Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: Luke 24.13-35
Can you imagine being able to take a walk with Jesus? The thought of it is just so soothing.
Several of you are walkers. I’ve seen you walking around town, at the track, or at the river trail. I enjoy taking a walk when I need time to think. It’s a calming thing to take a walk. But to take a walk with Jesus? That would be something.
Some walks are longer than others. The walk from the car to the graveside of a loved one’s funeral seems like miles, even though it may only be yards. At the same time, a long walk with your spouse after a rough week can seem like it goes by in a moment.
Even if you walk the same route regularly, it can seem longer on some days, can’t it? Maybe your body is sore. Maybe your mind is troubled. There are plenty of reasons some walks are longer than others.
I wonder how long the walk to Emmaus felt for Jesus…and for his disciples? It was a seven mile walk, which began with two disciples taking the road alone several days after Jesus’ death and rumored resurrection. Luke tells us they were “talking,” but that word doesn’t quite convey the urgency of the original Greek. They were debating. They were going back and forth forcefully, with emotion. This wasn’t a stroll filled with small talk; this was a hard walk with hard words.
Not that they were upset with each other, but their world had been upset. Jesus was crucified, dead; and their hopes died along with him. Others said he was back. He told them he would return. But they saw him die! What would they do now? Where would they go? They had given up everything to follow him, and now he was gone. So they went for a long walk, to sort some things out.
We can only imagine what they might have been talking about as their walk began. But when you’re in the midst of a heated discussion, time and distance pass quickly. They are engrossed in dialogue about important and emotional matters. The things happening around them fade into the background, and they fail to notice their walking party of two has now become a party of three.
The stranger says, “What are you guys talking about?”
Cleopas says, perhaps sarcastically, “Are you the only stranger in the whole town who doesn’t know what’s going on?”
Ever patient, the stranger says, “Tell me. What’s going on?”
So they tell him. Everything. The charges. The arrest. The trial. The conviction. The execution. The empty tomb. And they don’t know what to make of it. What’s happening? Where’s the messiah? Where did he go?
And the stranger says, “Oh, bless your hearts! You still don’t get it, do you? Even though the prophets said this would happen. Even though he told you this would happen.” So they walked and talked, and talked and walked, like long lost friends on a track, circling and circling trying to solve the world’s problems.
When they reach Emmaus, they invite the stranger in for supper. And that’s when the long walk took on a whole new light. The stranger broke bread, and they suddenly had déjà vu. The stranger was no stranger at all! The man on the seven mile walk was Jesus himself!
How would you feel if you had been one of those disciples, on a long walk with Jesus when you were searching for him…and you never even knew it? What if you had run into Jesus yesterday and only realized it today?
What if you wait your whole life to meet Jesus in heaven and you say, “I’m so glad to finally meet you!” And he says, “I’ve met you thousands of times, but you didn’t recognize me.”
Verse 16 says, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” What held them back? Did God shield their eyes only to prove a point? That is possible, but I find it more likely that their own expectations kept them from recognizing him. They didn’t see him because they never expected to see him.
Do you expect to see Jesus when you wake up in the morning? Our first inclination is probably to say no. We don’t expect to see Jesus. But then we see the sunrise. We see the eyes of our loved ones. We see the joy of children. We see a stranger in need. We see someone helping him. We see the sunset. And by day’s end, we’ve seen Jesus a dozen times, if we perceive him.
Frederick Beuchner once wrote, “Sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only . . . a garden, a stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with our being and imagination… what we may see is Jesus himself.” Isn’t that true as steel? Miracle moments are all around, if we take time to notice them.
You might say those slow disciples missed the moment once again. Missed the opportunity of a lifetime on the walk to Emmaus. But they did something very right in this encounter with the stranger, and I think that’s what the story is about.
What did they do right? They showed hospitality. They invited the stranger along on the walk. They invited him over for supper afterwards. They were hospitable to Jesus, and as frustrated as he surely was with them, I think he was also enormously proud that they understood his most important lesson. They welcomed the stranger, and in so doing they welcomed the risen Christ. They may not have known who he was, but they knew how to treat a stranger. They had learned something from him after all.
They also learned to shift their expectations. They had taken a seven mile walk with Jesus, without even knowing it. That’s the kind of thing that changes your life forever. Never will they ever take a walk again that they don’t expect to meet Jesus along the way. And when we expect to meet Jesus, we will. We will perceive him in the ordinary, miracle moments that make up our everyday lives. Amen.