Are you headed toward Emmaus? Or are you headed toward Jerusalem?
Cleopas and his companion were headed toward Emmaus and away from Jerusalem. Jesus, whom they hoped would save Israel, had been killed. Despite a rumor of an empty tomb, the road to Emmaus was a road of defeat. It was the road out of town.
We can identify with the disciples’ sadness because we have lost friends and loved ones or given up a dream of a way of life. And most of us can remember at least one incident in the last week when we felt overwhelmed by world events, or we didn’t get what we wanted so we spent time whining or complaining or simply going through the motions to get by.
Today’s lessons remind us that the life of faith is a life of turning around.
Peter told his listeners to “repent and be baptized” and the book of Acts says that 3,000 people were added to the community of believers that day. Their repentance was not a simple apology for things done wrong. It was a radical reassessment of the way they were living their lives based on the Good News of Jesus. Upon becoming Christians, the new converts began living in a new way they shared worship and all their possessions, and they looked out for those in need.
In this morning’s Gospel we heard that within an hour of realizing that they had been in the presence of the risen Christ, the two disciples who had been heading to Emmaus, turned around and retraced their steps to Jerusalem.
The direction we are going depends upon whether we choose to engage with the risen Lord.
We can choose the way of God or the way of disbelief.
Along the way of disbelief, that which makes more money has greater value than that which doesn’t. So young investment bankers seem far more important than experienced schoolteachers and athletes get paid lots more than social workers. As a result, more energy goes into assuring ever-greater possibilities for those who have the most, than goes into making sure that all people have some level of basic care.
Along the way of disbelief, it is more important to move up in a hierarchy than to find the best possible match for the unique set of gifts that you have been given by God. So we wonder if there is something wrong with professors who don’t want to become deans or with caseworkers that don’t want to become managers. We even create hierarchies where none were originally intended. For example, in the church we typically push people who have rich lay ministries toward ordination.
However, there is another way.
After their encounter with the Risen Lord, Cleopas and his companion returned to Jerusalem. There they learned that Jesus had also appeared to Simon. And then there was that story that Mary Magdalene and the other women had told of seeing men in dazzling robes beside the empty tomb.
By opening their hearts, and turning around, the two disciples were transformed from dejected complainers to active participants in a community of new life. Each community member had a different experience of the resurrection, but all of their hearts were burning.
Opening our hearts to Jesus creates new senses of community and possibility.
Through Samaritan Ministry, Christians here in Washington, DC, are sharing their time, money and contacts to help homeless people find jobs and become self-sufficient. Through Call To Renewal, Christians around the nation are joining together to end poverty. And through Jubilee 2000, Christians around the world are struggling with the problem of third world debt.
Meanwhile, new life comes just as incredibly when a person who has struggled with substance abuse feels God’s presence on that first full day without a drink , or when family members who have been divided pray together and find new possibilities for their relationship.
If we choose, our lives of faith can be reenactments of the story of the Road to Emmaus.
No matter how lonely or pessimistic we might feel, the risen Lord is waiting to make our hearts burn. We can know Jesus through the salvation story and the breaking of bread—through the Word and the Sacrament. But, like Cleopas and his companion, we must invite Jesus into our lives.
As the travelers reached Emmaus, Jesus seemed ready to continue without them until the disciples specifically invited him to stay. Only after their invitation did Jesus reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion through table fellowship. Two centuries later, we still must choose whether we will ask the risen Lord to come into our lives. And the way of disbelief so dominates our daily lives that it is a choice we must make over and over again.
Mercifully, each time we find ourselves trudging along the road to Emmaus, there is always a stranger walking with us.
This morning as we prepare to say the Creed in this service of Holy Eucharist, we are like those two disciples along the road. The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, in his book, With Burning Hearts, likens the saying of the Creed to the disciples’ invitation to Jesus, as he was about to leave them in Emmaus. The Creed is much more than a summary of the doctrine of the church. It is our chance to say “YES” to God’s story as we prepare to come together around God’s table.
We can stand and simply recite the words of the Creed or we can choose to invite Jesus into our lives and our hearts.
Nouwen ends his book saying when we “make that choice, everything, even the most trivial things, become new. Our little lives become great part of the mysterious work of God’s salvation. Once that happens, nothing is accidental, casual or futile any more. Even the most insignificant event speaks the language of faith, hope, and above all, love. That’s the Eucharistic life, the life in which everything becomes a way of saying ‘Thank you’ to him who joined us on the road.”