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"Road To Emmaus"

A sermon by The Rev. Keenan Kelsey
Noe Valley Ministry, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Sunday, April 10, 2005

Luke 24:13-35

The Central American refugee walked across Honduras and made his way into Mexico. During Miguel’s journey he was beaten, robbed by the coyotes who were to help him cross the border, and left for dead. Found and taken to one Sister Cecelia in Nogales, he gave his trust to her. Through this nun, he eventually came to Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson Arizona, where a friend of mine is pastor. He was clothed, fed, and loved. Amy and Marianna worked on his asylum case. He got a green card, worked in a Tucson restaurant, and slept on Southside’s floor. Grateful to God! That was Miguel!

In Central America, Miguel lived in conditions that were very similar to those of first century Palestine. His government was hostile, and economic conditions devastated poor people. When they tried to plant gardens or have a community school, people like Miguel were beaten and imprisoned. After all, “It is best not to let these peasants get too smart or figure out what the government is doing!” Latin American crucifixes show a bloody, suffering Christ. Well, go figure! Bloodshed has been apart of these countries histories. Central to the people’s faith is the suffering. Central to their faith is the suffering Christ who persevered and triumphed. Far from feeling like hopeless victims, people like Miguel intimately know that the crucified Christ bears the pain of systemic evil so that all of us might know new life.

I bet Miguel would have recognized Jesus on the road to Emmaus. He would have recognized Jesus, because he absolutely expected Jesus to meet him on his escape. He traveled and endured because he already knew that Jesus lived, died, and lives again. Jesus comes to redeem and continues to do so. We could say that Miguel was lucky. And he was. But he was also faithful, determined, absolutely committed to the truth that a better life was out there for him. All he had to do was struggle, look, reach, pray – and when Christ came in the form of Sister Cecilia, he followed.

Are you ready to follow? Do you recognize Jesus when he meets you on the road to Emmaus?

In today’s Gospel, we see that those who loved Jesus gradually began to scatter, to return to their everyday lives. Cleopas and his companion are two followers – not the inner core of disciples, but everyday pilgrims. Not the remaining 11 disciples, nor the faithful women nor even Paul—but two “nobodies” who have no idea what God might be doing. They could be any one of us. That unnamed friend could have your name, or my name. Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, the road each of us is on every day.

They respond to Jesus with hospitality, easily sharing their fears and dejection, and eagerly hearing a new take, a new interpretation, of the rumors of resurrection. With an unusual and persistent excitement, a burning, they are reluctant to let him go and they invite him to stay with them. “The day is over,” they insist. “It’s getting dark. Come eat with us and rest and be safe.” At supper when they recognize him in the sharing of bread, then he vanishes. But the experience on the road and at table has done its work, it has transformed them, renewed them, invigorated them, and they immediately return to Jerusalem to find the disciples and the rest of their group.

Luke shows how an encounter with the Risen Christ allows followers to see him as someone other than a strange fellow traveler. Here, this event intrudes into the lives of real people evoking worship, confession, repentance, communion, transformation, obedience, and mutual love. It spurs the renewed believers to praise and then to action. Two responses, not separated from one another, interrelated pieces of the Easter experience, dimensions of the rhythmic response to the mighty act of God in the resurrection of Jesus. Praise, awe, gratitude – then response, and action.

Can we say the same? Have you met Jesus, alive, on the way? Have you invited him in? Have you responded to your encounter with action? Has your encounter made a difference in your life?

A few months back. I read an interview in the NY Times with the President of the Cartier Company, Stanislas De Quericize. He said “I joined the company about a year after my first son died. His name was Alban and he died of sudden infant death syndrome at one month old. When he was buried in France, the priest said something that stuck in my mind always. He said my son had a successful life. He was loved and he loved. That was a great mission in life, to love and to be loved." That priest interpreted the infant's life in a new way, a way that was life giving to this grieving father. The father gained a different recognition of what his son's short life was about. He talked of it as his Emmaus experience, a time when his perspective shifted and his heart burned and he knew Jesus.

A woman once told me that her mother – a pillar of the community, a well-read, articulate woman with high standards of dignity, self-respect, respect for others -- always sent her children out the door with the words, "Remember whose child you are." For this woman, this became an Emmaus experience, a continuing encounter. Her mother was the road, the filter, and when she listened, her perspective shifted and her heart burned and she knew Jesus.

Did you see pictures of the streets of Rome this week? Every highway and byway, alley and street, were crammed with up to 3 million people. Why did they come? Cardinal Ratzinger's funeral sermon said that John Paul II was literally an exemplar of Christ. Looking at him, you are supposed to be looking at Jesus. This is not my own ecclesiastical theology. But I did hear an interview with a young woman who had stood long hours to see the Pope's remains. She described a spiritual experience which made her want to be a better person. It stuck in my mind because that was not what I expected anyone to say. Not that I can tell you what I DID expect them to say! But for this woman, this was an Emmaus experience, a time when her perspective shifted and her heart burned and she knew Jesus.

Then there’s my own experience of guided meditation. As a new seminarian with a new spiritual director, I asked for a guided meditation. My director took me on a journey in my mind to a beach. I was reading the Bible, trying hard to make sense out of it. Jesus approached and in my meditation, he looked at me incredulously. “Do you think I am there, inside this Book? Read all you want, dear Keenan, but I am here beside you, with you. I am not in that Book, I am here in the world.” Say what you want about truth or fiction, in that moment, my perspective shifted and my heart burned and I knew Jesus.

How do we recognize the risen Christ? Any time, any where you feel God's closeness, God’s presence, a care and concern for your life that shows God’s understanding of our humanness; and then any time, any where, that you are inspired to go and tell, go and do. Jesus comes to us in numerous guises, numerous circumstances -- Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn't our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presences, and our smallest gestures of hospitality and friendship, not necessarily in church but in a very ordinary world, a world marked by human loss and human hospitality.

Some of you have heard me tell the story of the young lad who decided to go look for God. He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!

We never hear of Cleopas again after this passage, and we never learn the name of his companion. But we know that something happened to him. Just as something happened to all of those new Christians in the first century, forming the early church. They all learned what our struggling, suffering refugee Miguel learned: that Jesus appears in many forms, in many people. Whether you meet Jesus in a mediation on the beach, in the form of a nun named Cecilia, or in the smile of an elderly woman on a bench, the invitation is to keep your eyes and hearts open.

We come to know God more intimately when we invite God into our lives, as Cleopas and his companion invited Jesus into their home for the intimacy of table fellowship. But after we have made our invitation, a subtle reversal takes place when God moves from being our guest to being our host, just as Jesus does in this passage. The final admonition is to love one another deeply. We are required, as cleopas and his companion were required, to go and tell, to go and lie out the encounter with the Risen Christ. Living into Easter is more than a spiritual rebirth; it is the notion of mutual love within community. New birth is new life, new action! Lives that are radically changed automatically have an intensely social dimension; they belong to one another as surely as they belong to the God who grants them this renewal.

What does Easter mean to you? Beyond the startling declaration that Christ is risen? Beyond the empty tomb and the astonished disciples, what is the Easter message? Is it simply part of the upbeat mood of the season, with blooming flowers and warming temperatures and extra daylight? Is the resurrection only an event in the career of Jesus? Or does Easter touch your life and make a difference? Are you looking for Christ on the paths of your lives? Are you on the lookout for angels that you might entertain, unawares?