April 6, 2008

Eagle River Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Dianne O’Connell


Acts 2: 14a, 36-41

Luke 24:13-35

I Peter 1:17-23

On the Road Again

Good Morning. It is such a pleasure to be in your pulpit this morning.  It’s been quite a while, and I was very pleased when Piper called and invited me to be with you today. The biggest news in my life, I suppose, is that I officially retired this past winter. I don’t find myself less busy, but I do find that I have more time to do the things I enjoy – like visiting with you today.  But, while I was gainfully employed, I was “on the road” quite a bit – finding myself in new places and talking with new people.  This morning's lesson about the disciples on the Road to Emmaus has always spoken to me as a traveler along life’s journey.  It also helps me each year to answer the question, “Now that Easter has come and gone, what’ll I do now?”

Let’s see if I can explain.

Today's gospel lesson begins with the familiar story of the two disciples walking fromJerusalem to the nearby town ofEmmaus. It’s some time late in the afternoon on that first Easter. It’s been a confusing and terrifying week.  Easter morning wasn’t exactly “normal”, either.  Maybe we’d better go back a few pages and review the day with these gentlemen. 

Mary Magdalene and some other women went to Jesus’ tomb.  Now if what they reported it true, He wasn’t there! The women are convinced Jesus has risen from the dead.  They ran and told the other disciples what they had seen and what Jesus had said to them.  But how could that possibly be?  Grief.  Hysteria.  But certainly not reality.  The apostles simply did not believe them.  Peter went and checked out the story and was "amazed", but the rest of the disciples were left in their confusion and disbelief. Not at all unlike a good number of us.

So we find two of these confused and doubting men sadly walking to Emmaus, a small town outside ofJerusalem. A stranger comes up to the men as they walk and asks what they are talking about.

The one called Cleopas asks the stranger, "Are you the only person inJerusalem who doesn't know what has been going on for the last couple of days?" So they begin to fill the stranger in on all that had happened, and what they had hoped from the man Jesus.

The stranger chastised them a bit, reminding them that the prophets had said that the one who would be the Messiah would suffer many things before "entering into his glory". The stranger continued to recite and interpret Scripture as he walked with our men. 

When the three of them got closer to the village, the stranger was going to walk on and leave them. But the disciples invited him to have dinner with them in the village.  It was nearly evening; the stranger would need a place to stay. He agreed to join them.

During dinner, the stranger was treated as an honored guest. He was asked to give the blessing.  He reached for the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

BAM! They remembered. They remembered the night before their leader had been arrested. Jesus had done the same thing - spoke the same words. Telling them that when they broke bread again in this fashion, they should – or would -- remember him. And they did. They recognized their Risen Lord. At this point, the Risen Lord, the stranger, vanished from their midst.

Perhaps, for a moment, they sat quietly. As it all sank in, they jumped from the table, and ran the seven miles back toJerusalem – even though it was now dark out and the road could be dangerous. The news was too good to wait, they had to get back to their friends and tell them what had happened on the road, that they had seen Jesus, and that he had been "made known to them to them in the breaking of the bread."

Our minds whirl. What does it all mean? How could they not have recognized Him before? Why could they recognize Him after the breaking of the Bread? Is it still an "idle tale", or does the story have real meaning for us?

Some theologians suspect that Jesus was testing the disciples. It was a three-part test. First, would the disciples recognize Christ right off? No, they failed here. Second, would they recognize that he Jesus, as a stranger, would need food and shelter? Yes, they passed this test. And third, given this hint, would they finally recognize him? And yes, with a gentle reminder at table, they remembered and recognized their Lord.

Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century saw this story is "a moral lesson concerning hospitality." When we meet and greet the stranger in our midst, and offer our hospitality, we are serving and recognizing the Risen Lord. It's a familiar theme in the Old Testament where God or God's messengers come as strangers. It matters how we treat these strangers, and, perhaps, how open we are to the message they bring us.

This reminds me of a trip I made toChicago sometime back. I had a few hours before leaving for the airport to come home, so I went across the street from my hotel to do a little looking around and stopped in this little restaurant for a sandwich and cup of coffee. It was the kind of place where the waitress seats people wherever she can find an empty seat - so I found myself literally rubbing shoulders with this tiny, elderly woman sitting to my left. For a while, we both kept to ourselves and focused on our newspapers - she on hers and me on mine. Finally, I said to myself, "This is silly", and I turned to her and said "Hello, pretty day" or something like that.

We began to talk. And I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. She spoke of her children moving toSeattle and toMontana, and her remaining and living by herself inChicago. Finally after maybe 30 minutes of friendship - it was time to leave. I said, "By the way, my name is Dianne." She replied, "I'm Arlene."

I was shocked. "Arlene" was a woman who had been like a second mother to me when I was a child. I loved her deeply. She was now gone, but talking to this woman in Chicago was like having a message from heaven telling me that Arlene still cared about me. What if I hadn't put down that newspaper and said "Hello?"

            In another instance, I was checking into a hotel in another town in another place.  I began talking to the clerk. I told him that I liked his town and was thinking about retiring there.  It’s cold, you know, even inAnchorage.  I was thinking about pulling up stakes and moving South.

The young man looked at me aghast and said, "Well, not me. I'm quitting and moving toAlaska next week." WhyAlaska, I asked? And he responded, "Anyplace but here" - and then gave me a long list of the area's deficiencies.

As this young stranger kept talking, I began to wonder if the Lord was trying to tell me something. MaybeAlaska was the place for me, too. I’d been here 40 years andAlaska had always been good to me.  The Lord speaks in many ways and through many people and encounters. 

Yes, it is often the “stranger in our midst’ who brings the message.   Our story offers three additional ways to listen for the Lord’s message and will for our lives:

First:  Through the study of Scripture - which is what the men were doing as they listened to Jesus talk with them along the Road to Emmaus;

Second: Through the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (and the breaking of the    bread with both friends and strangers); and

Third: Through the fellowship of friends and the church (Easter morning, the women at the tomb could not keep their Good News to themselves.  It had to be shared.  By Easter evening, our two disciples have recognized Christ their Lord, and they too, jump up, and run twelve miles to share their experience with their friends.  Living a Christian life almost always involves living in community and caring for each member of that community.)

So the message I receive from the story today is that all our travels, our journeys along own Roads to Emmaus can be, and should be, an Adventure with God. God is with us; we just must recognize him or her, depending on the messenger.

Each year after the excitement of Holy Week and Easter, we pause for reflection and refreshment.  What should we do now?

First, take another look at that “stranger in our midst”.  Could we have missed something?  Should we be a bit more hospitable than we have been in the past – and just see what happens?

Second, maybe we can read our Bible with newly opened eyes, as well.    We walk this road year after year.  What is the Lord trying to tell us today that might be different from last year at this time?

Then there is the Eucharist.  What does communion mean to us?  Do we truly only commune with those who appear to be just like us in thought, word and deed – or should we reach out to the stranger, as well?  Who will we recognize in the breaking of the bread?

And lastly, it’s that community.  Sharing our stories and experiences with our friends, even strangers.  Where even two or three are gathered, so shall He be. 

Each year after Easter, we continue the journey.  The journey to deeper understanding of life around us; the journey to deeper understanding of just why we are on this road in the first place.  Yes, we're on the road again.  But we’re not on the road alone.  Christ is with us. Let’s engage Him in conversation.                              Amen.

Click to Return to Sermon Index