All the important stuff happens on the road.
That’s my first take-away from reading this Gospel lesson in this most unusual of years.
When we think about the story of the Road to Emmaus our minds usually tend to jump to the end of the story, the big reveal in the midst of Jesus sitting at table with Cleopas and that other disciple.
“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Luke tells us.
We have songs that celebrate that wonderful moment when they knew that is was Jesus in their midst, revealed in that bread breaking.
But the important stuff in this story? That all happens on the road, along the way.
The important stuff happens when their eyes are still clouded by grief and preoccupied with processing of the events they have just lived through and witnessed.
That is what really caught me about this story this year as I read it.
The first detail of the story is that Cleopas and this other disciple (who is not named) are talking together about all the stuff that has been happening around them, trying to make sense of it all.
I read that and I thought to myself, “man, doesn’t that describe our lives right now?”
The talk about the virus.
The talk about the economy.
The talk about how our lives and our expectations have been turned upside down and how the world is suddenly a very different place for all of us?
The talk about leadership, and how to do things now that THIS has happened, and what it all means for the future, for life from this moment on.
These two disciples were doing what we are all doing right now. They were just trying to get a handle on what shape the world takes after these events.
Then we are told that it is at precisely this moment, (while they were talking and discussing) that Jesus came near, though they did not recognize him.
Think about that for just a moment, dwell in that image.
Just because you do not recognize God coming near in the moment does not mean that God hasn’t come near!
It just means that you don’t recognize the nearness of God – yet!
It is when Jesus is near in this story that we get the second detail that is so important. Jesus inquires as to what it is that these two are talking about.
This is an inquirer God.
This is a God who knows the circumstances, but who also earnestly wants to hear how these circumstances are being talked about, processed, and understood. What the circumstances are doing to those who live through them, and in this case, the circumstances bring Cleopas and the other disciple to a dead stop, and to sadness.
“They stood still, looking sad.” Luke says.
And I thought to myself, “man, that’s an awful lot of us right now too!”
We are cooped up our homes, or we are out of work, or we are furloughed, or unable to volunteer or go about our normal routines, we’re all just kind of at a standstill and we’re feeling really sad about that.
Even those of us who have found ways to keep working from home, are feeling really sad, mourning what is no longer, and trying to figure out how or what to do next.
And it is at this point in the story that besides sadness, we start to pick up something else.
A little frustration!
A little anger perhaps, as Cleopas and that other disciple sort of snap at this “Jesus whom they do not yet recognize.”
“Are you the only stranger who doesn’t know what has taken place?”
We can feel the frustration and irritation in their voices as they speak.
It is o.k. to feel all those things, according to Luke here.
It is o.k. to be at a standstill in your sadness.
It is o.k. to be frustrated and to snap back … even at the “Jesus who is in your midst whom you do not yet recognize,” —because you see, those feelings and those responses are a part and parcel of the processing through things on this journey.
All the important stuff happens on the road. Even coming to terms with your feelings and your emotions.
So on this road, on this journey that we are on in this unusual Easter season, while we are still locked out of our buildings and living transient and interrupted lives, it’s okay to feel some sadness and to experience some frustration.
That is important stuff to do along the way.
It is important because it then sets us up for the next big step in the journey.
Cleopas and that other disciple don’t just stand there sad. They aren’t stuck!
They aren’t stuck because the inquiring God is about to help them begin to find a way forward.
The way forward starts with going back, with witnessing and telling this “Jesus whom they do not yet recognize” all about their hopes and about the events that they have witnessed.
This is the third really important thing I noticed about this story. Because as important as processing the events are, and as important as acknowledging your feelings may be, the way through along the road is found in witnessing.
It is found in telling the story about Jesus again.
It is found in expressing their hopes, what they were, and still are!
It is found in revisiting their observations, and what others have said to them about Jesus, the events at the tomb, the witness of the women, those who went to see and told them what they saw.
It is in witnessing that you find your way forward through the haze of grief and disorienting change.
All the important stuff happens on the road.
The dialog shifts from being one between two disoriented and sad disciples to becoming a dialog with the “Jesus whom they do not yet recognize.”
God in their midst begins to speak, become a part of the conversation.
The scriptures begin to be opened.
Understanding begins to enter the picture.
Hearts begin to be warmed, and sadness and standstill are turned into forward momentum.
In the dialog with the stranger, with the “Jesus whom they do not yet recognize” they begin to get a sense of the scope of history and their place in it!
They begin to have opened to them the scriptures, how God has been present all along the way, beginning with Moses and the Prophets and right up through the Jesus who moved from village to village proclaiming peace and a Kingdom that was coming and already here, fulfilling scriptures and God’s dreams and visions for this world.
The story picks up forward momentum in the dialog with God along the way, so much so that by the time they reach Emmaus it is clear that this “Jesus whom they do not yet recognize” appears to be going on further, is already a step ahead of them and further down the road than they are ready to go yet.
Isn’t that the way it feels for us sometimes too, even in the midst of all of this?
Don’t’ you have a sense that we are somehow being pulled along in directions that we would never have willingly gone or been taken if it hadn’t been for these events?
We are being pulled long further than we thought we’d ever have to go, want to go, and that somehow if we could just keep up we might see what’s just around the next bend in the road but clearly our companion in this journey is way out ahead of us. He seems to be going on further.
The “Jesus who we do not yet recognize” is always one step ahead of us, until he is revealed, and then when the big reveal does come?
Don’t we always end up looking back then and talking about how we could feel something, even when we didn’t know, didn’t recognize God as being with us in that moment yet.
God was there.
All the important stuff happens on the road, and the big reveal in the breaking of the bread?
Well that’s just a moment when what happened on the road gets suddenly much more clear and powerful to us!
So, it’s an unusual Easter, and we’re feeling it with Cleopas and that other disciple right now.
But here is the promise of the Gospel.
We are not walking this road alone.
Jesus is near, even if we do not recognize him in this particular moment.
Oh, and we will likely best make sense of that when we can gather again for the breaking of bread, and the big reveal.
But until then, let your hearts continue to burn a bit, and look for what scripture is being opened for you right now.