Walking to Emmaus and re-learning the story faith

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. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad….

Everything about the Easter Sunday story suggests that it should wrap up the story of Holy Week. All the way back from when we shift from Christmas and Epiphany telling the story of Jesus’ birth, to the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday on which Jesus is set on the path of his ministry of the Kingdom. From that moment on as we journey through Lent, the climax of Good Friday is in the background. Lent is not a 40 day long Good Friday, but there is a narrative arc that we recognize. Like an epic movie everything along the way serves to hurdle us to the big confrontation moment on Golgatha beneath the cross of Jesus. 

The empty tomb should be like the hero emerging from the wreckage, the moment of celebration that brings the story to a close. 

Except it isn’t. 

The Easter morning stories are full of confusion and uncertainty and more questions than answers. The resurrect Christ doesn’t spawn a “hero escapes death so don’t ask too many questions just be happy” moment, but instead a whole new wrinkle to a story that supposed to be wrapping up. 

And here we are on the 2nd Sunday of Easter still unpacking just what on earth is going on. 

It seems that the story of Jesus is less like an epic movie and more like a serialized TV season that ends on a cliffhanger, and today we starting season 2. 

We pick up the story right after Peter has gone to verify the unbelievable story of the women last week. 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 incredibly seems to know nothing about what has just happened over the past week in Jerusalem. Yet when the disciples recount the story from trial and crucifixion to the morning reports of the empty tomb from the unreliable women.

To which the unknown travelling companion proceeds to explain to them how the events of holy week fit into the Scriptures. And still 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. 

2000 years on from the first Easter we are stilling figuring out how this story unfolds and works together, let alone those first disciples who had just lived through it. Stories are how we understand this 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. 

Throughout our journey we too are sorting out just what all we have lived through means for us. As pandemic waves rise and recede with different degrees and risk to our health…

As War in Ukraine and elsewhere stretches out into a longer and more horrific than we every imagined reality…

As we navigate global, national and local uncertainty from the price of milk to the dangers of gas ranges to ongoing and persistent weather and climate crisis… 

As we ponder and wonder and worry about the future of our local communities here, even here at Sherwood Park…

We too do not know the ending of our story. We don’t know how to piece it all together yet and there is no precedent, no version that we have heard before that will provide the guidance we so desperately want. 

And so seeing Jesus among us is just as difficult. Even as he walks with us along our paths we may be just as oblivious as those two disciples. 

Just as Easter wasn’t the end of the story but the next season or next chapter, our story is nowhere near ending…but instead how it will all shake remains to be seen and lived. 

So when Jesus join his disciples on their walk down the road to Emmaus, they 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. 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 recent string of uncertainty and struggle. 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 in this new world of ours. Jesus promises that even this world of frequent tumult and regular uncertainty is nothing new or out of the ordinary for God.

And from here, Jesus takes us back to our beginnings, to the familiar story of breaking bread that we know so well. And in this moment, in this story Jesus is present and known to us, even when we don’t fully understand what is happening and where we are going. 

And so as we search for our story to tell, for the story that will tell us how to live in this new upside down world, 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. 

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