April 26, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Luke 24:13-35 The Road to Emmaus
The two travelers on the road, followers of Jesus, disciples, are not clueless. They are not dimwitted or thick-headed or unobservant or obtuse or oblivious—all popular descriptions of their inability to recognize Jesus. I don’t believe they miss identifying Jesus because of a lack of attention. I don’t believe God ‘kept them from recognizing’ him. No, I believe they were kept from recognizing Jesus by something that is very human, a very real part of the human condition…grief…fear…trauma. These two had just witnessed the horrible execution of their beloved friend and teacher. They had just experienced the loss of all they had known, all they had dedicated their lives to. They are now in survival mode-fight of flight. And they chose flight. They are fleeing the danger and sorrow and uncertainty that is all around them in Jerusalem. They are rushing toward safety and familiarity—home. They are focused completely on the moment, on putting one foot in front of the other. And they are asking the questions any person asks in the middle of a crisis: What just happened? What is happening? What is going to happen!?
The New Revised Standard Version of scripture says the two, Cleopas plus one, were ‘talking and discussing’ on the road, but the verb in Greek is something much more intense. It is a verb used to depict examining evidence, pouring over the details. Cleopas and his companion are frantically dissecting all they have experienced, all the know, all they suspect, all they don’t know as they travel. They are seeking answers and understanding, some foundation on which to stand. They are grasping for something stable, certain. Something in which to take refuge.
We see evidence of the depth of their pain and trauma in their response to the ‘stranger’ Jesus as he asks them a simple question while joining them on the journey, “What are you two discussing so intently?” They stop in their tracks, literally. They are absolutely astounded that anyone could be unaware of their grief and pain and anguish. Their circumstances are all that they can see. Jesus death, the threat of the authorities, Jesus’ missing body—this is their entire existence, their entire world. How could anything else be happening right now? Didn’t the world stop when their world fell apart? Their response to Jesus is irrational and unfair because it is a response born out of pain and despair. How could you, how could anyone, not know what we have lost???!!!
The summary of events that the two share with Jesus further expresses the state of their hearts. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem…” “We had hoped…HAD hoped.” We do not hope anymore. What a heartbreaking statement! “We had hoped…”
This beloved and familiar story of the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is ultimately a story of coming to recognize Jesus, to encounter our Savior, in the midst of grief and pain and fear. In the midst of trauma. This beautiful story poignantly depicts how deep and devastating trauma can prevent us from sensing Jesus’ presence with us, even truly connecting with the Christ in our scriptures, and bible studies, and devotions. In the midst of traumatic events, like the loss of a loved one…or a global pandemic, our senses become dulled. We struggle with all kinds of emotions flooding through us. Everything slips through our fingers (one of my clergy friends said everything is covered in Crisco) and things take twice as long to accomplish. We find ourselves irritable, forgetful, sad, angry. In survival mode, we live moment to moment, one foot in front of the other.
In this midst of this traumatic global pandemic, we find ourselves also frantically searching for answers, for understanding. We want a foundation to stand on, something stable, certain. Something in which to take refuge. Like the road to Emmaus, Jesus does indeed come alongside us, even though we might not be able to recognize him in the moment. Our holy scriptures are there for us, ready to open our hearts and minds, to guide us forward, when we are focused enough to perceive their comfort and love. This story assures us in beautiful narrative that when we are in crisis and find ourselves in survival mode, it is normal to need something simple and concrete and familiar and tangible. It is normal to seek something uncomplicated and direct to grasp.
And so, Jesus turned aside with the two disciples, took charge as host of the table even though it wasn’t his house, and revealed himself in the simple act of breaking bread, sharing a meal, something they did together hundreds of times. It is something basic and familiar, tangible and simple…concrete. Jesus is revealed in the simple, necessary act of eating. This story ends in joy and in hope. Cleopas and his companion rush back to Jerusalem to joyfully share with all the other followers how Jesus is made known to his people in the simple act of breaking bread.
In our time of isolation, we too are experiencing all the signs of trauma; grief, fear, pain, anxiety. Out of necessity we are in survival mode, our new operating system. As we seek to ensure that our basic needs are met and that we and our loved ones are kept as safe as possible, we find ourselves struggling to focus, becoming forgetful, struggling to ‘get things done,’ irritable, sad, angry, lonely, overwhelmed. So many of us are exhausted—from the stress, from the loss of routine, from disrupted sleep. It can become difficult, even impossible, to feel God’s presence at times, to trust in the resurrection promise of life abundant, life triumphant.
This is why Jesus, why God, is constantly transforming the ordinary and everyday into the sacred; rock, water, food and drink. I encourage you this week and beyond to actively seek the presence of Jesus in these simple items of everyday life. When you encounter water, whether it is drinking, bathing, washing your hands for the hundredth time, or in the beautiful creation around us, STOP. Touch the water and say aloud to yourself, “Remember my baptism and be thankful.” When things feel overwhelming and out of control, hold you heart stone, worry stone, in your hand and say aloud, “My Rock and my Redeemer,” “On Christ the solid rock I stand.” And when you ‘break bread,’ when you take a moment for a meal, remind yourself and anyone else at table with you, that Jesus is found in this simple and life-sustaining act. “Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread.” Do this every day, multiple times a day, purposefully allowing these simple things to take on a holiness, and to light the fire within your heart, the burning of the Holy Spirit within.
Our beloved Teacher and Savior IS with us, in each and every moment. Our beloved Teacher and Savior comes to us in water and rock and nourishment. The Lord is risen indeed. We HAVE Hope!
Thanks be to God!