April 26, 2020, What Happens in Emmaus Doesn’t Stay in Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000192
This is not my Sunday to be homilist in the combined services we are holding online during this time of quarantine, but I wanted to share my thoughts about the wonderful gospel passage we read on this Third Sunday of the Easter season. Last week we heard how Jesus appeared to Thomas and the other disciples who were hiding themselves indoors – quite a little bit like our current situation. Today we read from Luke’s gospel, about another encounter, one that happened late on the first Easter day – a meeting between the risen Christ and two of his disciples. Notice, it’s still Easter day! It is a great wisdom on the part of the Church Lectionary that we don’t hustle ahead once we have Holy Week and Easter in our rear view mirrors. Instead, the Sunday readings invite us to hang out, to abide in the Easter story for awhile, as the truth of the Resurrection comes to dwell more deeply in us.
Luke gives us very little information about these two disciples on the road, but tradition and a bit of scholarship enables us to at least hypothesize about the identity of these two people, who are making their way home in sorrow and confusion on the very night of the Resurrection. The only detail Luke gives us is that one of the disciples, the one who did the talking, was named Cleopas. We also know, from John’s gospel, that one of the women who stayed at the foot of the cross with Jesus’s mother Mary was “Mary, the wife of Clopas”, and it is traditionally held by many that Cleopas and Clopas are variant spellings of one man, and that that man was the brother of Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father.
So, with both humility and a certain amount of authority, I would suggest, for the purposes of better imagining this story, that these two disciples on the road are husband and wife, Mary and Cleopas, and that they are the aunt and uncle of the man Jesus who was so lately arrested and tortured and unjustly executed. It’s no wonder they are so full of grief, and that it was such a wonder to them that this stranger on the road would not have heard about the tragedy that seemed to have shaken the very foundations of the Holy City.
Emmaus was seven miles west of Jerusalem, so they had a fairly long walk home, but when the stranger began to speak to them, opening up the holy Scriptures to them in ways they had never before known, bringing the ancient promises of God to life, so that their hearts burned within them as they hung on this man’s every word – the time passed as if it were no time at all. Cleopas and his wife blinked in surprise as they suddenly noticed that the sun was directly in their eyes, low and red on the horizon, and that their steps had brought them almost to their home village already.
And they invited Jesus to come home with them and stay the night. I think they had two reasons for doing that. First of all, there was a very strong tradition of hospitality in that time and place, and it would have been a serious breach of social etiquette to send a stranger on his way unfed and unhoused so late in the day. But I am sure there was more to it; I am sure they both felt a reluctance to say goodbye to their companion, stranger though he was. I am sure they felt as one, without even having to discuss it, how great a blessing it would be to them, for this man to sit at their simple table and share their evening meal.
And then, of course, comes the best part of the story: that wonderful moment when their guest said the blessing, and broke the loaf of bread, and all of a sudden their eyes were opened and they knew him, Jesus, their own kinsman. Only two days ago Mary had attended his death, side by side with her sister-in-law, keeping watch at the foot of the Roman cross hour after hour, though it had almost been too much for them to bear. But now, wonder of wonders, there he was, sitting at their own table, alive and well, certainly alive, and certainly well. Their eyes were opened and they knew him, and then, just like that he was gone.
Well, that is nearly the whole story, but what I really wanted to talk about is what comes next. Cleopas and his wife sat at their table, looking at one another with shining eyes. “Wasn’t your heart burning within you as we walked along and he spoke to us?” “Yes! Yes! That’s exactly how it was!” And then they got up and they left all the supper dishes sitting forgotten on the table (which was not a thing Mary was in the habit of doing, I am sure) and they out into the night, which was quite dark by that time, and they walked all those seven miles back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the rest of the disciples.
We are living in a good bit of isolation these days, each of us keeping ourselves to ourselves. Maybe we are sharing our solitude with a family member or two. Maybe it’s just us, just me alone within my four walls day after day. But even in this time when we can’t be physically together with our brothers and sisters – in fact, these days we love and serve one another by NOT being physically together – we all still have a need to come together as the people of Jesus Christ, to pray together, to sing together, to worship together….maybe to weep together.
Mary and Cleopas never once thought that they would keep the joy of what they had experienced in the privacy of their hearts. It never crossed their minds that their time listening to Jesus, talking with him, bringing him into their home – it never crossed their minds that that was a personal blessing to be cherished in their own hearts. No, their first impulse, no matter they must have been pretty bone-weary by then, their first impulse was to go back to Jerusalem – seven miles! – and to share their joy with the brothers and sisters there. Because our joy and life in Jesus Christ is a thing to be shared, not hoarded.
It is very fun to read all the different Easter accounts in the gospels, because they are exactly what you’d expect from eyewitness accounts of a cataclysmic event. Everybody’s got a slightly different account; everybody saw things a little differently. But what runs through every account is that there was a lot of running. Luke tells us the whole group of women who were bringing spices to anoint Jesus’s dead body, found the angels in the empty tomb, went running off to tell the disciples. John tells us it was Mary Magdalene who found the empty tomb, and who ran to tell Peter and John. Mark tells us that the women who met the angels at the empty tomb were too terrified and confused to tell anybody anything, but that after Mary Magdalene had met Jesus in the garden she ran to tell the others, bringing comfort to them as they wept. And Matthew tells us that when the women had seen the angels they ran off to tell the disciples, and that on the way they met Jesus and fell at his feet in joy. There is lots of running and telling in the Easter story, because our joy and life in Christ is always something to be shared.
And that’s why it is so important in these days of quarantine that we have been finding ways of being together – because it’s something we’ve never had to work so hard at before. We who have so often grumbled at the curse of the telephone – at least I know I have done that – but now we are so thankful that we’re able to pick up the phone and hear the voice of someone we’re worried about, or someone we miss. We can pray together by phone. We can check in with each other. We can help make the solitude less lonely.
We have been able to use facebook as something more than a way to share recipes and political opinions. Now we are able to come together morning and evening to pray together, to hear the Scriptures, to share our concerns. We are learning how to celebrate Mass together on Sunday mornings. It is definitely a learning process, and we are very far from perfect, but what a blessing it is to be together in Spirit as we hear God’s word and sing his praises.
As we live through this season of Easter there is absolutely nothing I desire more than to run and be together with the disciples of Jesus Christ – not just by phone or computer, but in the flesh. It is the identity of the Church to be One, to be a community. Our joys and our sorrows are not our own; we share them with one another – as Paul writes: “When one member of the Body suffers, all suffer. If one member is honored, we all rejoice together.” That’s what it means to participate in the life of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. But I give thanks to God that nothing, not even a pandemic or a quarantine, can separate us from one another as we are connected by the love of the Father in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Because we are members of his body, you are in my heart, and I am in your heart, always, every day. God will keep us safe and well and together until that blessed day when we can gather in person and share the bread and the wine of his presence as one body in one place And, just as surely and Mary and Cleopas recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread around their little table in Emmaus, we will know his presence with us on that day. What a glorious day that will be!