The story of the Road to Emmaus is one of the most touching accounts of the post-Resurrection Jesus that we have. Two dejected followers of Jesus, devastated by the death of the man they respected, are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the trauma of the Cross. Alongside them comes a companion who begins to tell them all about the scriptural basis for the Messiah’s life and death. They insist he comes home with them and as they break bread together their eyes are opened and they realize their companion is none other than the risen Jesus. You can almost feel the goose bumps rise on your flesh as they realize with whom they have been talking. The Road to Emmaus story is our story. Cleopas could as easily be me or (fill in names from congregation) or you. The journey Cleopas and his traveling companion go on is the journey we go on every Sunday here at church.
We come in, and we too are overwhelmed by the world. We carry with us oil tankers on fire in nearby Lynchburg. We carry with us horribly botched executions is Oklahoma. We carry with us all those who lost their lives and homes in the floods this week. We carry with us 230 kidnapped Nigerian girls. We carry with us the painful words of rich men, which expose the ugly racism in our country. We carry with us our own personal losses, failures and disappointments from the week. We carry with us the worries of our friends and families. We are weighed down.
And yet Jesus comes along side us, even if we are as gloomy as Cleopas. Just as Jesus shared the word with Cleopas and his friend, we share the word together. We remember God’s love for his people by reading aloud the words we have been given in Scripture. We remember God’s faithfulness to Israel, we remember the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. We share the stories to remind ourselves that the God of the Universe always reaches out to us and asks us to be in loving relationship with him. We shake off the false realities we hear all week—that our identity should be rooted in how we look or how much money we make or how smart we are—and we are reminded that our identity rests in being beloved creatures of God. We are no more and no less.
And then like Cleopas, we invite Jesus to stay with us. We kneel as we confess the ways we have not been faithful to Jesus. And in our brokenness, we create space for Jesus. Intimacy cannot exist without honesty. Just as a friendship is strengthened by moments of vulnerable sharing, our friendship with Jesus blooms when we are most self aware and honest when we are in conversation with him. We invite Jesus into the homes of our hearts and then suddenly Jesus takes over and invites us to feast with him.
In Cleopas’s home, Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave bread, the same motions he made on Maundy Thursday and the same motions we make here every week. Breaking bread is something completely ordinary. Whether it is pouring out the Cheerios to the kids as you get them ready for school or pulling apart an Albemarle Baking Company baguette that you pass around the table for friends, we break bread together daily. When we make special meal for someone, it is a way we give ourselves, a way we show our love. In the same way, in feeding his followers, Jesus extends himself toward them in love.
In the Eucharist, of course, we believe we consume the spiritual presence of Jesus–A Jesus who wants to be so close to us that he becomes part of our very bodies. In his book With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life Henry Nowen writes,
Jesus is God-for us, God-with-us, God-within-us. Jesus is God giving himself completely, pouring himself out for us without reserve. Jesus doesn’t hold back or cling to his own possessions. He gives all there is to give. “Eat, drink, this is my body, this is my blood…this is me for you.
It is in this eating and drinking that Cleopas and his friend’s eyes are opened, they recognize Jesus, they recognize that their hearts burn within them from being in the presence of the holy. And on Sunday mornings, as we gather around the Eucharist table, your heart may burn within you, too. After all, for a brief moment you are united with the very Jesus who sat at Cleopas’ table. For a brief moment you are united with everyone in this room as we share the same body and blood. You remember that you are holy, too. You remember that the God of the universe chooses to live within you.
At the very moment Cleopas’ eyes are opened, Jesus disappears.
Isn’t that strange? For three years, Jesus’ followers hung on his every word, but they never really “got it”. They were in his presence, but did not have full intimacy with him. And now, the moment his followers understand, he vanishes. They do not need his physical presence any more. His spiritual presence is with them, in the communion they shared. In his absence, they can have deeper intimacy with him than they did three years in his presence.
The same holds true for us. We do not need the physical Jesus with us, because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, who enables deep communion with Jesus and the Father. The spirit descends on this table and transforms our wafers and port into the real, spiritual presence of Christ. And that presence lives within you, giving you strength and courage to go out into the world.
We don’t get to stay in the safety of this sanctuary. We are called to go back into the world. After their encounter with Jesus, Cleopas and his friend run right back to the dangerous world they were fleeing. They run back to Jerusalem, find their friends, and tell them the incredible news of Jesus’ resurrection.
At the end of every service here, you hear a dismissal. Sometimes it is “Go in peace to Love and Serve the Lord!” Sometimes it is “Go forth in the name of Christ!” Whatever we dismissal we use, the message is the same. You can’t stay here. You must go back into the world, with all of its challenges and loss. But you do not go into the world alone. You go with the presence of Christ within you. And Christ will give you the courage and wisdom you need to face the world with grace and love. You are a now a Christ-bearer. You have good news to share. Go, and may Christ be with you.
This structure of this sermon is heavily indebted to Nowen’s With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life, quoted above.