Preacher: Rev. Brian Adkins
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Fourth Sunday of Easter
I don’t know what to say about the Road to Emmaus. But I have some experience in walking. And I have some experience in grief, and disillusionment, and depression- as we find these disciples in the story. There is one story in my life that relates particularly to this text and some of you will have heard it but I pray it bears repeating. There was a time when I did not recognize someone I loved.
Our neighbors, the Andersons, were having a Halloween party. It was a quaint, almost cliche event. Hayrides, bobbing for apples, music and dancing. At one point in the evening, we lined up for a dance. Two lines facing each other, each person pairing with the one across from them and dancing down the line. I was not a dancer, I was an awkward teenager and I was probably coerced into this activity. Well, there I was standing across from a woman I had not met before. She was wearing giant sunglasses and a Dolly Parton wig, and a party hat. When our turn came, we linked arms and took our dance down the aisle. At the end of the line, she grabbed me and hugged me. And suddenly, to my shock and joy I knew who this was. It was my very own Grandma Flo.
It was the hug that opened my eyes. That Holy Ghost kind of hug, she called ‘em. When we began that dance down the line, we were perfect strangers, and when we emerged on the other side, we emerged in perfect love. We don’t always get to choose our dance partners or select who journeys with us. And thank God. I probably would not have chosen the woman in the Dolly Parton and the giant sunglasses and party hat.
This story of Cleopas and his friend encountering the stranger on the road to Emmaus is classic Jesus. Unexpected, surprising, sometime sneaky. He walks with them the whole way; and when they arrive at their destination and starts back on his way, but they invite this stranger to stay a while. ‘Abide with us; fast falls the even-tide.’ These disciples practiced that agape hospitality- hallmark of the community of Jesus’ people; inviting him to share a meal. The funny thing here is that, next thing you know, the guest becomes the host! For some reason, it is Jesus who breaks the bread in this story.
What then transpires could be called “the other last supper” or the “last last supper.” The first one was a sort of farewell dinner, on the eve of his betrayal and death. But this one, is a celebration of life everlasting. As Jesus breaks the bread. He does it in his familiar way. The scripture says he took it, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. In his book, “Life of the Beloved” Henri Nouwen says that communion follows the pattern of our beloved-ness. Christ takes or claims us, blesses us, breaks the powers of sin and shame; and sends us out into the world to share the good news of God’s love. Taken, blessed, broken, and given.
The encounter with Jesus follows the same pattern of his ministry. Jesus came back and did the same things he always did. He teaches (on the road to Emmaus), he shares a meal in community, he offers hope where there was despair, he opens eyes that could not see.
As I mentioned in the weekly message, the confirmation class began last week with the scripture from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “Now we see dimly as in a glass, but then we shall see face-to-face.” I never appreciated that scripture so much as I do now- after 6 weeks of seeing those I love through the glass of my computer screen. But that scripture continues, “Now I know in part but then I shall know fully, even as I am known.” Now I know in part. I find myself wishing I was still 18, when I knew everything. Now I’m afraid I know very little. To know is one thing, but to be known is another. To be known requires vulnerability. An openness that can be hard to achieve.
At dad’s funeral I overheard a woman who had been a close friend of Grandma Flo. She was talking about a recent experience of someone laying on hands and praying for her. And she said, “I got Flo’ed.” Grandma had a way of making you feel as though you were seen and known and loved. I think that’s what it means to get “Flo’ed.” (My God, I hope my name never becomes a verb.) Now we know in part but then we shall know as we are known.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this sermon that I realized I’m on an Emmaus road of my own. My father having died just two months ago. People ask how I’m doing and I say, I’m okay and then I talk about my concerns for my mom. But I’m not okay. Who is okay after the death of a loved one? Many of us are convinced that those we love will never die. One of the things people said about my dad was that he was offended when people tried to shake his hand. Because he was a hugger. And when you met my dad, you were going to hug. The age of corona would have killed him- probably not the virus, but the moratorium on hugging. He would have hated this.
My dad keeps sneaking up on me like that. I’m remembering things he said, or thinking about how he would react to these circumstances. It’s just like grandma Flo. At the end of the road we find that they are still with us; they have been with us all along. Sometimes even more present than when they were with us in life.
I have a dear friend who walked the Camino de Santiago. She says that she walked at a time of transition in her life. When she was feeling a little lost, changing jobs, moving from one town to another. What she discovered was that those she encountered on the way were all walking for their own reasons. Some were disillusioned with life. Some sought forgiveness for sins. Some sought enlightenment, others needed healing. Everyone started in isolation but everyone seemed to end up in community. They shared meals. Some walked fast, others walked slow. They slept in churches that hosted them along the way.
As we travel down the road of our grief, we are not as alone as we thought we were. Jesus didn’t leave behind a manifesto, he left behind a community. It is in community that we learn to channel our grief into Good News. We tell what good thing God has done. We share with others how we made it through.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
We find that love abides. When we abide with one another. And in abiding, God abides with us.