together or what they talked about? They post a million pictures on Facebook and suddenly the minutest things are brilliant? And why is your friend doing this? Because he or she is thinking, “Wow, I should talk about my boyfriend to everyone, because it’s the right thing to do.” Or, “I should tell my friends about my girlfriend, because that’s what people in love do.” Or, “Wow, I would really be letting the love of my life down if I didn’t tell people about him.” Right? Of course not. Your friend is sharing all of this with you because he or she can’t help it! The love inside is too much to keep to himself.

So instead of *working really hard* to become a good witness for Christ, maybe our goal should be to learn how to recognize Jesus in our everyday lives. And then the sharing part will come naturally, because we won’t be able not to!

I challenge you this week and for the rest of this year to try to find ways to recognize the presence of God in your lives. And then tell someone about it. Tell someone here at Renovatus or post it on our Renovatus Facebook page or email it to a friend. I want this place to be buzzing with the excitement of all of the stories we have to tell. I can’t wait to hear them.

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I write about whatever...life, education, diabetes, family, pets, church, God, and whatever else comes to mind.

    Some Things That Make Me Happy

    (1) learning
    (2) family
    (3) barney
    (4) food
    (5) school
    (6) music
    (7) adoption
    (8) Doctor Who
    (9) worship
    (10) baking
    (11) reading
    (12) Quantum Leap
    (13) chocolate Irish cream cheesecake
    (14) scrapbooking
    (15) cake decorating
    (16) Star Trek
    (17) Craig Ferguson
    (18) British TV
    (19) gooey butter cake
    (20) crunchy onions
    (21) traveling

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