Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Meeting Jesus on the Road to Emmaus

Acts 2:14a,36-41
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

The question that struck me as I read the Scripture appointed for today was:  “How does the Risen Christ come to us?  He came to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in a vision at the tomb.  He came to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus but they didn’t recognize him until he took bread and blessed it and broke it with them. Do we really see Jesus? 

The story of the disciples on the road speaks about faithful followers who know all about Jesus’ work.  They know about his death.  They have heard from the Mary’s that he is risen.  They believe that he is the Messiah and yet, in spite of all this knowledge, they are still sad.  There’s something missing for them.  They believe and yet, they don’t really see him.  [T]heir eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  Why were their eyes still clouded?  And why was it that the breaking of bread was the moment when they knew him?

Let’s put ourselves in these stories.  Do you see yourself with Mary at the tomb?  Are you the one who has the vision?  Would you see the angel, would you know Jesus this way?  Or are you with Cleopas and the other disciple, believing but not quite seeing.  I have occasionally had visions.  I can think of times in my life when my faith has been confirmed by a message that seems to come out of nowhere.  A sign that has comforted me when I needed it most.  But these visions have been rare for me.  In general, I’m not having dreams in which Jesus speaks,  I’m not seeing angels.  Maybe it’s a time in my life, when the supernatural intervention is just not my every day experience.

Most of the time, I think I’m with Cleopas.  I’m walking along the road of faith, the road of the disciple-- believing, but not quite seeing.  The sequence of events in this passage seems important.  The disciples are walking along discussing the things that have happened.  Jesus comes to be with them and asks them to explain.  The disciples aren’t sitting alone in their rooms mourning Jesus’ death.  They are walking together and discussing it.  They are discussing the terrible things that have happened.  And they say to the stranger—we thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. 

We can see this scene as a Holy conversation.  They tell one another what is wrong with the world.  They mourn together over their personal losses.  And they name their hope.    Have you had a Holy conversation today?  When did you last say to a friend or a family member, these are the things that matter to me.  This is where my hurt is.  Or this is where my hope is.  Are we stopping for a moment and telling one another what matters most?  Or are we just keeping things light, talking about the weather, telling one another about the surface details?

I was waiting for an airplane on Friday evening and I had a long conversation with the man sitting next to me.  He told me about his father and wondering if his father was beginning to lose his memory.  We talked about his time as an enlisted soldier in the Marines and what he learned there about himself and who he wanted to be.  We talked about his daughter who is getting her Masters at University of Massachusetts and his son who is still in college.  We talked about health care and worries that people won’t get the care they need.  I learned about his wife’s work with a big insurance company and his work for a major corporation.  Our conversation went on for over an hour. It rambled from subject to subject.   It was a deeper and more meaningful conversation than any other that I had had all day.  There was another man on the other side of me, and he got into the conversation too.  He told about his parents dying in their sixties and how that changed him.  He got teary eyed when he thought about trying to live up to his parents’ expectations.  He said,  “Now it’s on me.  I’m the one who has to carry on and make the world right for my kids.”  This was a Holy conversation.  I just got their first names—Steve and Lance.  I won’t meet them again.  But there we were telling one another about what matters to us.  We articulated our hopes to one another.    Maybe I invited the conversation because I was wearing my collar.  Maybe it was the way I sat down and opened a casual conversation about how often we wait for airplanes.  Hard to say why this was the most meaningful conversation of the day.  But somehow each of the three of us contributed, opening up our fears and hopes.  I think that we were like Cleopas and the other disciple,  walking along the road—just travelling together and talking about what mattered. 

Cleopas and the other disciple were having this Holy conversation, when Jesus broke in.  He rebuked them and said,  “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  And then he interpreted Scripture for them, reminding them of his work in light of the stories of God’s work throughout history.  There were moments in my conversation with Steve and Lance that were like that.  There were moments in the conversation when each of us offered perspective, hope, sustenance to one another.  When we talked about aging parents, Steve was worrying about his dad suffering as he lost his memory.  His dad knows he’s losing his memory and it’s a source of shame and worry.  But Lance asked Steve—Would you have it any other way?  Even if your dad is suffering, aren’t you glad that you have this time with him?  Even if he eventually totally loses his memory, isn’t there another way of being with him that really worthwhile.  Maybe it’s just a new phase of life, Lance said to Steve.   He didn’t say,  “Don’t worry”, but he did encourage Steve to appreciate the blessing of having his dad in his life. 

Of course, I don’t really know Lance, I don’t have any idea who he is.  But at that moment, I think he was opening Steve’s eyes.  He was showing Steve something about God’s work.  He was offering Steve a human connection that reflects the connection between Jesus and all of us.  They were talking with me and one another Spirit to Spirit—not focused on money or power.  They were connecting around the hope that God provides.  Now I don’t know how they are reflecting on this conversation today.  Maybe they still don’t see how Jesus is walking beside them.  Maybe they didn’t recognize that this was Holy conversation—but I do.  I know that  there in the airport,  I met Jesus on the road.  And Jesus is working in them.
But before we close, let’s go back to the story of Cleopas and the other disciple.  When Jesus was inclined to leave them, they encouraged him to stay with them.  But the disciples still didn’t recognize Jesus until he sat down to a meal.  He blessed and broke the bread to share with them—this was the moment when they knew him.  I’ve been thinking about meals and the sacred nature of sharing food. 

I was at a conference on environmental and sustainability issues.  One of the topics of the conference was sustainable food.  We heard a great talk about a NY Times writer—Mark Bittman.  He talked about veganism and the energy and water used to produce a pound of meat as compared to the energy used to produce a pound of vegetable protein.    He talked about how much more meat Americans eat than our European counterparts.  He encouraged us to cut out meat for 12 hours a day—eating just one meal with meat instead of three.  He talked about our health—the need to get off junk food and high sugar drinks and desserts.  He talked about eating “real food” that doesn’t have additives or processing.

I got thinking about his talk and wondering why he never mentioned eating with other people.  Because meals aren’t just about what’s on the plate.  It’s about how we related to food and to one another.  It seems to me that it changes our eating significantly when we eat together.  A cup of coffee taken as an energy drink in the car on the way to work;  it’s so different than a morning coffee with a friend at the kitchen table or at the coffee shop.  The first gives us quick fuel, but the second connects us to another person giving us real soul food.  Think about what we eat for lunch.  I remember Margaret Jackson leaving church on Sundays after coffee hour.  She was always looking forward to the grilled cheese sandwich that her husband prepared for her while she was at Church.  I think about the times when my boys and I go out on an ice cream walk—finding the best frozen yogurt place.  It’s a chance to talk on the way, share the snack (even though I don’t eat ice cream)  and then return to conversation with one another.  This is the Holy meal that the disciples had with Jesus.

Jesus cared about them and an expression of his caring was sharing the meal.  When he broke bread with them, they recognized him.  And this is how it is for us.  When we share a meal with someone we can be seen, and we can see.  When we stop and eat together instead of tuning into the television, or eating at our desk at work, something new and different happens.  There is an intimacy in sharing food.  I may have told this story before and if so, I apologize for repeating myself.  I remember working with a colleague in South Africa when I was in my twenties.  I always brought my lunch from home and she brought hers.  Day after day, she offered me some of her lunch and I refused.  I was thinking that my friend Sisanna needed her lunch.  Sisanna is Zulu and she lives in one of the townships outside of the city center.  At the time her house had an outside kitchen and a little propane burner.  She shared the house and her food with four siblings, her own daughter, her mother and lots of friends and neighbors.  There was not a lot to go around and dinner was often a mixture of greens that were gathered alongside the road with rice or cornmeal mush and sometimes a little bit of meat or a tin of sardines. 
But finally one day Sisanna broke down in tears and asked why I always refused her invitation to share her lunch.  She said it was like I thought I was better than her and wouldn’t touch her food.  She thought I was so unkind to never accept her offer.  I was so ashamed of my behavior.  I had missed that this offer was not about the food, it was about the shared experience of breaking the same bread.  Sharing was much more important than what the food was or how much there was.  I had missed an opportunity to know Sisanna’s generosity and love for me when I refused her meal.  Our friendship changed after that.  We got closer and shared lots of meals.  She came to my house and I happily went to hers.  I knew that her cooking was an expression of her love for me.  In those years, I would never have named those as Holy meals, but they were.  Christ among us, unseen, unknown—but made known in the breaking of the bread.

I want to close today with a short look at the last lines in the letter to Peter:
“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The purification of the soul is the faith in Jesus.  The letter reminds Peter and his community that they have turned away from idolatry.  They are now living  differently because they are disciples of the Risen Christ.  But the key point is that the fruit of this faith is “genuine mutual love.”  Love one another deeply from the heart.  This loving from the heart is a hard thing to do.  As we trudge along the road to Emmaus, our vision gets dimmed and we miss the opportunities to love one another.  We miss the stranger who might need our love.  We miss the Holy conversation that might open us up to the love that is already in our lives.  When we are going about our daily routines, we might forget to invite someone to share our snack, to stop for coffee, to come by for grilled cheese sandwich.  Our focus on physical health might blind us to the opportunities for Holy meals—spiritual connection and real mutual love in the breaking of bread. 

The living and enduring word of God that the letter to Peter mentions, this is the deep truth that comes to us when we hear Scripture here on Sunday mornings and when we know God’s truth as we go along our own roads.  Our blindness is cured by the breaking of bread here in our Eucharistic feast and when we invite a stranger to sit down at our table to share a lunch.  Let us hear the Word today as the in-breaking of God into our daily lives—this is the message that we need, this is the disruption, the reminder to participate in the Holy conversation the opportunity to invite someone to share in our Holy meal.  Let us tell the story when we leave here today:

“That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

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