The Road less traveled probably shouldn’t be. . .
The tragedy of that first Good Friday had dashed the hopes of Cleopas and his companion. They are heading home, probably just trying to put it all behind them, and wondering if they will be able to ever get their lives back to anything that resembles normal.
Just then, someone joins them on the road, but it is important to note that they do not recognize this someone at first, most likely because he is out of context. Things taken out of context can often be difficult to discern.
I’m reminded of the story of the little boy who came to Sunday School a couple of times and seemed quite happy at first, but all at once, he stopped coming. The Director of the Sunday School became concerned and visited the boy’s mother to inquire why he never returned. I won’t let him come back, said the mother. Why? asked the Director. Because the teacher frightened him. She told him that if he ever missed three weeks of Sunday School in a row, she would throw him into the church furnace!
This upset the Sunday School director to no end, and so she had an interview with the boy’s teacher and asked for an explanation. Somewhat confused, the teacher replied, All I remember saying was that if anyone missed three Sundays in a row, I would have to drop them from the register!
Now see what happens when you hear things out of context? Jesus was out of context in this Gospel. He usually spoke to crowds or at least to large groups of people. They were not used to him engaging them one-on-one. Eventually something happened that helped them to recognize him, and we are told that they found their hearts were burning.
Something happened. WHAT WAS THAT SOMETHING?
It was that he sat at table with them, and he broke bread. Priests are in their heaven on the Third Sunday of Easter, because here is their chance to tell the world that the Holy Eucharist, over which they are celebrant, provides the context for meeting the Risen Lord along the road of life.
I believe all of that is true and I hope my readers remember it, but I’m going to fight the temptation to stop there, because just as the liturgy of Holy Eucharist points beyond itself to people outside the walls of the church building, so does this Gospel. Notice that the Risen Christ is recognized when the people in the story enter into Communion with each other, when Cleopas and friend reach out to Jesus and offer him the hospitality of a place to stay. That’s the key you see, extending arms, reaching out with helping hands. It is these actions that provide the context in which Jesus can be recognized as the Risen Lord.
You must picture this in your mind’s eye. They are beginning to figure out who this man is. At table with them, he lifts the bread, and he extends his hands to give it to them, and as his sleeves drop what becomes visible? The nail prints in his wrists. In the reaching out, the sacrifice becomes apparent as does the identity of the one who made the oblation!
No, he didn’t prevent the tragedy. He never said he would. His only promise was to fill the voids with his presence, and that he did do. The Emmaus story isn’t the only Gospel example of moving from ambiguity to context. Remember in the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize Jesus? She mistakes him for the gardener. Why? Because he is out of context until he calls her name, MARY! As soon as our Lord reaches out to her personally, she recognizes him.
Again, on the beach, Jesus appears to the Apostles, and they are struggling, trying to catch fish. They don’t recognize Jesus until he reaches out and helps them with their catch and then serves them breakfast on the shore.
Are you beginning to get the picture here? If you want to meet the Risen Christ then look for him when you extend your arms, or when someone extends their arms to you, or when you see the other in their woundedness.
It is my firm belief that the only way we can meet Christ in the sanctuary, gathered around the altar, is when we first meet Christ out in the world. Extended arms will say more than all the words in the Book of Common Prayer. My point is that there is a connection between the Sacrament of Holy Communion and communing with the woundedness of others in the world.
It seems there are two roads on which you meet The Risen Christ. There’s the road to Damascus where St. Paul was struck and blinded by a bright light and Christ spoke to him aloud. I firmly believe that is not the normal road of encounter for most people.
The second is the road to Emmaus where ordinary people walk and talk and live, and where after a simple act of love, we meet the Risen Christ. . . not amid bright lights and special effects, but amid the ordinary, and yes, amid those who are wounded. Why should we ever be surprised that we would best find Christ in the ordinary? After all, Jesus surrounded himself with ordinary people from his humble birth in a stable cave to the cross on Calvary.
If you ever saw the movie The Last Crusade, you might remember that scene where the old knight is in the tomb guarding the long sought-after Holy Grail, the very cup used at the Last Supper of Jesus.There are dozens of chalices there, but the old knight tells them, If you drink from the right one, you’ll have life, but drink from the wrong one, and death will surely come to you.
The Nazi Villain, in all his foolish cleverness, chooses the gaudiest most elaborate jewel-studded cup among them. He takes a drink and then dies a hideous Twilight Zone style death.
Indiana Jones, the hero of the story, looks the cups over carefully, and chooses the simplest and least adorned cup, the cup of a humble carpenter and it brings life.
How many moments of meeting Christ do we let go by because we think that they are ordinary and uneventful? It is true that most of our encounters with the Risen Christ will not take place on the road to Damascus, but rather on the less event-filled and seemingly mundane road to Emmaus.
I’m also intrigued that Cleopas’ friend isn’t named in this appointed Gospel. He is left unidentified. I like to think that is St. Luke’s way of saying it can be any one of us, that any one of us can reach out in hospitality and meet the Risen Lord.
So don’t be worried that your experience of Christ doesn’t have all the glitter of a Hollywood production. If your life seems rather mundane and ordinary, it is not a problem. It is an opportunity. So, rejoice! The Risen Christ is right around the corner. If you should get impatient and want to see him sooner, then reach out and touch the wounded world around you. Put Jesus back into context. And then, without being dropped from the register, you will feel your heart strangely burning within you!
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