GOSPEL: Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him… (read the whole passage)
Even before the Pandemic, I was a pretty voracious reader of news. Local, national, international, political news, as well as articles and opinion. And of course as a pastor and blogger, I have been reading and writing about the issues facing Christianity and the church today as well.
A lot of us these days are news junkies, I am sure, consuming as much as can about every bit of news. And so as this pandemic lockdown extends longer and longer, we know that the question of when and how things are going to start opening up is starting to bubble to the surface. Even as case numbers increase in some jurisdictions, in those experiencing any kind of plateau, the question of returning to “normal” life is front of mind, whether is it governments, business, schools, leisure and of course churches. There are countless articles to read about opening the world back up, not post, but mid-COVID-19.
Yet, plans to re-open while there is no treatment of vaccine for COVID-19 involve slow, socially transformative steps. Everything about the way we interact will be on the table, from how many of us can be together, where we can be together, and how we will need to adjust some of the basic things we long took for granted like handshakes.
As we arrive on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, I cannot help but feel like we have been hearing a similar story in the gospels. The story of a community that experiences a traumatic, life-changing event – the death and resurrection of Jesus. And this event requires the slow yet undeniable transformation of a community, there is no going back to normal for the disciples and followers of Jesus. Rather, the Easter season story is one of a community transformed by the Holy Spirit for the new reality of an an Easter World.
For the 3rd Sunday of Easter, we go back again to that first Easter Day, the day of the empty tomb.
After the women had gone to the tomb and Jesus met the disciples behind locked doors, two disciples are on their way to Emmaus, a town near to Jerusalem.
On the way, these two are met by another traveller. This travelling companion seems not to know about what has just happened over the past week in Jerusalem, yet then proceeds to explain to them how the events of holy week fit into the Scriptures. These two disciples don’t recognize that the one travelling with them is Jesus.
It seems a bit absurd that these two wouldn’t be to recognize their teacher and master. Was Jesus wearing a disguise? Were they blinded by their grief? Did God close their eyes to seeing?
I think there might be another explanation, one that relates to us and this moment in time.
Human beings tell stories, in fact stories are how we understand the world. Stories and narrative help us construct meaning. Stories are the vehicles for us to make sense of things. It is why we go back a rehearse in our mind the events of an experience that we cannot make sense of, it is why we rely on eye witness testimony so heavily, it is why we are enraptured by good movies, books, tv shows, songs, artwork or a good story teller.
So these two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus because they didn’t understand the story of Holy Week yet, they couldn’t see Jesus because they didn’t know or understand the story of how he could be walking with them.
Not understanding our story yet is the reality that we are living too. As this Pandemic unfolds it has thrown us for a loop because we simply don’t have a story to understand it by. Even as unspeakable tragedy has occurred in Nova Scotia this week, this pandemic story has changed the way we understand that story too. Usually and unfortunately we know the story of mass shootings, and we know how to respond too well. But in a physically distancing world, we cannot follow the same narratives, road side shrines, prayer vigils, neighbours and communities coming together.
COVID-19 is story that we haven’t figured out how to tell yet. And if Jesus were to try and walk with disciples sorting it out here, he would only find mostly empty streets, empty churches, empty public spaces. This pandemic has given us more questions than answers, even as we are in the middle of living through it.
As the disciples walk the road the Emmaus, they too have more questions than answers. But rather than just coming out with who he is, Jesus takes the disciples back to the beginning, back to the stories they do know. The stories of God’s people. To the scriptures, the stories of faith. Stories told to children from the moment they are born. Stories told in homes and in the synagogue, stories that help to mark the passage of the days and the years, stories that gave frames of meaning, symbols, images and metaphors that helped them to understand their lives and their world.
And just as the prophets foretold the coming of Messiah, just as John the Baptist preached out the wilderness, just as Jesus himself preached in the towns and countryside while doing miracles, Jesus begins with the stories they know already. And then Jesus interprets the stories in light of the promised Messiah.
Yet, still the disciples don’t recognize Jesus.
So finally when they reach Emmaus, Jesus takes the disciples back to Maundy Thursday. To the breaking and blessing of bread, where Jesus had been revealed to his disciples anew in the ancient familiar meal of faith – the passover meal.
And all of sudden, these two disciples have a story to tell. They have seen this moment before. They have seen this One breaking the bread before. They know this stranger, they recognize the Christ. The Christ who has come to give them a new story of faith to tell. A story that begins at the Last Supper, that descends to arrest, trial and crucifixion and seemingly ends on cross. But now a story that continues on the Third Day with empty tombs, appearances behind locked doors, and revelations in the breaking of bread.
Jesus has tied all the events of the last week to their familiar stories of faith, and Jesus has given these disciples a new story to tell, a story that makes sense and meaning of crucifixion, death, resurrection and new life. Just as Jesus brought the two stories of his crucified body and resurrected body into one in front of Thomas last week, Jesus brings together the ancient stories of faith to the story of the crucified and risen Messiah.
The story of faith that we have been telling for 2000 years since: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.
The story that Jesus is taking us back to in this moment, even in the midst of our crisis, our inability to make sense of things and to understand this moment.
The story of faith that is grafted onto our bones from the moment we are born and then reborn in baptism. The story that is told in homes and at church. The story that helps us mark the passage of days and years. The story that gives us the frames of meaning, symbols, images, and metaphors that help us understand our world.
And Jesus reminds us that this story of faith has room for us and our pandemic uncertainty.
The story of the Messiah includes disciples locked away in their homes, fearful of the outside world, unsure of how recent events will change our communities forever. We might not have been here before, but the Christ who meets us on this journey has.
Jesus walks along side us in our confusion and uncertainty, reminding us that our familiar stories of faith still have room for our unknown stories of our present. And Jesus promises to see us through, to see us all the way to the new reality that awaits us on the other side of this pandemic.
And Jesus takes us back to our beginnings, to the familiar story of breaking bread that we know so well, that reminds us that Jesus is present and known to us, even when we don’t fully understand what is happening to us and where we are going.
And so as we search for our story to tell, for the story that will tell us how we move on and move out of lockdown, Jesus reminds that there is a story that we already know. It begins with the breaking of bread, and continues through suffering and death, but surprises us again and again with an empty tomb, new life and a risen Christ.
A risen Christ who met those struggling disciples on the road.
A Risen Christ who comes and meets us today.