Going for a Walk
Going for a Walk
The events from our gospel passage take place on Easter Day. For us they are several weeks removed. However, the events of Good Friday and the empty tomb loom large. Two disciples decide to leave Jerusalem and head for Emmaus. On the Road to Emmaus they have an extraordinary encounter.
One of the things I have been trying to do over the past few weeks is go for walks. Sometimes, when the weather is poor it’s a walk from my living room to my kitchen and back again, repeatedly so that I can at least move my legs. If the weather isn’t too bad I’ll go around the block and if it’s pleasant out I’ll go a little farther afield. All in an attempt to gain some fresh air, exercise and perspective during this unprecedented time.
As a society we don’t view walking the way we once did. For most of us walking is a leisure activity that we do for exercise or to enjoy the scenery we walk past. Walking, for most of us in the Western world, is no longer a daily necessity for daily living. We don’t walk to the market, we drive to the grocery store. As a result, walking needs to be something that we do very deliberately beyond basic moving about the house.
The act of walking, of travelling a long distance by foot is rooted in scripture. Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere. The only stories in the New Testament that feature beasts of burden are: Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem and Jesus entering Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. Otherwise, Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere. For us in the modern world, the act of walking, the time it takes to travel can form an important part of Christian discipleship.
Perhaps the most formative book I read as my faith developed was Eugene Peterson’s book A long obedience in the same direction. I think on this book often and how it conveys the notion that a life of Christian discipleship is not a sprint, but a marathon. That every time I think I have something worked out, I am humbled when I discover further deeper meaning. It has led me to conclude that perhaps I know nothing and that in knowing nothing I can continue to grow.
Certainly, this notion of travel and the lessons it brings is on display in the passage we have this morning from Luke, affectionately known as the Road to Emmaus. I enjoy this passage because we have the risen Christ, humbly, anonymously walking with two disciples teaching them about scripture. Beginning with Moses and all the prophets Jesus interpreted all that the scriptures had to say about him. What an opportunity that would have been.
Do we pay attention to the reaction of the disciples? “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). Every time I turn to scripture I am astounded at the new story that it is telling me. I preach the lectionary text, which means every three years the stories recycle again. And every three years I am amazed at how time and perspective have changed my thoughts on well loved passages. How my understanding has grown and deepened.
The journey of faith is a long one, it travels with us for our entire lives. Today as we journey to Emmaus with Jesus and those two disciples we experiences themes of hospitality, friendship and faithfulness. It also sees Luke close out his gospel, much the way it began: on the move. Luke’s gospel account begins with Mary and Joseph travelling and it ends with Jesus travelling to Emmaus with those two disciples.
The trip to Emmaus is a long one. As prof. Matt Skinner writes, “The Road to Emmaus feels longer this year.”
We all know why this is. The Covid-19 Pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety into our lives. Jobs have been lost, investments have suffered, many worry about paying bills and providing food for their family. Many have become ill and many have died. We are reminded of the words from our Psalm this morning, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” (Psalm 116: 15)
We don’t know when all of this will end, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and so the road feels long. Part of us knows a great deal of angst, just as those disciples must have felt when they confess to Jesus that they, “had hoped that he [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) Their hopes have been dashed, just as perhaps ours have been. It’s hard to live in hope, when all you see about you is uncertainty.
Those disciples were on the move, just as the Church is now on the move. We are doing things in ways that I have never experienced before and I wonder what the result of it all will be? Will we be strengthened and renewed or will we be tired from the effort? I won’t lie to you, I’m tired from these past few weeks. There has been much to learn and do, and I can relate to those two disciples and their desire to get out of town and escape Jerusalem for a spell.
However, it is at this moment when they most desperately need to escape that they encounter Jesus. In the midst of their despair and uncertainty, Jesus arrives and provides a new perspective as they journey together. On this encounter Matt Skinner writes, “I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? Jesus is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. He knows that explanations will not cure their foolishness and slowness to believe.” (Matt Skinner)
Jesus is literally journeying with them. Just as Jesus is literally journeying with each one of us in the midst of our uncertainty and anxiety. We are not alone in this. Our community of faith is strong and is supporting one another. Our God is strong and walks with us through this difficult time. The presence of God is reinforced in this story when it comes time for the meal.
One of the most characteristic activities of Jesus’ ministry in Luke is eating. He is accused early in the Gospel of being a glutton and a drunkard (7:34); worse, he eats with all the wrong people! So, it’s instructive that it’s not his teaching that open their eyes. It’s not his presence. It’s his sharing of bread with his friends. It’s his blessing of food. In this sharing of bread at an ordinary table, we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ transformative kingdom. (Eric Barreto) I am looking forward to sharing a meal with you when we come through this time, looking forward to our shared hospitality.
Jesus accepts an offer of hospitality from the disciples and in this simple act of hospitality Jesus reveals himself to those disciples and assures them that indeed they are not alone. Jesus goes from being the guest to the host during that meal. Jesus shares a meal with those disciples, he says grace and that grace is sufficient. May it be also for us. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.