Sometimes we find ourselves spending time with a stranger. Perhaps we are sitting next to a person that we don't know on a plane or a train, or we are both in a waiting area at a doctor's office or a hospital. In that space, we begin to talk and share our lives in a way we might not do otherwise. We find a freedom to express our hurts to a new acquaintance.
Our Gospel reading is such a situation. Two friends are heading home to Emmaus, a village probably a 2 hour walk from Jerusalem. A third person joins them and they tell him their deepest sorrow. The events of the past weekend have been so upsetting. Jesus has died on Friday, and their hearts are broken because his life is over. It appears their dreams are gone too. The stranger listens and then shares what he believes about how God is working wondrously in spite of the world's history and heartaches.
When the two travelers arrive home, they offer hospitality and invite their traveling companion to join them for the evening which he accepts. At the dinner table, when the stranger blesses and breaks the bread, they see him in a new way: they discover it is Christ who has walked with them for those hours on the road!
This is a very intriguing story, full of mystery and wonder. Their conversation on the road centers all upon Jesus, and yet they do not recognize that he is right there with them.
What keeps us from recognizing God's presence? We can also talk about our beliefs of Jesus and yet be so focused on the challenges and problems of our lives that we cannot see anything else. This story reminds us that in spite of our worries , God is present and truly cares for us.
This is a prayer that I read in a recent devotional and it speaks of this lack of vision:
“Forgive us when we see all the things in life that bring us to discouragement, but we don't see that you are the one with us providing us hope.”
As the disciples traveled home to Emmaus, they were startled by Christ's presence.
Christ does come in unexpected ways in our daily lives,surprising us even in times of grief and disappointment.
Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote about a couple in his church, George and Vicki.
It was the one year anniversary of when their son Travis ( a college student) had died in a car accident. The morning of the anniversary when they got up, they found that on their porch were dozens of red geraniums with notes of hope brought by caring friends, and neighbors, and by people they didn't know.
This was their reaction to those gifts : “We felt God's love and the hope of the resurrection through our friends and neighbors who remembered our son's death and showered us with love.” It can give us joy to review our days and in retrospect,see where God has been greatly present.
Christ is not limited by space or time or by our expectations. Imagine all the ways that God is traveling with us even though we are not aware.
Christ's love can also be conveyed by a stranger. Pastor Betty Meadows took a break from her Presbyterian pastorate and worked for three months as a waitress at a Waffle House. In the midst of the eggs and grits, she discovered that “the risen Christ showed up every day.”
Over and over, she saw where kindness was shown, and compassion was extended usually between strangers. On a summer holiday weekend, a family from out of state had their van break down in the parking lot. No nearby garage was open. One of the waitresses called her boy friend ( who was a mechanic) and he came and fixed the van. Only payment he required was a cup of coffee. Pastor Betty saw the living Christ in the face of the mechanic. In our interactions with those we don't know, we may also become aware of God's mercy.
From this Emmaus story, we see that Christ comes especially in the breaking of the bread. When Jesus fed many people on the the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and when he fed his disciples at their last supper, he did these simple things: he took the bread, he blessed it, he broke it and he shared it with all of them. Those were his actions that night sitting at the table in Emmaus. Today, he meets us at the table, and together we recognize his love for us through this powerful means of grace.
Sarah Miles had no Christian background or religious connections. She had no need for God. At the age of 46, on a whim she walked into a church on a Sunday morning and when invited to come to Communion, she went to the table. Her life was drastically changed by that action. (She shares her story in the book: “Take this Bread” ) She said her being was stirred by the One whose name she had only used before when swearing. After Communion she felt drawn to Jesus, drawn to receiving the bread of life and drawn to all the other people around the table. She cannot truly explain what happened to her but she met the living Lord at his feast. Her life was redirected.
She realized her own spiritual hunger, and knew that there were many others in need. Many people who needed groceries, who needed care, who needed to find a place in this church. Over time, she began a food pantry at the church which now feeds hundreds of people a week. We are changed by being with Jesus ,by his presence.
The Emmaus story does not end at the table. The two travelers hurried back to Jerusalem to share their good news that Jesus was alive. Their hearts had been warmed and they wanted to encourage the hearts of all those who were still grieving.
Walking on the road to Emmaus will eventually lead us back to Jerusalem, back to those who desperately need to hear words of hope.
Our eyes go from being closed to being open.
Our eyes are opened not only to the new life offered to us, but our eyes are opened to the hurts around us and the love that we might offer.
If you have been nourished by grace, if you have been put back together by love, God calls you to do that for someone else.
May you find the living Lord on Main St. ( even in the midst of the construction!), on High St., on Memorial Drive, on your road, in the face of your neighbor, and most of all within your own heart.