If there are two followers of Jesus we can relate to- it has to be Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. They aren’t part of the group of 12 disciples, but they know Jesus. They have heard the story of his death and know all the details but they didn’t visit the tomb in person. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from walking with them, talking about scripture with them and sharing a meal with them. Which finally leads to them recognizing who he is and sharing their story of faith and hope with others.
Each gospel story after Easter tells about Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection a little differently. The thing they share though is the very ordinary settings where Jesus shows up- a locked room, a lakeshore, a walk down a road. There is something to notice here in the ordinary places where Jesus appears. Our resurrected Lord could have shown up anywhere- could have created any sort of miraculous spectacle in a big crowd, among the military might of Rome, or in a palace with the powerful- instead chooses to eat meals and take walks with some friends. During this time when we cannot be together, I have heard from friends and church members about the things they miss most. And it isn’t the extraordinary extravagances, the luxuries that we miss most- it is being together in person with the people we love- sharing meals together, hugging each other and they miss all the ways we walk through life together not virtually, but face to face. And Jesus gets it. Facing death and coming back to life again has him searching to spend time in the ordinary places of life with the people he cares about. He sets about doing ordinary things that aren’t affected by life or death- eating and walking and fishing.
Noticing the Ordinary
To notice the ordinary things in this life that aren’t affected by the coronavirus is a healthy and helpful thing to do. The birds are singing this morning, the flowers are blooming, the ground is warming getting ready for seeds to be planted- the creation all around us that is showing signs of new life. The natural world is full of hope right now- My son, Griffin, and I have found several news stories where animals are venturing into places they don’t normally go because there are no people outside. In Wales in the UK, there are goats that have come into the city and nothing makes Griffin giggle more than seeing goats waiting at bus stops, walking down sidewalks and standing on church steps. Those goats don’t know that a pandemic is happening- other than the absence of people. And we human beings are paying attention to one another’s needs in new ways- people are setting up mini food pantries in their yards, others are donating money to buy meals for healthcare workers and first responders from local restaurants, people are finding ways to creatively show love for each other from a distance. To appreciate and have gratitude for these things is a way that we can show where our hope really is- in God. Jesus, God in the flesh, became human and understands our human need for the ordinary, for connections with creation and each other. And he points to these things and says that it is holy.
An ordinary walk down a road becomes holy for Cleopas and his friend when Jesus himself shows up. But they don’t recognize him at first. This story leaves some of the details out- it doesn’t explain why they were heading to Emmaus and it doesn’t fully explain why they don’t recognize Jesus. When this stranger questions them about what they were talking about and doesn’t seem to know what had been going on in Jerusalem, Cleopas tells him. I have to imagine that real grief and heartache was a part of his re-telling of the story of what happened. The other part must have felt like hopelessness because who they thought was the Messiah is now gone and even though the women and Peter have this resurrection experience- their lack of understanding of what it means is clear. Not to mention, these two followers of Jesus were not present in person for these events. They were an arms length away. Still believers, still followers, but not part of the inner circle. If Thomas had doubts and he was part of the 12- how many more questions the other Jesus followers must have had.
Cleopas and the other follower explain, saying “we had hoped he was the Messiah.” They had hoped things were going to turn out a certain way for Jesus… Just like all the followers of Jesus and all those who gathered when Jesus entered Jerusalem in what we know as the Palm Sunday story, and all those Jesus healed and preached to and whose hearts he changed- they all hoped he was the Messiah. The one who had come to change the world- to set the captives free and break the yokes of the oppressed- to bring about the kingdom of God in the world. But instead their hopes now seem foolish- the one they had hoped was the Messiah had suffered and died on a cross.
A New Hope
This pandemic has given us different things to hope for: we had hoped the shelter in place orders would end sooner, we had hoped children would be able to get back for the end of the school year, we hoped seniors would attend their proms and graduations, we had hoped less people would be sick. We don’t have to judge our hopes or compare them- whatever hopes you are holding onto- hopes that didn’t become reality- we grieve them just like these 2 on the road. Cleopas and his friend had hoped things would go a certain way and Jesus who knows the glory of the resurrection, who knows the goodness of God’s grace- stops for a time to walk with these 2 friends in their grief over what they had hoped for. He listens to their experiences and walks alongside them while they share it. Even in our moments of grief when we long not to feel that way anymore, that longing within us to feel better is actually a new hope.
The stranger walking with them, turns the conversation to the scriptures and how the Savior of the world must suffer to save them, he must have the full human experience- but Cleopas and the other follower still don’t understand. Even in their confusion and their grief, they don’t lose their value of hospitality and invite Jesus to stay and eat with them, which he does. And it is over the meal that Jesus’ identity is finally revealed. Over a meal in which he was invited, Jesus becomes the host and breaks the bread. It isn’t his explanation of scripture that does the trick. It is his action of grace in the breaking of bread that they recognize. When we are going about our lives, especially in moments when Jesus feels far away from us. It is often moments of grace that reveal God to us in the same way. And even in grief, we can recognize the hope that is the grace of Jesus Christ.
The road to Emmaus story has been said to mirror what happens in Christian worship. We journey together by faith, we talk about Jesus and his life, we discuss the scripture, we try to recognize the presence of God among us, we show hospitality to friend and stranger, we eat together with Jesus as the host, and we are sent out to share the good news with others. It takes hope to even come to worship. We have to believe something will happen when we come before God in worship. But that doesn’t mean we have to come to worship happy or content even- Jesus accepts us with our grief and despair. Jesus accepts us with our frustration and anxiety. Jesus accepts us all of us and walks with us into hope. Whatever seed of hope is in your heart today- may God’s love help it grow and bloom like the spring and may you recognize God’s grace in the ordinary things around you. Alleluia- Christ has risen! Christ is risen indeed- Alleluia, Alleluia!