Luke 24:13-35 ‘Who is that, who walks next to us? ‘
Reflection by Anne Stewart
A poem to begin with:
Easter is not an event that has occurred
it’s an adventure that has begun
not a place that we have visited
but a path on which we stand
a story not complete, but unfolding
characters still breathing
stations still teeming
with the promise of new life
not just for you and me
but for all people, in all places
a cosmic core
a turning point of time
Easter is the season
of wild hope
of dangerous intent
of potent promise
where the future flaps unfurled
in the spirit’s breeze
where hopes bubble
with uncorked effervescence
where toes tap
to free-form rhythms
where rainbow hues
splash empty canvas
we continue the journey
we re-enter the story
to explore our questions
to uncover our doubts
to face our nagging need
We walk the path
of two who travelled a dusty road
wrapped in confusion and despair
two who shared the company of a stranger
voicing their pain
airing their fears
and in the listening
heard words of hope and promise
and in the eating
received true bread of life
Today we re-enter the story
with expectation that Christ
will also reveal himself to us
in sights and sounds
in words and symbols
in bread and wine
The story of the two who walked the path to Emmaus is our story too. As they did, we walk our own journeys often wrapped in confusion and despair. We feel alone and sometimes abandoned, stumbling around trying to find footholds to hold us in place. We can forget that we don’t walk alone. We can forget to expect that Jesus is there with us; walking alongside us. But will we ever see if we aren’t looking.
We often say we should be looking for Jesus in the face of everyone we meet. How good at that are we, really? What would we see if we did?
The story of the road to Emmaus is perhaps more central to our faith, than we might think. It gives us an idea of what our faith walk is like. It’s a story we can relate to because it fits into our experiences. We know what long dusty roads are like. We know what it is to set off without really knowing what we will meet or experience along the way. We know what it is to go walking to deal with any sense of confusion and despair we might be feeling. We know what it is to miss things along the way.
Here in this story, we are reminded that this is not a walk we do alone. We are accompanied. I love that word accompany. I think it goes a long way to describing how we are to be with others. Alongside them, listening, being in their company, journeying with them, not telling them how to be Christians, not teaching them, or setting ourselves above them because we know Jesus, but accompanying — being alongside, as Jesus shows us how, in this journey to Emmaus.
The two followers didn’t recognise Jesus for a few reasons. The first and perhaps most obvious is that he didn’t look like he did before Easter. And secondly, they were not expecting to see him. Not surprising really, we don’t expect to see people who we know have died, do we. The walkers were also blinded by their despair. They thought Jesus had come to redeem Israel but instead he had been crucified. Either they had been wrong or Jesus had failed in his task, or God had not delivered on his promise. What they missed was that it was by his crucifixion that Israel was redeemed. What they had just witnessed was a crucial element in the whole story of God and us.
In entering our suffering, and taking it on to himself, our suffering had died and was raised as the beginning of God’s new creation, God’s new people. This is what the Messiah was called to do, and now it had been done. But they couldn’t see it because they didn’t recognise that the events they had just witnessed (his life and then his death on the cross) were part of the story of God’s redemption. They were waiting for something they had presumed would look another way. As theologian Tom Wright suggests, “Perhaps what Luke is trying to say here is that we can only know Jesus, can only recognise him in any sense, when we learn to see him within the true story of God, Israel and the world. For that we need to learn how to read the scriptures; and for that we need, as our teacher, the risen Lord himself.”
The invitation that this story makes known to us, is the invitation to seek Jesus’ presence as we delve into scripture. And to help us know him, he offers himself to us; in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine. Jesus offers these two walkers the gift of his presence, as he does for us when we break bread and share wine together. This mix of scripture, and bread and wine, Word and Sacrament, is the ministry that we are all called too and the one that ministers are trained for and ordained into. Tom Wright goes on to suggest that these two primary tenets of our faith are inextricably related. If we separate them, we risk dangerous distortions to our faith walk. The sacrament of communion celebrated on its own becomes a piece of magic; similarly, the word proclaimed on its own can become an intellectual or emotional exercise, detached from real life. “Put them together, and you have the centre of Christian living as Luke understood it”, Wright says.
For many years in our denomination the sacrament of communion was, in my opinion, reduced by the infrequency of quarterly celebration. The theory at the time was that less was more and a quarterly celebration made it more special. But the reality is that in the Presbyterian tradition it was only ever quarterly because in Scotland, where many of our traditions were established, it would take the minister a quarter of the year to complete the circuit of parishes on his horse!
The practical over-rode the theological, as it so often does if we are not watching carefully. The reformer John Calvin insisted that Word and Sacrament should always go together and some denominations do celebrate communion every time the word is preached. There is an interesting conversation in there about practicality and context, but that’s for another day.
I think this Emmaus Road story is a great reminder of the expectation we can all have that we will see Jesus alongside us as we journey through our life in and with God. I know that when I experience him in the words or actions of other people, I often feel a sense of calm and knowing that he is close in those moments. There is a sense of connectedness with something so big you can’t contain it or describe it. You will have those moments too and you might like to reflect on them as I read now one of Martin’s poems. This poem is about his experience of Jesus walking alongside us as we were walking the Camino, a couple of years back. We walked into Santiago exactly two years ago today!
he came by today kind of snuck up on me a habit I guess
walking seemed like he knew the way
I nodded best I could think of at the time and kept walking seemed the right thing to do
after a while he had gone on
I thought of all the things I could have asked him
I thought of all the things everyone would have wanted me to ask him
and how I had walked in silence quite liking his company not wanting to disturb the footfalls in unison
it seemed his simply being there contained everything
everything that needed to be known anyway