For us the events of Easter are a distant memory. We are two Sunday’s removed from the day when we proclaimed that Christ is Risen! However, our gospel lesson is situated in the hours after the disciple discovered the empty tomb. For them the death of Jesus is still very real and they are attempting to reconcile what has happened over the past few days. Today we join two of those disciples as they walk towards Emmaus.
The Walk to Emmaus
Text: Luke 24: 13-35
This morning we are dealing with a journey undertaken by two disciples. It’s a long walk, seven miles we are told from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Now, I know that many of you are walkers. Many of you easily walk seven miles every day without a second thought. However, this walk is long for other reasons.
Now, the idea of walking is not new to the Christian way of life. Individuals have gone on pilgrimages for generations as a way of drawing closer to God and of shutting out the noise from society. On of the most popular pilgrimages today is the Camino de Santiago which runs from the south of France through to the north of Spain to the Atlantic Ocean.
We also find walking or pilgrimage in Christian writing. Eugene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society focuses on the idea of journeying. It is interesting to note that the book is entitled after the writing of Frederick Nietzsche, the Enlightenment thinker who declared that “God is dead, and we have killed him.” But Peterson draws in on the following statement from Nietzsche, “the essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is … that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run something which has made life worth living.” Peterson comments that “It is this ‘long obedience in the same direction’ which the mood of the world does so much to discourage.” Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 17.
The Christian life or following in the Way of Christ is a journey, a long one which can only go in one direction. Like those two disciples we are also on a journey. Brian McLaren’s year long devotional is entitled, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. The idea that we are on a journey is deeply embedded in the history of our faith, it is a rich part of our tradition.
The Christian faith is not a one stop shop for redemption. We don’t just stop in to receive our salvation and then move on. We don’t flash a shiny membership badge and then say we’re alright. The truth is most of us, if not all of us, are anything but alright. We are all broken and struggling in our own ways. We all carry our own private burdens. They weigh us down, cause us to reflect and question. Sometimes they can cause us to doubt, to question God’s goodness.
The two disciples that day were walking to Emmaus with heavy hearts. They didn’t realize what we proclaim. They didn’t know Christ had risen, they were still questioning the account Mary had given them that morning. What they knew is that Jesus was dead and that his body was missing. That seven mile walk to Emmaus was a long walk that day as the despair over losing Jesus, who they believed to be the Messiah, was taking a toll on them. They were depressed, anxious, full of doubt and questioning how God was at work.
NT Wright describes this passage as follows, “It is both a wonderful, unique, spellbinding tale, and also a model for a great deal of what being a Christian, from that day to this, is all about. The slow, sad dismay at the failure of human hopes; the turning to someone who might or might not help; the discover that in scripture, all unexpected, there lay keys which might unlock the central mysteries and enable us to find the truth; the sudden realization of Jesus himself, present with us, warming our hearts with his truth, showing us himself as bread is broken” (NT Wright, Luke for Everyone, p. 293).
This is the process those two disciples go through. They begin in despair and finish with a sense of joy and elation. But those moments of despair are very real. As they journey to Emmaus they are mourning a very real death. The death of Jesus is still weighing heavily on their hearts. One of the difficulties we have as Christians today is that on Easter Sunday we proclaim Christ is Risen! Yet, in the following weeks we encounter the disciples in the hours and days after Jesus death. We have a tough time getting our heads around the story and the world we live in does us no favours. The 24 hour news cycle, the demand for instant gratification. We have lost the ability to journey, we have disconnected ourselves from the need to take the time to process events. We don’t walk for the sake of walking, we don’t sit and wait for the sheer joy of the waiting. We are far too interested in being busy, for the sake of not looking like we have nothing to do.
It is often during that time of waiting, when we are able to rest our minds and put our bodies at ease that we can have our greatest moments of productivity. Not productivity in the sense of I produced 100 widgets at work today. But when we rest, that is when we are able to work on ourselves best. I do my best thinking when I walk, or when I lay my head down and relax. It hasn’t happened yet, but one day someone is going to come in to the church to see me and I’m going to be laid out on the couch in my study. It might look like I’m sleeping, but I’m not. I’m processing, I’m considering what I’ve read and learned; how it makes sense; how it is relevant for us today.
The time of quiet is redemptive and healing. On that day as those two disciples journey the seven miles to Emmaus, they had time for quiet conversation with one another. To lament and to figure out what would happen next. While on that walk they meet another traveler who seemingly is unaware of everything that has transpired. Cleopas is exasperated, under what rock have you been living is what he essentially asks Jesus.
Then Jesus does an extraordinary thing. Jesus begins to fill in the details. You know how you’ll be working on a problem or you’ll just be out for a walk and then something ‘clicks’ and things just seem to make sense. You’ve come to a new level of understanding, well that is what Jesus does with those two disciples. He fills in the gaps of their understanding, but it can’t be done in an instant. It requires the journey.
Commentator Robert Hoch describes it as follows, he writes, “Luke uses this setting, two disciples engrossed in a conversation while they walk, as one of the contexts for Jesus’ resurrection. Most often, we think of resurrection as the flash of God’s triumph over death dealing powers. And yet Luke gives us a different aspect of this resurrection event, which is less “flash” of light and more the gentle probing of our heart’s entanglements on the road to our next chapter.” (Working Preacher)
Nietzsche wrote, If God is Dead and if killed him, but this does not mean that God is dead. Only that we found the notion of a God who cares for us and who cares for creation to be troublesome. If God is dead, then what have we replaced God with? Consumerism and an overly heightened sense of self-worth. If God is dead, then what is that purpose for which we should strive, what should we pursue as a long obedience in the same direction? If God is dead then what makes life worth living and where do we find meaning?
That’s the role of the church, to help people find meaning in their lives through the revelation of Jesus Christ, because the only thing the world is interested in sharing is how to keep us busy and distracted. And we all know how well that is going. By talking a long walk, we find meaning and we are encouraged to share that meaning.
If God is dead then what do we do during the long silent pauses of life? What happens when our modern consumerist society cannot provide answers to the questions which are before us? Those two disciples who made the walk to Emmaus were grieving the death of a friend and mentor. At that moment, the death of Jesus was very real. How do we respond we encounter a death that is just a real?
Whether it is the death of a family member or friend. The death of a job. The death of justice. The death of civility. The death of choice. The death of truth. (Working Preacher)
All very real deaths. The world we live in, the society we are all a part of is not good at dealing with death and a whole host of other issues. To the wider world these issues and others are the elephant in the room that no one knows how to or wants to deal with.
Augustine of Hippo, who lived in the 4th Century wrote, “The teacher was walking with them along the way and he himself was the way.” That same teacher is walking with us today. Jesus walks with us on both dark and light days. He journeys with us as we travel to our own version of Emmaus. He shares our burdens.
We say that Christ came to forgive our sins. But today more and more I believe we can look at the death and resurrection of Jesus and we can proclaim another truth. Never again. God died to violence to shock us, to let us know it wasn’t ok. That a path of nonviolence was the one we should take. Never again.
We follow in the Way of Jesus Christ because that is the purpose for which we should strive. We journey to Emmaus because someone needs to walk with the broken hearted, the lonely, the hungry and the individuals that this world casts aside. As we journey with one another, as we journey together the pieces are filled in. Meaning is found and we realize the truth that God is with us, just as Jesus was with those two disciples who walked to Emmaus. Amen.