RCL A Easter 3, 2023
It is barely even the week after. It is only days after arriving in Jerusalem, back when Jesus was greeted with palms, hailed as a herald of peace and good news. Debates, meals, betrayal, arrest, so-called-trial. Crucifixion. Then, then, the women left us stunned. Alive?!? We don’t know how or really where we stand, but we don’t live here, So we must turn toward home. Foot in front of foot, the silence only interrupted by the jostling of the crowd. Every artwork easily found (just google it) places these Emmaus road travelers on lonely long and winding roads. But…it is days after the Passover when every Jewish person was expected to go to Jerusalem. Have you ever left a sold-out ballgame or concert? Imagine an ancient version of that as the setting. Foot in front of foot, exhausted parents, and heavy-laden travelers with their tangled hair and dusty feet. They leave the heights and are returning home, or heading to whatever is next. Our two friends, must have been exhausted from the experience, un-grieved losses, and this astonishing come-from-behind win, maybe? As they try to power through the miles, Jesus comes alongside them. These two are in some sort of shock, and in a crowd, which makes it easier for me to see how they didn’t recognize him.
I deeply trust that something holy and astonishing happened to two people on a road leading out of town, days after Jesus’ death, and soon after his first resurrection appearance. However, our holy gospel is written likely a generation later, and the master sacred storyteller of Luke and Acts of the Apostles is offering a retelling that is a full-course meal of literary art. A friend commented yesterday that we could preach on this gospel from now till Pentecost and just barely pull back one layer. This text has a table full of early Eucharistic theology, a whoa! short story about conversion, and precise layering in what scholars call chiastic structure; and It is all set within a common ancient holy story pattern.
This walk to Emmaus, is in some places named the beautiful story. And if you were an ancient you would find comfort in the well-known plot. Across West Asia and Mediterranean cultures, we have stories where Divine guests meet humans in disguise to test not their wit or knowledge, but to test the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality, and welcoming of the stranger, is the foundation of peace and the roots of civilization. Hospitality was lifesaving in the tents of the wilderness, it greets all God’s children, it greets all surprises, as potential gifts. It is a lifestyle of bravery, for as holy as hospitality is, evil, is real and always close. Yet just leaving the gate of the heart unlocked is a mercy in the face of never ending anxiety and suspicion.
The test of Abraham, and of the people of Sodom, and this road home is entirely about hospitality. It is the fork in the holy road: do you love as God loves you, or well not that that much. Whether or not you welcome the unexpected guest is a moment of truth about the most critical of virtues.
This beautiful story is a favorite of artists (who didn’t read the context) because it is a work of art. There is only one reason to not name one of the persons. You have Cleopas, and you have Jesus ‘cloaked’, and one more. No name is a loss of a dimension, but it is a dimension that is filled in: with us. The name of the person on the road is yours, is mine. We are the ones who are beloved, no exception. We are the ones who Jesus has come to in surprise, whether we know it or not. The craft of the telling of the walk is That generation after generation millions are moved to feel their hearts warmed, to know themselves walking in the presence of the Living Christ. Even if nothing like this has ever been something we would acknowledge. The message is clear - you need not have lived then or there to sit at his feet, to meet him here in the breaking of the bread. You are the unnamed beloved disciple. So…How would you do in the hospitality test of the ancients? Where and when have you encountered the divine and it took a while to realize it?
Many of us, we have been through the wringer as persons and as a civilization. It shows up in our households and newsfeeds: gun violence, overdoses, misogyny, the hopelessness that chooses underemployment, homophobia, and racism. The question of the walk to Emmaus is the question of all those terribles, it is the inquiry of the moment: who are we now, and who are we called to be moving into the future? Feasting with Jesus is hosting a table of radical welcome. Not just politely, but getting to know each other so much that we are transformed Into the body of this beautiful stranger. A no-exception love we are to live in our lives. This Emmaus encounter is a test of hospitality, and it is a feeding of the heart and soul for the adventure and complications and surprises that come next. The beautiful story of the walk to Emmaus is about healing, not fixing, but making whole, which is the other side of the coin of hospitality. To be the hospitable presence of Christ in the world Is to be healers - to listen, to learn, and to love, to truth. If we are merciful and courageous in our journey, if we are open to Jesus coming alongside us in loose focus, if we lean into genuine hospitality, we will gather the bravery we need for wherever God sends us next.