The Third Sunday of Easter
If you have ever felt as if you had lost your way in life, if you have ever experienced profound sadness, if you have ever wondered when you would see the light at the end of the tunnel, then this Gospel story is for you. Perhaps a good summation of our human condition is offered by best-selling author, Anne Lamott, who says that we are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. That surely describes the disciples making their way along the road to Emmaus. And that very accurately might describe what the world is experiencing now.
The setting for this Gospel is the evening of the very day that Jesus was raised from the dead. Our characters have heard the news, even spoken to witnesses who saw the empty tomb and the angels guarding it, yet they are so overwhelmed with a sense of loss and confusion that they don’t recognize the risen Christ who appears in their midst engaging them in conversation, even teaching them about the Messiah.. They are stuck in the doldrums of Good Friday.
Our own journey on the road to our Emmaus place is not unlike theirs. We all know what it is like to be absorbed by a sense of darkness, to lose someone we love, to have our dreams shattered, to mourn the death of something in which we had invested great energy and hope. We know what it is like to be overwhelmed by despondency and to feel totally abandoned—even by God. That kind of desolation and anguish can be blinding and paralyzing.
It is significant that in this Easter story hearing all the things Jesus revealed about himself through Moses and all the prophets did not seem to alter the cheerless mood of these travelers nor lessen their confusion and doubt. Neither did their conversation on their walk for the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus—a considerable amount of time to be engaged with the risen Jesus. What was it that turned the tables? What made the difference? If not by hearing, what then?
I think the answer is twofold: it was in the seeing—the recognition of Jesus who broke bread with them many times before, especially on the night before he died, just three days earlier—and it was in the sharing of that bread at a meal in community that their eyes became wide open and they were able to perceive that a new day had dawned, there would be light again, death was not the final word anymore.
The church, when it is authentically, faithfully, genuinely being the church, when it is doing what Jesus meant for it to do, is the embodiment of people walking on a road together where, the impossible possibility of recognizing the risen Jesus can be experienced in any number of ways. The first name for the church was “The Way” and its very first members were called “People of the Way” long before they were called “Christians.”
The road to Emmaus is a paradigm, a model of the way that revelation happens for us and how and where and when we experience light in the midst of our darkness, how we embrace life in spite of the fear of death, how we receive the gift of hope in the face of despair. The world brings us so many Good Friday moments and situations every day.
Two disciples making their way to Emmaus, walking in sadness and doubt and confusion, encounter a stranger and that evening in their home at a table during a meal they experienced the presence of the Living Christ in their midst. What we learn from this Easter story is that what God most wants for us when we are walking our own path to Emmaus—carrying our sadness, our hopelessness, our sense of loss—is not to be in isolation but in the company of those who will walk with us.
When Jesus told us that “when two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” he was giving us the gift of community. That is the essence of church. Jesus is most real to us when we share the good things of creation with each other in our common humanness whenever we gather to celebrate our humanity and give thanks for God’s promise of a whole new world.
Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, writer and theologian. His interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community. After nearly two decades of teaching at academic institutions including Yale Divinity School he went on to work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at Daybreak Community in Ontario.
He once wrote, “Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us and take it seriously so that it can grow and become stronger in us. This is how we dare to say God is love even when we see hatred all around us. That is why we claim that God is a God of life even when we see death and destruction and agony all around us. We say it together. We affirm it in each other. Waiting together, nurturing what has already begun, expecting its fulfillment—that is the meaning of friendship, marriage, community, and the Christian life.”
And that is the Good News God gives us today.