Reading Luke 24.13–35
… the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come. On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way.
Paragraph 3 Uniting Church Basis of Union (1992)
The story of the Road to Emmaus is one of my favourite stories in all the scriptures. Before we talk about it, I want you to notice one thing: this story takes the shape of a service of worship—and that’s no accident.
It begins with people gathered with the Risen Lord. These people hear the Word of the Lord. Then they receive bread and wine from the Risen Lord. Just as we are now.
Let’s get to the story. Two people walk to Emmaus, eleven kilometres from Jerusalem. Cleopas and a friend—his wife Mary, perhaps?—we really don’t know. And then
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them…
We know it’s Jesus. They don’t. They think it’s just another dusty traveller. But being people of the Middle East, they offer the traveller their hospitality: they allow him to join their conversation.
And what a conversation it turns out to be! Their traveller seems to know precious little about current events, but he has a whole new slant on the scriptures. He shows them that the scriptures speak of a suffering Messiah, one who goes through death to enter life, through darkness into the light, through pain and misery to glory.
They’d read the scriptures all their lives, but they hadn’t seen that before. Then they were even more hospitable to the stranger: they stopped him from moving on and invited him into their home. And while they were at supper,
he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened …
And he vanished.
What an odd story!
Cleopas and Mary have gone on quite the journey. They have grown spiritually since they met their Stranger on the road. They now know Christ is indeed risen, and they know it even as he vanishes from their sight.
Their literal journey was only 11km, but that day they went on a much longer journey of the spirit.
This story speaks to us of how the risen Lord Jesus meets us today. Jesus meets us and feeds us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus meets us and feeds us as we proclaim the Good News, and share broken bread and outpoured wine.
Let me tell you of my own ‘Emmaus experience’.
It was Easter 1983 and I was 29. I was drifting away from faith, finding that its consolations had less of a grip on me. I was like Cleopas and Mary: ‘I had hoped…’—but my hope was drying up. I did still attend worship however, in a Christian community in West End called the House of Freedom. As it was Easter, my community friends were all away, but I stayed home to study.
I thought I should go to church as it was Easter Sunday; so I walked down the road to a nearby church, the local Anglican outfit. I’d known the previous priest, who was really good, but the new priest had a pretty poor reputation as a preacher. I went anyway, partly out of sense of residual loyalty, partly out of duty.
The priest lived up (or down!) to his reputation as a preacher. My heart didn’t ‘burn within me’ as he opened the scriptures. In fact, I considered walking out; but I was brought up not to be rude.
Then the Eucharist came. And I found myself surrounded and infused by a love and a presence beyond my expectations. The Lord ‘had been made known to me in the breaking of the bread’.
As I said, I arrived at church that day out of a residual sense of loyalty and duty; I left convinced that Christ is risen indeed.
What happened? I met the risen Lord while I was on the way. He fed me in the Word—even though I felt it was pretty tasteless food—and he wonderfully fed me in the Sacrament.
This story from Luke’s Gospel powerfully illustrates how the Risen Jesus speaks to us today. He speaks to us as we gather around the Word and the Eucharist.
Jesus speaks to people whose mouths are open to receive him. People who cry out because they lack hope, faith or love. People who want to know Jesus better and love him more. People who want to connect with Jesus and with one another. People who dare to expect that he is here. Or just to hope he is there.
That’s what we bring to worship. An openness. An open mouth, open ears, open eyes, an open heart. Jesus fills open and expectant hearts.
If we come to the gathering with a closed heart, Jesus waits for us. But we are the ones who suffer if we close ourselves off from him.
Christ is risen in the Word and in the Sacraments. Our hearts burn, our eyes are opened. In the words of the Basis of Union of our Uniting Church,
On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments …
Is Christ risen? Come to worship with an open heart and mind and soul—come daring to expect to meet Christ—and you will find that he is risen indeed!
One more thing. There’s another theme woven into this story, the theme of hospitality. Without hospitality, there is no Emmaus story at all. If Cleopas and Mary had told the stranger to mind his own business, if they had not invited him into their home, there would be no story to tell.
So we must practise hospitality. Anyone who comes here with an open mind and heart and soul is welcome. We practise hospitality not by giving them a seat, anyone can do that, but by listening to them. By being open to them. Remember, that’s the one thing we bring. Openness to what the Lord will bring our way.
Who knows, the next stranger you welcome may be Christ himself …