How much time do you spend on the road every day? How many minutes or hours in transit do you rack up every week? By many different measures we who live in New Jersey and in the New York metro area have some of the longest average commutes in the nation. Some of us spend more time commuting than we do taking our summer vacation! And then there is the 3 pm to 6 pm after school shuttle to sports, lessons, activities, rehearsals, doctor’s appointments, and everything else that kids do during those hours.
It all adds up to a lot of time on the road – even if you keep travelling the same exact miles day after day.
So this morning’s Gospel is good news for us.
The setting is Easter day, and two of Jesus’ disciples were walking from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus – seven miles out of town. They had lived through the events of Jesus’ last week, including his arrest, torture and execution and had spent the following day keeping the Sabbath holy as best they could.
Then that morning they had heard from Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and some of the other women disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that two angels had said that Jesus was risen. But those who had not been to the tomb that Easter morning couldn’t fathom what they were hearing; they thought it “an idle tale.”
And so Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple headed for home; what was left for them, after all? Their leader and teacher had been crucified, sold out by the religious leaders, made a public spectacle by the Roman soldiers – what hope was there, what plan could there be going forward? There was no going forward, only heading home dejected and defeated.
And while they were walking along Jesus came near and walked with them; but they didn’t recognize him. He joined their conversation, even engaged in some Bible study with them – and they still didn’t recognize Jesus. As the day was ending they reached the village of Emmaus and urged Jesus to stay the night with them, offering hospitality and shelter.
And as they sat down to their evening meal he took bread and said the blessing, just as he had done at every meal he shared with them - the blessing said at every Jewish meal where there is bread: “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, ha‑motzi lehem min ha‑aret - Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” He took bread and said the blessing broke the bread and gave it to them – just as he had done at supper the previous Thursday night where he had also said, “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” It was then the two disciples recognized the Risen Christ, and they hurried back to Jerusalem, despite the late hour, to share the good news with the others, only to hear that Simon Peter had also seen the resurrected Lord.
So how is this Gospel good news for us?
The disciples met Jesus on the road, while they were on the way; they weren’t eagerly peering down the road for him; they weren’t even sitting and waiting for Jesus to show up – they were just going along, trying to sort out what happened and mulling over their feelings. And Jesus came to them.
We spend so much of our lives on the road, in the car, riding the train – it’s good to know Jesus can find us there.
I’ve often had the experience while I’m driving that I hear a piece of music, or the lyrics to a song, or a thoughtful and reflective commentator, or even see a beautiful tree or piece of sky that suddenly overwhelms me with the presence of God – it almost takes my breath away. Sometimes it’s a sense of joy or beauty, other times it’s a sense of longing or a shard of pain or a feeling of humility before the greatness of God – and sometimes it’s all of those feelings together. But it’s never a sense I look for, or bring on myself, or manufacture – Jesus just kind of sneaks up on me, or rather, God uses that music or tree or comment to open my heart to the presence of Christ; and I am moved to offer thanks or praise or ask forgiveness.
Jesus finds me where I am; he meets me on the road – just as he met those disciples Easter afternoon, just as he will meet any of us.
That is good news.
There’s another aspect to this story, however – the track record the disciples had with Jesus in the first place. They had been there with him while he was teaching and healing; they had listened and watched – even if they didn’t fully understand. They had prayed with Jesus, and had been prayed for by him; they had shared meals together and had joined him in blessing the bread: Blessed are you Lord God, ruler of the universe. They had a history and a relationship with Jesus that resonated deeply and clearly when he said the blessing and broke the bread in Emmaus.
And it’s the same with us – we can recognize those God-moments on the road most clearly when we are taking the time to build our relationship with Jesus, when we take time for prayer and worship and Scripture and Eucharist. The communion that we feel with God in those moments in the car, or on the train, or while we are walking, are an outgrowth and a reflection of the communion that we share with Christ in the Eucharist – when we are fed at the table of our Lord, where Jesus is the host and we are the invited guest.
Our hearts burn within us, just as the disciples’ did, when we are in the presence of Christ, when the reality of God has welled up within us, when our eyes have been opened and we see that we are not alone in the universe but are accompanied by Jesus all the way home.
And it all begins here – at the altar, at the Lord’s Table, as we gather in Jesus’ presence and take bread, bless it, break it and share it among us, just as he told us to do. And then we go out into the world, to all the places that God might send us, to all the situations where we are needed and used by God, only to return here once more to be renewed, refreshed and refueled by the power and presence of the Risen Christ.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
A Collect for the Presence of Christ, BCP, page 124
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Third Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2011