Luke tells a story about Cleopas and an unnamed companion. The two are on a hopeless walk away from Jerusalem. They have seen the home they had among Jesus, and the other disciples, splinter and fragment in the face of Jesus’ trial and death. Their sense of community of purpose, the belonging that welcomed and inspired them had vanished. Vanished like Jesus from the tomb. Which only led to more hopelessness and confusion.
Luke tells this story of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple to believers in the early church who were becoming hopeless. Luke’s first audience, 70 years after Jesus’ death and the empty tomb, were growing weary of waiting for the promised return of Jesus. They had – in the words of Cleopas – “hoped he was the One who was going to redeem Israel.” Instead, thousands were killed and thousands more scattered in the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. The Roman army commander and future emperor Titus ruled to breed hopelessness, describing himself as “an instrument of God’s wrath”. The early church would have understood the hopeless walk away from stories of an empty tomb.
Hopelessness might be our traveling companion these days too, as we talk with each other about everything that is happening in the world. The promises we believed in, the possibilities we were invested in, seen dismantled. All about us is risk. We see the devastation let loose in the world on the innocent and the evil alike. We hear the promises and boasts, taunts and posturing of emperors and wanna-be emperors. It can seem like the home we thought we had is up for grabs to the highest bidder, the loudest pundit and righteousness and redemption far away.
Many of us too know what it is like to have our days frozen in hopelessness. We can recall the still pictures of grief: holding the hand of a struggling loved one, tears shed for the test, or the opportunity or the friendship that crumbled around us. Others of us know the long journey of hopelessness: struggling to hold onto one day of sobriety – one more hour, one more minute; one more application or interview and then another and another; finding one more therapy, surgery, chemo infusion hasn’t completed its work.
We know, and the first believers knew, and those two disciples knew about hopelessness. How it can keep you from feeling at home and at peace. How it leaves you without a purpose.
We are all wondering where Jesus is in the world? We are all wondering if Jesus is with us?
Luke tells us the two disciples are going – walking, talking, discussing what has happened to them. Jesus – unrecognizable somehow – comes near them and joins them.
They tell him everything that has happened. How broken and hopeless they feel. Then the stranger begins to tell them everything they should now through scripture – how this was bound to happen and how the Chosen one would suffer and be raised. All the while, the three are walking – perhaps seven miles – on the road to Emmaus.
As they come to their destination, the stranger is about to leave them. The two disciples urge him to stay, and he sits at table with them. When he takes bread and blesses it and breaks it and shares it with them – Luke tells us – their eyes were opened and they recognized him. It is
When were they eyes opened? When the bread was broken? When it was shared? Or did it begin when they were walking, while he opened the Scriptures to them? Were their hearts prepared by the witness of the women? Surely, it began years ago on the shores of Galilee.
We may cherish or long for a moment of revelation, a datable time of being saved, a heightened experience of God’s presence. But the presence of Jesus is a journey, also, filled with faithful and fretful shuffling down the road of life.
This story from the first day of resurrection reminds us that before the bread was broken, and their eyes were opened to the presence of Jesus, those disciples walked a lot of dusty miles. They walked miles to Jesus, some beside Jesus, some to a cross and some away from the tomb. And he was always with them.
The journey of faith moves forward step by step, mile by mile. Sometimes there are brilliant moments of understanding and vision. All of it is part of our faith.
The ordinary stuff of life was inhabited by Jesus, and all that we do to care for ourselves and others is holy work. We need to walk the path that is before us knowing it is the life we have received. We need to engage with the companions we have. We need to honest about our grief and worry, our hopes wherever they are. As we go, we are sustained – as they were – by hearing over and over the words of Scripture we have heard before. Quite often we must welcome the presence of the stranger.
And then sometimes our hearts are opened. At a table, in this house or yours, at a friend’s, in a diner, at a hospital bed, in a school or office, someone takes goodness, blesses and breaks it and shares it. Always, always, Jesus is with us.