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The Road to Emmaus

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Sunday, April 10th, 2005 — Luke 24:13-35

Today's gospel is one of those great stories in which we can picture the scene, and imagine what the characters might be thinking. We can also imagine what we might say or do in a similar situation.

The story in today's gospel seems to be showing us two different ways to live: One is in fear, the other in faith.

Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. The gospel tells us that it is seven miles away. Not a terribly long walk, but long enough for a good amount of "conversation and debating."

The disciples were discouraged. Instead of making everything better for them, Jesus had been crucified. They could easily have been "conversing and debating" about who Jesus really was, and whether or not the things he said were true.

Then rumors began to fly about the disappearance of Jesus' body. As the troubling facts added up, they began to doubt. And to worry.

Maybe they had decided: enough was enough. Nothing made sense anymore. The disciples left Jerusalem wondering who or what could give meaning to their lives.

It is important for us to notice Jesus' response to his disciples. He did not censor their conversation. He did not scold them for "debating" the issues. Nor did he say: "O.K. if you give me your list of questions, I'll give you a list of answers." That was never his style. What DID he do, then? He helped them to shift their focus.

Jesus stayed with the disciples for dinner. And as they were preparing to eat, Jesus "…took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them." The familiar sights and sounds ease their worries. Jesus takes his place at the center of their lives. Their questions become clear, and they remember what is important. The debating is over - at least for the moment. They are re-energized. Life is good.

The story of meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus is meant for us. It could be the story of Isabelle and Tom, Bea and Bill, or Elsie and Emile. It is a story of two ways to live OUR lives:

The first way - "conversing and debating" - we have our heads buried in distractions such as, doubts, "what-if's," guilt, and gossip. We're pretty good at this. We can kick up so much dust that we miss seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

The second approach that this gospel offers is to be still long enough for the dust to settle, and then to pay attention to the presence of God in our lives.

You might think that this is just another way of saying that we can choose to see the glass half empty or half full. We can choose to be pessimists or optimists. But I think the gospel is telling us something different.

Jesus did not suggest that the disciples ignore the facts. He didn't dismiss their worries as irrelevant. Instead, he helped them to see that he was with them at the heart of their questions. When they focus on Jesus' words and actions instead of their fears and confusion, they can see clearly again.

Life is the same for us. We have to make decisions and choices. We can't bury our heads in the sand or run away from responsibilities. But God wants to give meaning to OUR lives, too. God wants us to draw energy from God, not from fear.

Jesus blessed and broke the bread with his disciples. This gesture brought back a flood of memories about the things that Jesus had said and done. It brought back their conviction about the truth of their lives with Jesus.

The Eucharist is meant to do this for us, too. It gives us strength for our journeys. Besides this, there are other times and other ways that God is present and begging us to pay attention. When we do, we receive God's life-giving Spirit.

Moments of clarity, when the dust of confusion clears away.
Moments of vulnerability; and moments of intense connection with others.
Moments of peace, when our fears quiet and we trust that in spite of our weaknesses, all will be well.

These are the gifts of the Spirit. They are ours to savor. They will shape us into people who live our faith. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will be able to meet life's challenges.

Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew born in 1914. She was interred in a Nazi prison camp and eventually died in a gas chamber. Etty Hillesum stands out for the work she did to relieve the suffering of her fellow Jews.

But her life-story is interesting to us for another reason. In reading her journals, we find a creative, talented, intelligent woman who is also deeply spiritual. She is constantly searching for God in her life. Yet in her early journal entries, she is also tormented. She is in and out of love affairs. She is depressed, and dissatisfied. Her life was on an emotional roller coaster, in spite of her desire for God.

And then something happened. On July 2, 1942, she had a powerful insight. A moment of clarity. She saw for the first time exactly what was going on in her world, and what she would do in response. Etty actually drew a line under her diary entry for the previous day to mark this turning point in her life.

One might think that such a stark realization would set a fragile, unstable, person into a tailspin. But it does not. From that day on, there are no more ups and downs. No more distractions. Only quiet determination, along with gratitude and praise of God as she lives out her life in the grace of the Spirit.

The lesson of the Road to Emmaus is one of focus. In the Eucharist, WE ask GOD to not look at OUR faults, but instead to look on the ways we are trying to be good and decent people. In this gospel, Jesus is asking US to try that same thing. HE is saying to US: "Don't spend all of your time looking at what troubles you. At your doubts, and fears. At a million other distractions. Instead, look at me. Discover me in the 'breaking bread moments' of your lives." When we do this, the dust of the journey will clear, and we will see the light.

There is a very short poem by the Sufi mystic, Rumi. It goes like this:

    Stay in the company of lovers.
    Those other kinds of people,
    they each want to show you something.
    A crow will lead you to an empty barn -
    a parrot to sugar.

Fr. Hester has called the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus: "The greatest love story ever told." Jesus is the one who shows us what is "sweet" in life, even when we find ourselves holed up in an "empty barn." In Jesus' company, life is good!

Let us ask God, then, to help us see the "breaking bread moments" in our lives.