This story about the road to Emmaus is one of my favorites from scripture.
Two disciples are traveling to Emmaus, on the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead.
They are sad and confused, perhaps still in shock.
It’s like they are still stuck at the foot of the cross, stuck in Good Friday.
Without hope and without a plan, they are heading home, broken hearted.
That’s when a stranger draws up alongside them, and asks them what’s been going on.
They tell him their sad tale, of how their friend Jesus had been a mighty prophet
How they had such high hopes for him to make the world a better place—
And how their hopes were dashed when he was killed.
They tell him about the strange testimony of the women that the tomb was empty, and Jesus alive
But without believing, without hope.
The stranger turns out to be educated in scripture. He tells the two disciples all the places in the bible where it says the messiah would suffer and rise again.
It was customary to offer a traveler food and lodging, so when they reach their destination, they invite him to stay.
During the meal, the stranger takes the bread, blesses, and breaks it, and distributes it—
Just like Jesus had done when he fed the 5000
Just like Jesus had done when he shared the last supper with them
Suddenly the disciples’ eyes are opened, and they recognize that it is Jesus.
I love this story for so many reasons, but today I am struck by where Jesus appears
He doesn’t appear in the temple
He doesn’t appear in the tomb
He doesn’t even appear in the synagogue where he had done so much teaching.
Instead Jesus appears on the road.
He appears at a kitchen table.
It strikes me that in this story, Jesus is present in everyday activities –
Walking and talking, sharing hospitality and a meal.
This is a story of how Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection
But more broadly it is a story of how Jesus is present with all believers of every time and place.
It reminds me of the book our Bishop, Jim Hazelwood, came out with last year entitled, Everyday Spirituality.
He riffs on the idea of living out your Christian faith in the ordinary tasks of life.
He identifies activities as basic a breathing and walking as spiritual activities—ways to connect with God.
He talks about relationships and laughter as spiritual disciplines.
One member who read the book told me,
“I never felt very religious, never felt like I connected much with devotions or reading the bible,
but this book connected with me… It made me think maybe I have a spiritual life after all.”
These comments made me question: Have we perhaps been going about this in the wrong way?
Have we unnecessarily divorced our daily living from the sacredness of God?
Have we somehow communicated that holiness is only found in church sanctuaries and religious professionals?
Because that’s not right.
This Emmaus story in fact communicates the exact opposite.
After all, Jesus was fully God- that’s as holy as it gets, folks-- and he joined us in daily living.
He ate, and walked, had friends, and argued with people.
He used everyday objects as the means for explaining the kingdom of God:
lilies and birds, wheat and weeds, dough and mustard seed,
houses and fields and businesses and families.
Nonetheless, it can be hard to shake the feeling of being a bit far from God
When we can’t do some of the in-person religious practices that support our faith.
One of the things I miss during this time of quarantine is the sacrament of Holy Communion.
I long for this spiritual food, and for you, the community to share it with.
Jesus promises to be with us in a special way in this sacrament, to become our food and our forgiveness.
But like the Bishop points out in his book,
Jesus’ powerful presence is also in places other than the altar.
Like the disciples in our gospel lesson, Jesus walks beside us and shares meals of grace wherever we are.
I heard of one such meal through StoryCorps,
The project which archives people’s memories at the Library of Congress.
This one was shared two weeks ago on Morning Edition on NPR:
Time now for StoryCorps. Private First Class Roman Coley Davis was born in Georgia. He joined the military after high school. And when he was 20, Roman was deployed to one of the most remote U.S. outposts in Afghanistan. And there, he found something familiar.
ROMAN COLEY DAVIS: I served in the United States Army as a human intelligence collector in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. We were essentially in a black zone. If you walk outside of the wire, there's almost a 100% chance that someone's dying or coming back wounded - if you come back.
We were tracking Osama bin Laden and people like that - high-valued targets - for almost year and a half, and we were involuntarily extended. I remember, during that time, at one point being incredibly homesick and just lost, if you will, in the middle of a war. And one day, a Blackhawk helicopter flies into the valley, and they kick off bright yellow U.S. mailbags. And a sergeant called my name - Peaches. I was the only one from south Georgia, so my radio call sign was Peaches. And they said, Peaches, come up here - you got some mail. And I wasn't expecting mail. And it was this box from home.
And I cut it open. And there was this big, huge thing wrapped in aluminum foil. And so I take off this layer of aluminum foil, and then there's more aluminum foil and, like, 30 layers of foil and plastic wrap and this, that and the other. And my meemaw (ph) had baked this homemade sour cream pound cake. And I've seen my meemaw bake this for people whose mothers have died. It's something that she takes to those who grieve. And then here I am, and I'm in a foreign country in a hostile environment. And that same pound cake is now sitting in front of me. And my 12-man team is there.
And I pulled out a KA-BAR combat knife. And I hack into this thing, and I cut it into, like, 12 massive chunks. And I ate mine first. And I cried. And everyone got a chunk. And I think that if we had dined in her kitchen the moment that it cooled and she took the towels off of it, it could not have been as fresh as it was there on that mountainside.
And for that one moment, I felt loved even though I was lonely. The pound cake was clean even though I was so dirty. It was cold, and that pound cake warmed me. It was just like Meemaw was there.
This story is for me an amazing a description of the Real Presence of Christ
that we Lutheran teach comes to us in Holy Communion.
We teach that Jesus is present “In the meal, with the meal, under the bread and wine”
We do not speculate on the mechanics or metaphysics of his presence
But we nonetheless boldly confess the reality of Jesus’ presence made known to us
in the gifts of love, forgiveness, and sustenance that we receive in sharing the meal together.
And so when I hear Roman describe his MeeMaw being there with him and his platoon in the pound cake, I see Jesus!
When he describes the connection and love and warmth in that package,
I remember those same things are given to us when we come to the altar.
The real presence of Jesus in Communion is always first and foremost
about being loved, forgiven, and included.
And it makes me see that even when we can’t gather at the altar,
we can still receive the grace and presence of Jesus in real and powerful ways.
One of the things I think is so powerful about the Emmaus story
is how the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus for so much of the story--
all that time walking and talking, inviting Jesus into their home and preparing the meal.
He was fully present with them all that time—they just didn’t have eyes to see it.
Likewise, Jesus’ presence is all around us, ready for us to see it and welcome it.
Like the disciples, we need to have our eyes opened to recognize Jesus in our midst.
Perhaps that’s one of the gifts in this stay at home time of life we are in.
Without the usual routines of people and activity, we have the opportunity to notice more,
To reset our routines so that we can tune into Jesus’ presence in the everyday.
Without the luxury of going to the sacred space of church to connect with God
We have the chance to cultivate the ability to see the sacredness of each moment.
We also have the opportunity to be more prayerful of others and our world.
To bring before Jesus those who are too busy right now—
working parents, medical professionals, businesses struggling to keep up with demand
And to call upon Jesus to be present with those who haven’t enough to do—
the unemployed, the idled, the sick, those who are retired, the homeless
We can take time to learn more about underlying injustices in our society that are becoming more visible--
racism, economic inequality, disparities in the availability of quality health care
And to pray for guidance that we might do something about them.
We can pray for the natural world and our greater care for the environment upon which we all depend.
Prayer is one of the ways we most readily access Jesus’ presence,
And we can bring before him all the circumstances of our lives and the world around us.
In a minute, my family, plus Michelle our former musician who is an honorary Reuning-Scherer during this time of quarantine, will sing a song called Draw Us In the Spirit’s Tether.
The final stanza is a beautiful summary of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of life.
It goes like this:
“All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of thee
That by sharing, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.”
My prayer is that we be given eyes to see Jesus’ presence and purpose for us in this time.
Jesus is present always
In the extraordinary
And in the everyday.
May he open your eyes to his presence, sustain you, and be known in your life, each day.