“The Walk to Emmaus” is one of the most familiar and beautiful stories in the New Testament. What starts as a stroll with a stranger ends with a miracle affirming the Resurrection. To fully appreciate this lesson, let’s first get our bearings. Emmaus was a village about 7 miles southeast of Jerusalem. It was the site of Judah Maccabee’s triumph over the oppressors of the Jewish people… just the kind of military victory many had hoped Jesus would deliver. Significantly, archaeologists today can’t even find the ruins of Emmaus. It has vanished without a trace. This historical footnote tells us that the destination was not really significant. Emmaus has not endured. Its glory has vanished. It is the journey with Jesus that really counts. It is Christ’s returning as an enduring presence in the lives of believers that is the punch line of the story.
The walk to Emmaus takes us in so many spiritually rich, rewarding directions. Let’s explore a few. Older parishioners will remember their shock at the assassination of JFK. All of us remember the horror of 9/11. Many of us still grieve for the loss of a close friend or family member. Wrap up all that grief with a complete crushing of your faith, your hopes and dreams. And you get some sense of the mood on the road to Emmaus. Despair, defeat, dejection weighed them down. The last thing they expected to see was the risen Jesus. And so they didn’t see him.
Jesus never wastes our time with trivia in the gospel. The fact that he went unrecognized is a very, very significant lesson that resonates down the centuries. It tells us that Jesus is journeying with us today, even when we don’t recognize him. It tells us that if we don’t look for him, we won’t see him. At the breaking of the bread, Jesus suddenly called an end to the disciples’ pity party. He woke them to hope. He revealed himself as the risen conqueror of sin and death.
The story illustrates both the divine power and the loving nature of Jesus. In this gospel, the gloriously risen Savior does not intrude. He doesn’t come cartwheeling down the road and knock the disciples off their feet. He modestly joins them in conversation. They set the pace on the road they have chosen. He listens. He wants to know what is important to them. He obviously cares. He did then. He does now. He wants to hear from you today. Bring him your troubles. Give voice to your fears and frustration. What matters to you, matters to him. No issue, no concern is off limits. As we have learned over and over, in Christ we may not always get the answer we want, but we always get the answer we need.
Could this gospel be any clearer? The risen Christ is with us always… all through the day, in every one we meet. But too often, he goes unrecognized. He is only a Sunday presence at best… here for the breaking of the bread and then ignored in our self-absorption. That’s not God’s plan. We are meant to live in the risen Christ… continually, not spasmodically… actively, not abstractly.
Look around you. We are surrounded by cell phones, cable boxes, PCs, DVRs, remotes for everything. Most indicate their active status by a glowing red light. It tells us that the device is on. It’s active. It’s engaged. It’s ready to receive. Sometimes I wish our souls came with a little red light that tells us when it’s on, when we’re ready to receive. Jesus is in our midst constantly. He promises us: Behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. He’s here now; but too often, like the travelers to Emmaus, we just don’t see him. Our red light is off. To see Jesus, to recognize him, we need to be engaged. It’s not a painful or even a particularly difficult task. But it does take practice. It takes a daily, conscious effort to connect with Christ and to stay connected throughout the day, looking for opportunities to share his love.
The formula for this is simple. It’s called prayer. Part of it is spoken. But most of it is lived. Welcome in your day with Jesus. Give him your concerns and anxieties. Share your joy with him. Ask him to help work out your resentments and to forgive your lapses. Unlike even the most advanced electronic devices, the more you are turned on to Jesus, the more you are spiritually recharged… and the brighter your light shines.
It is not enough that we are alert to Christ in our midst. It is not enough that we recognize him. It is not even enough that we look for Christ in others. We must show the world that the risen Christ lives in us, too. We must actively witness his love. Our lives must be clear proof of the Resurrection.
Significantly, the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. For two-thousand years, the Eucharist has been our portal for communion with the risen Christ. In it we consume in microcosm the entire mystery of the redemption… the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. In it we are joined not in a metaphorical Body of Christ, but in a palpable presence. Jesus is with us. Jesus is in us.
What are we doing today to look for him, to see him, to recognize him… to welcome him? For many, these are the questions that define our lives. They are built reflexively into our day. For others they are unfamiliar, awkward, uncomfortable. But for all us there is one simple constant: Jesus is in our midst. What are we going to do about it? True to the Father and true to the promise he has made to us, we need only look for him. We need only engage. He is in our midst… in love, in peace, in power… only a prayer away.
I thank God for guiding me here to be with you today. As I look out on this parish family, as we join in worship and fellowship, I am reminded that none of us could have made it this far without that guiding, loving presence who appeared on the road to Emmaus. Wherever each of our life’s roads may lead from here… through twists and turns, potholes and detours…Guide us home, Lord. Walk with us. Show us the way. Alleluia. He is risen.