In our scripture for today, two disciples of Jesus are walking along a road that led from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about a seven-mile journey. They had no doubt witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, and then spent some time hiding out in Jerusalem. Downtrodden and discouraged, they were returning home. They were trying to put it all behind them, running away from the violence, the collusion of their leaders with the Romans to destroy someone they had trusted and hoped in. Perhaps they were part of his 72 closer disciples. But it is over, and it is time to go home and go back to their old way of living. And as they go on their way they are talking, trying to figure out what just happened: trying to put some meaning or order into it. It is along walk, about seven miles one way. And if you walk without much energy or with laden hearts and broken dreams, you can walk a mile in about thirty minutes. The trip would take them about three and a half hours. Probably after the midday meal and the heat of the day, Jesus joins up with them, but they do not see him for who he is; he’s just a stranger on the way.
Perhaps we too are feeling kind of lost, not seeing who is with us, not seeing any meaning in these times, and afraid of the darkness of our world in these days of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
Rachel Naomi Remens tells a tale of her own life that sheds some light on why and how we process life events, completely missing the grace of God to transform and redeem our lives.
When Rachel was little, she remembers, her father giving her mother a huge jigsaw puzzle for her birthday. It was set up on a card table in the living room and, not just her parents, but the many visitors who came to the apartment would invariably stop on their way into the kitchen and stand over it and work on it awhile before going into the kitchen for coffee and conversation. But, no one thought to explain to Rachel what exactly it was, or what they were trying to do. So, one morning when there wasn’t anyone around, she dragged a chair over to the table and stood on it and looked at what this thing was. It disturbed her. All she could see was bits and pieces of cardboard that were scattered all over the table. Oh, there were some pieces that formed a square that would eventually hold them all but it didn’t make any sense. Some pieces were light, pale blues, streaks of pink and gold, but there seemed to be many more dark pieces, grays, blacks, with lines and figures she couldn’t quite make out. She didn’t like so many dark ones. So, looking around to make sure no one was watching, she took a handful of the ones she thought were ugly, climbed from the chair and hid them under the cushions on the sofa.
As the days and evenings passed and more visitors came to the apartment to work on the puzzle, she would take more pieces away and squirrel them away in the sofa. People became more and more frustrated because they couldn’t seem to get the puzzle to come together; there were patches and pieces missing everywhere. One day her mother noticed that Rachel was peering up at the table with the puzzle and looking very grim, and suddenly her mother realized that it was probably Rachel who was behind the impossibility of the puzzle making any sense. She was kind and asked Rachel what she was looking at, and then she realized that Rachel didn’t know what this thing was at all. She lifted her up on the chair and looked at the puzzle with her, asking her what she felt about it. Rachel was slow to answer, but finally she said that she didn’t like it. It was ugly and filled with so much darkness. Her mother asked, with some cajoling, “Rachel, what have you been doing?” And Rachel, climbed down off the chair, went over to the sofa, dragged the cushions off and revealed probably a hundred pieces shoved into their hiding place. Her mother gathered them up and put them on the table. Then, she propped up the cover of the box with the picture of the of the puzzle completed in front of them and started putting the missing pieces of the puzzle in their places. Rachel stood on her chair mesmerized and delighted as she watched her mother’s hands fly across the card table making this gorgeous picture of the sun coming up in the early, early morning on a beach. And then they talked, and Rachel said she’d taken the pieces because they were dark and ugly and they made her feel afraid. Her mother explained that it was the dark ones that gave depth and meaning to the picture. It was then that Rachel first learned that it is the dark times, the hard places, the ugly pieces of our lives that give depth and meaning to our stories. It is precisely through the suffering, the losses, the pain, even death and illness, and the facing of them in our own lives or in the lives of those we love that we come to see a larger picture: the contrast of the dark and light, gives vision and hope beyond what immediately looks grim and foreboding to us. (McKenna, Megan, And Morning Came, SHEED AND WARD, Chicago, 1919 (p. 97-98 paraphrased).
Like Rachel, the two disciples in our scripture passage, Cleopas and another (perhaps his wife or other follower), were trying to figure out what had just happened.
They meet Jesus on the road and they do not recognize him. Consumed in their grief, they hardly give him a glance. He walks and talks with them until they reach their home and they invite him in. And when they break bread with him, their eyes are opened, and they see his face, his hands, his eyes, his broken body sitting before them, holding the bread of life that he had promised. Only then did they recognize who he truly was.
Prayer, scriptures, talking, walking… all of these helped their minds to cope. But only when their eyes met over the bread did they see the whole picture. He touched their hearts. Their hearts were burning as he was telling them about the scriptures, and these scriptures helped their eyes to truly see him.
The disciples of Emmaus became messengers of this Lord whom they had not recognized. He made himself known to them through words of mercy and the meal of grace. They ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples.
We sometimes walk through stretches of our lives when we are on this side of Emmaus, when we feel lost, broken, and confused. But we can come to our own Emmaus-like place, where our prayer for Jesus the Lord to abide with us, is answered abundantly. In all our journey, our walk is by faith. Our calling is to keep on trusting him, even when we can’t discern his holy presence by the way things are turning out at the moment. But we will see clearly. As we live with Christ and his people, we keep having our eyes opened. And the outcome of our faith is the full and final revelation of his saving presence forever.
My sisters and brothers, please pray with me that we, too, may have our eyes and hearts opened to the incredible love of God revealed to us in Christ…..