Scripture: Luke 24:13–35
I love Easter. It’s been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of waking up early to watch the sunrise, discovering an Easter basket at my door, and searching for eggs around the house as a child. I was baptized by my dad on Easter. Easter is a day when I gladly wake up before the sun is out to help cook the Easter church breakfast and get ready for the sunrise service. I love the songs of Easter. It just doesn’t feel like Easter without singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Up from the grave he arose!” I love Easter. I love proclaiming the good news of the Risen Lord. Easter says that death is not the end of the story. That God’s love wins in the end. And that is great, wonderful news.
But this year, more than ever, I am reminded that the resurrection story does not take away the pain and suffering in this world. Easter is here, yet almost three million people around the world have died from covid-19. Easter is here, but police brutality continues and mass shootings are on the rise once again.
Easter is here, yet relationships remain broken and some people are no longer welcomed home by their families because of who they love or what they believe. Easter is here, yet mental illness and domestic violence have been named pandemics within the pandemic. Easter is here, but masks and social distancing remain. While the resurrection is good news, suffering and hardships continue to be present in the world.
It continues to be a part of the “already but not yet” reality of the Christian faith.
Jesus has already risen from the dead, but that does not yet extend to the rest of us. Love has already conquered death, but that does not yet erase suffering from the world. Jesus has said the kingdom of heaven is here, but it is not yet fully realized as injustice and oppression continue. Even though we are Easter people, resurrection people, we live in the tension of already but not yet and sometimes hope can be hard to find.
In the story today, two of Jesus’ followers go on a walk and they do not know how to make sense of this already but not yet. They don’t understand why Jesus died or what to make of this empty tomb.
In my readings this week, I learned that many scholars propose that it was actually a couple, a man and a woman, that were walking to Emmaus. And for the first time, I saw myself in this story. It was no longer Jesus talking to two men, Jesus could be having a conversation with me as I processed my feelings about death and life and navigated changing belief systems. And so, I would like to invite you to imagine that you are the unnamed person walking to Emmaus.
You thought Jesus was the guy! He spoke with such authority, he healed so many people, surely he must be the one to save Israel. Yet, Jesus died, and now, three days later, his body is nowhere to be found and there are stories that he is alive, but you don’t know what to make of it. You are heartbroken and confused.
Passover is done, and the teacher you had been following for months, maybe years, is gone, and so you leave Jerusalem and begin the journey home. And on that journey you talk and debate with your walking companion about what had happened and try to make sense of Jesus’ death and whatever happened this morning with the empty tomb.
As you are talking and walking, a man approaches, starts walking alongside you, and asks what you are discussing. You stop walking. Your already sad body sinks deeper into despair. “How could this man not know what happened?” you think. “Everyone is talking about it! How could he be unaware of the events of the past three days? And how can you find the words to describe your sorrow and confusion to this oblivious stranger?” Thankfully, your walking companion, Cleopas, finds words and begins to speak, explaining to this stranger about this man named Jesus.
When Cleopas finishes, this stranger actually seems to know what is going on and has some things to say. The NRSV says the man said, “How foolish you are, how slow of heart,” but this might not be the strong rebuke that it comes across as in English. Foolish in this case is referring to a lack of understanding, a naivete. David Jeffery says it might be like an exasperated teacher telling their students, “You sweet dummies! How could you miss this?” So after expressing frustration, this stranger goes on to explain how all of Scripture and Jesus’ teachings point to Jesus’ suffering. And as he explains and teaches, you keep on walking, perhaps hearing and seeing connections from the prophets to this man Jesus you followed for the first time.
All of a sudden, you are at Emmaus, where you and your companion were going to stay for the night. You turn to head to town, and the stranger you have been learning from acts as if he is going to keep walking, but like a good, hospitable Jew, you insist that he stays the night with you. You sit down at the table to eat together, and as the stranger blesses, breaks, and shares the bread, you finally see it—it’s Jesus! Your beloved teacher! And then he is gone!
You look at your companion with amazement, wondering how you could have missed it before—of course it was Jesus! Only he could have said such things! And forget that you are exhausted and have been traveling all day, you don’t walk, but run as fast as you can back to Jerusalem to share with the disciples that Jesus is indeed alive! What a day!
For months, we have been reading through Luke. And again and again, we have stories of the disciples just not getting it. They try, every once in a while there is a bit of an “ah-ha!” moment, but those quickly fade. Jesus predicted his death multiple times, but his followers were completely shocked when he died. He predicted his resurrection, but his followers didn’t know what to make of the empty tomb. And so the resurrected Jesus comes alongside his confused followers once again on the road to Emmaus. Why they couldn’t see that it was Jesus, I don’t know. But perhaps it was so Jesus could walk alongside them as they processed their feelings.
Jesus asked them what they were talking about. He saw their body language, their downcast faces. He gave them space to name their hopes for this man, their grief over his death, and their confusion from an empty tomb. He walked alongside them as they continued to process aloud what had happened. He listened to them.
And then he spoke. He was understandably frustrated—when would they get it? He had laid it out for them so many times! But after expressing his frustration, he patiently explained it all again, in greater detail. They didn’t understand the good news of the resurrection, they didn’t yet believe, but Jesus didn’t condemn them, Jesus didn’t say, “You had your chance, I explained this five times, I’m not explaining it to you a sixth.” No, Jesus met them where they were at, on that road to Emmaus, and Jesus walked with them as they processed who this Jesus was, as he explained it all to them again.
Today, Jesus continues to meet us where we are and walks with us on our journeys. Jesus walks with you.
Jesus walks with you, even if you aren’t sure what you believe any more, if you are having doubts and questions about your faith—Jesus doesn’t condemn, but walks right alongside you.
Jesus walks with you as anxiety, depression, social media, or maybe even family and friends tell you lies about your worth, identity, and belovedness. Jesus walks with you and wants to be a voice of truth.
Jesus walks with you when you are grieving over death or broken relationships—Jesus wants you to know you are not alone; Jesus is walking with you.
Jesus walks with you when days are good, when the sun is shining and things just feel right. Jesus walks with you, and maybe even does a little skip to celebrate your good day.
Jesus walks with you when you have reached another pandemic wall, when you don’t know if you can handle one more Zoom meeting, when you are exhausted of always having to think about how to protect the people around you, when you just want to see your family and friends and give them big hugs. Jesus is also wearing a mask and walking with you.
Jesus walks with exhausted caretakers, empty nesters, impatient parents, energetic kids, and teenagers exploring who they are. Jesus walks with them.
Jesus walks with you whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or somewhere in between. Jesus walks with you whether you have good grades or barely getting by in school. Jesus walks with you. Jesus walks with you whether you have money in the bank or are struggling paycheck to paycheck—Jesus walks with you. Jesus walks with you whether you are straight or queer, whether you have a great family life or no family to speak of, whether you are white, black, indigenous, Asian, Hispanic, whatever race you are—Jesus walks with you.
Jesus walks with you, whether you have it all figured out or know nothing, Jesus walks with you. Jesus walks with you whether you’re popular, a jock, or a geek.
Even if you don’t feel it. Even if you don’t realize it, like the two people on the road to Emmaus—Jesus is walking with you right now, where you are. Jesus walks with you and whenever you are ready, Jesus is there to hear all the thoughts spinning in your head and all the hard emotions you are carrying in your heart. Jesus is journeying with you.
Some days it is easy to believe that Jesus walks with us, and some days it is harder. But that is one of the reasons why God gave us the church—to walk alongside each other, to hold each other up when it is too hard to go it alone, to celebrate with each other when life is good, to sit with each other when life is hard, and to remind each other of God’s promises and our belovedness. As the church, we are called to walk alongside each other like Jesus walked with the people on the road to Emmaus.
We don’t have to have it all figured out, maybe it’s better that we don’t, so we can ask questions, ponder answers, and discover God together. We can be a patient, listening presence in each other’s lives, reminding one another that there is goodness and love in this world, that we are not alone, Jesus is walking with us.
This week, I invite you to be on the lookout for how you can walk with at least one person on their journey in the next seven days, especially those that might feel like they are walking alone right now. It doesn’t have to be anything big—it could be as simple as a text message, a phone call, or a card. Maybe you notice a friend has written a series of posts on Facebook indicating that they are struggling with something, so you send them a text to let them know that they are seen and loved and that you are there for them if they want to talk or need prayer. Perhaps the new recipe you try accidentally made servings for ten and there are just two of you, so you share it with a neighbor, or maybe you invite someone to go on a socially-distant walk with you.
Let’s pray that God opens our eyes to see how we can walk alongside others this week.
Risen Christ, thank you for walking with us, for always being by our side, whether we realize it or not. Open our eyes and hearts to see how we can walk alongside others this week. Amen.