Roadmaps: The Road to Emmaus
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church over the Internet.
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Before the talk, the story of the disciples meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus was read from Luke 24:13–35, using the Contemporary English Version.
Moira, thank you for that reading from Luke 24. It’s often a very traditional reading that we have on the week after Easter, the road to Emmaus, or perhaps we could say a new roadmap. The government has, again, this week been talking about a roadmap out of the pandemic, and you’ll no doubt know that tomorrow shops can reopen. Pubs and cafes can start selling food and drinks outdoors and we can finally get our haircuts, yay.
The government has decided that its four tests have been met and that it is safe to have elements of society to begin reopening after a very arduous and extremely sad winter.
Although it was really lovely to see about 20 people back in the church building last week, as we cautiously begin to reopen our own buildings, I’m very much aware that we will take time and take things slowly. We won’t assume that anybody will be rushing back for quite some time. This doesn’t mean that once we’re back, we’ll go right back to how things were. We recognize that the world has changed. That some folk won’t want to do what they’ve done before. There’s a sense that we have to make our own roadmap to get back on track, so to speak.
Speaking of tracks and roads, have you ever been driving somewhere and you’re so much on autopilot that even if you plan to go to a specific space or place, your internal roadmap takes you somewhere else? Happened to me the other day. I was driving to take something to someone, and it was along a similar route to how I drive home. It wasn’t until I was almost back on my drive that I remembered that I needed to take that detour. It’s similar to how sometimes you get back onto your driveway and then think to yourself, “How on earth did I get here? The last thing I remember was sitting at the traffic lights at the Bear’s Paw “
When your mind is distracted, it’s quite amazing how you go on to autopilot, dangerous though this might be. Maybe that’s how it was for the two disciples as they walked a well-worn road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They were lost in their confusion over the recent events about the crucifixion of Jesus and talking about their own experiences, and didn’t notice the route that they were going because they knew the road. They were self-absorbed in the fogginess of their minds.
They didn’t recognize Jesus until much, much later. Today’s message is very much based in the teachings of Father Michael Marsh, an Episcopal or Anglican priest. I found his words refreshing and helpful as we reflect upon recent events of our own loss, and of returning, of looking at the past, and looking towards the future. In the fogginess of our minds, I trust that we will be encouraged as we look afresh at the road to Emmaus, because this story, this account raises many questions and invites reflection. It’s a roadmap by which we orientate and find ourselves.
It reveals the crossroads of Jesus’ life and our lives. It begs to be recognized as the story of our lives. It’s a story with which we are very familiar. At its simplest, it’s a story of shattering and restoration. Each one of us has been shattered at one time or another. Sometime in each of our lives, we have been restored. Each of us has been in that place somewhere between the shattering and restoration. Within this story is a template that describes the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and then back.
It’s a journey that Cleopas and his companion take, and it’s a journey that each of us has taken, is taking, or will take. We’ve all been on a similar journey. Of course, I’m not talking about Jerusalem and Emmaus as particular geographical locations, but they are as Michael Marsh states, “Portals into a greater self-awareness and apertures through which we see a greater fullness of God, ourselves, each other, and the world.” It is as if there’s a Jerusalem within us and an Emmaus within us, and both get enacted in our lives.
For example, when we share communion, we are reminded of the same sort of enactment. Not only eating and drinking to remember Jesus, but something deeper that unites us to Jesus and to one another. That’s the sort of thing that we’ll be talking about today. Not just the story of the friends on the road to Emmaus, but a suggestion of what that whole account can mean to us as we move on, as we follow a roadmap out of lockdown and into the mystery of what might come next. It’s Easter morning or Easter evening, and the two disciples are leaving Jerusalem. Who can blame them?
Jerusalem is a place of pain and sorrow and loss. It’s a place of death. It’s a place of unmet expectations and disappointment. It’s a place where their lives have been shattered. No one wants to stay in that place. As they walk, they’re talking about the things that have happened and I suspect, all the things that didn’t happen. They’re talking about what happened to Jesus. His arrest, his torture, his crucifixion, and his death. They’re talking about hope that didn’t materialize and expectations that were unmet. They’re disappointed and they’re sad.
They’d hoped Jesus was the one but now that it couldn’t be. There’s a part of them that has been lost, the part of them that died with Jesus. They’d heard rumours that he was alive, but it all sounded like, to quote Luke 24, “An idle tale.” There was nothing to keep them in Jerusalem. Their lives had been shattered. I’ve no idea why they chose to go to Emmaus, but I’m sure I’ve known times when I just wanted to get away. Anywhere was better than where I was. For Cleopas and co, anywhere would be better than Jerusalem. Maybe you’ve known that sense too.
“Emmaus,” says Michael Marsh, “can stand for our escape from life or so we think.” What we don’t know at the time and what Cleopas and his companion didn’t know, is that it’s also the way back to life. That realization happened for the disciples, as it does for us, in the breaking of the bread. It wasn’t an escape from life that took them to Emmaus, rather a hunger for life. It wasn’t brokenness that took them to Emmaus but a hunger for wholeness. It wasn’t a shattering that took them to Emmaus but a hunger for restoration.
Hunger is more than physical. It can be spiritual and emotional. We are by nature hungry. We hunger for life and for love and for wholeness and for community and for meaning and for purpose. So many times over the last couple of years, as a fellowship we have talked about the word shalom. We’re hungry for wholeness in all its forms to make us fully human and the best versions of who we’re designed to be. That hunger is surely the reason they strongly urged Jesus to stay with them. Jesus would not only stay, He would feed them.
The guest that they invited to their table would become their host. So as we read in Luke, when Jesus was at the table with them, He took bread and He blessed and He broke it and He gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened. Then they recognized Him. They recognized Him as the one who they’d left for dead in Jerusalem. They recognized Him as the one who had accompanied them on the road to Emmaus. They recognized Him as the one they had hoped He would be. “Jesus wasn’t just giving them bread,” says Michael Marsh. He says, “He was giving them back themselves.”
This was their restoration. When Jesus broke the bread, something in them broke open. With that breaking open, their lives were being put back together, and so it is for us as well. We have had or are going through our lives when we’ve been broken in many ways that we can never imagine, when we couldn’t anticipate how or whether life would return to what it had been before.
Maybe even now, as we have that sense, as we begin to emerge from COVID, and there are still dangers, we’re not out of the woods. But dare we believe that we can live and travel and socialize and be together again? Despite how it feels, our brokenness is not an ending. The road to Emmaus is not an end in itself. There is more to it than we often see or know.
It’s not just brokenness or shattering. It’s breaking open to a new life, to new seeing, to new recognition, to community, welcome, hospitality and love. That is why sharing together, fellowship and communion is so important because it grounds us in our humanity. It reminds us of what is important in life, the commonality about what makes us human; to be social, to share life together around the table.
Jesus fed the disciples not just with bread, but with himself, with his body, his life, his love, his compassion, his strength, his forgiveness, his hope, with all that he is and all that he has. I wonder what it was like for them to receive all that he had to offer in those moments he shared with them, all the scriptures. I wonder what that meant.
Their life was being restored in their being broken open, but as soon as they saw and recognized Jesus, he vanished from their sight. I always thought that was a bit of an anticlimax. Where do we think he went? Was Jesus abandoning them again? Was he playing games with them? Now you see me, now you don’t. Was he undoing everything that just happened? No. He was no longer before them because he was now within them.
Jesus was the burning heart within them, and it had been there all along. Sometimes that burning is felt as brokenness, sometimes as hunger, or being broken open, and at other times as deep joy and gratitude, but always, it’s Jesus. Their response? Well, at that same hour, they got up and they returned to Jerusalem. They returned to the place from which they had to get away.
Jerusalem is not only the place of death, it’s the place of life. It’s not only a place of sorrow, it’s a place of joy. It’s not only a place of shattering, it’s a place of restoration. You can bet that the road from Emmaus didn’t take half as long on the return trip back to Jerusalem, going with such light hearts and exciting tidings.
Cleopas and his companion arrive with the news of their Emmaus experience only to hear that Jesus was alive. He’d been seen and was present in Jerusalem. “We leave Jerusalem,” says Michael Marsh, “in order to return to Jerusalem to face those deaths, and those losses, and those shattered lives.” In doing so, we discover that life awaits us. We return to reclaim ourselves, to recover the lost pieces of ourselves.
The city hasn’t changed, but we have. Shattered lives and broken bread and restored lives. Jerusalem, Emmaus, Jerusalem again. That seems to be the pattern. It’s never, however, as simple or easy as it sounds. It’s one thing to name that pattern, another to live it. It takes time and effort. It’s not easy, and it’s often painful. It means trusting that somehow the shards of our lives will become the pieces of a new life, a new seeing, a new way of living.
So what? A few questions to ponder as we close. Where do you see this pattern in your life? Are you leaving Jerusalem? Are you in Emmaus? Perhaps you’re on the way. Maybe you’re returning. What are you running from today? What’s your deepest hunger? What are you running towards? How do you imagine the lives of those two disciples to now be different? What today in your life is being broken open? What in you or your present circumstances is being or needs to be restored, to be put back together? What about us as a fellowship, as we face the unknown future together? How do you feel?
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. In many ways, there’s only your answer, your experience. Whatever your answers may be, they describe the crossroads of Jesus’ life and your life. The shattering, the breaking open, and restoring, are all places of that intersection. They were for the two disciples in today’s reading, and they are for us as well.
Jesus was in Jerusalem before Cleopas and his companion ever left. He was with them on the road to Emmaus. He was in the breaking of the bread, and he was already in Jerusalem when they returned. All the roads we walk are paths where Jesus may meet us. All the times and the places where we break bread with a friend or a stranger may be sacred times and holy places. Let’s keep our eyes open, our hearts willing to listen. Jesus is here and he walks with us.
References and sources
Fr Michael Marsh, Life Shattered, Life Restored, A Sermon on Luke 24:13–35, 2017.
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Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.