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Comfort Food and Hope

Luke 24:13-35 (CEB)

On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.

He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.

The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
He said to them, “What things?”

They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago.

But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

April 29-30, 2017
Luke 24:13-35
The Emmaus Road
“Comfort Food and Hope”

On this third Sunday in the Easter season, we hear another post-resurrection story of Jesus. This time we listen in on travelers on the road to Emmaus.
According to the story, the setting is the day we know as Easter. Two sad and discouraged followers of Jesus have left Jerusalem with Jesus’ death and Mary’s hard-to-believe story of resurrection still fresh in their minds. They are journeying from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus, when a stranger joins them.
The stranger asks the two what they are talking about and they ask him if he is the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have taken place there in the last few days.

Now, let’s join them on this road to Emmaus…

(Read Luke 24:13-35)

There are many stories in the Bible for which I wish I knew, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story…

For instance, what did the blind man do with his life after Jesus restored his sight? How did the life of the Samaritan woman change after her conversation with Jesus at the well? Or, what was the rest of the story with Zacchaeus and his family after they had eaten dinner with Jesus? We could go on and on with stories for which we wish we had the rest of the story.

Perhaps the rest of any of the biblical stories is up to us. The post-resurrection stories of Jesus are stories about how the transforming presence of God through the risen Christ comes to us again and again in the ordinary places and events of daily life…like breaking bread. Where and how we fit into the rest of those stories is up to us.

The truth of who we are as Christian people of faith is grounded in these Emmaus Road experiences that hold the potential for redirecting our lives or simply encouraging us in life by opening our eyes to God’s presence.

Growing up, did you ever have one of those large-size magnifying glasses? They were great for providing hours of amazement. We soon discovered that if we held the magnifying glass a certain way on a sunny day, we could redirect the sun’s rays.
If we kept the glass in the same place long enough, we found that we could burn a hole in a piece of paper. Or, I remember being on a camping trip in girl scouts and learning how to use the magnifying glass to start paper scraps on fire to get the campfire going.
The magnifying glass served to collect rays of sunlight and focus them into a single strong beam.

There are many times in our lives that are like the focused effort of concentrating sunlight through a magnifying glass…times when things come together for us, or when events that have seemed unrelated, or that make no sense, are suddenly shown to have connected meaning.

Or, it may be when caring friends, family, mentors or a community of faith care enough to show up on the road and walk alongside us on our journey.
Those can be Emmaus experiences.

Or, an Emmaus experience may happen when we see something from a different vantage point. Many years of our lives may feel like we are similar to mountain climbers; investing all the energy we have in making forward progress in scaling high peaks. While we’re climbing, we fix our eyes upward on where we are going, and don’t look back on where we have been until we have reached the summit.
Then from an elevated vantage point, we can see our lives in new ways as we marvel at the view before us.

Several years ago, on a trip to Israel and Egypt, some in our group spent time crawling and climbing on several tall rock formations and small mountains.
Of course, we didn’t have the training or the equipment to be scaling the tallest mountains of the area, but on some of the smaller mountains we figured we could climb a fairly good distance without special equipment.

On one particular day a few of us took what ended up to be a two-hour climb up a portion of one of the mountains on our visit to Petra in Jordan.
It was a hike that changed elevation by several hundred feet and required us to stay focused on our upward movement without looking down or back on where we had started.

But onward and upward we went and when we made the decision to not climb any higher, we rested and turned to look at how far we had come. The view from on high was breath-taking and one that focused our thoughts and attention in a whole new way.
It was one of those moments when you suddenly have a feeling of awe and peacefulness. It was like holding the magnifying glass on life and seeing it concentrated clearly into that single moment of time and location.

In that instant, our eyes were opened and our hearts were burning, not only from the strenuous hike up the side of the mountain, but from the sudden connections that seemed possible between God’s creation and God’s presence and what all that had to do with life and faith. The only response was gratitude.

The companions on the road to Emmaus had a similar moment of connection and insight, which began when the stranger joined them on the road. Jesus listens unrecognized, but present.

The two travelers open their hearts in hospitality and invite the stranger to their home. The stranger took some bread in his hands, blessed it and broke it and suddenly the two travelers recognize Jesus. Jesus quickly disappears and the two friends race back to town to tell the disciples what they had seen and who they had met.

In a flash, the conversation from earlier in the afternoon helped them remember and see the reality of God’s presence. “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” the travelers said.

In a simple, ordinary moment of breaking bread, they saw the bigger picture. Simple, ordinary bread offered comfort and insight. In the breaking of bread, two persons whose lives had been saddened and discouraged by the events of the previous days were offered hope again.

Earlier on the road, the travelers were weighed down by the baggage of their grief and doubt and they failed to recognize Jesus.

The same is so often true for us. On any given day, we straggle through the day weighed down by stress, pressures, cynicism and expectations. We long for the living presence of God, but we are often too preoccupied, too suspicious, and too busy to actually recognize God. How easy it is to look and not see, or listen and not understand.

Many times we need something that is familiar and brings comfort in order to remember.

I have a favorite coffee cup that used to be my grandmother’s. For years I remember its familiar place on the kitchen windowsill of my grandparent’s home. The chip is still on the rim of the cup, reminding me of the time I dropped the cup when my brother and I were helping grandma with the dishes in a time when kids actually washed and dried dishes.
My grandmother’s hands have long since relinquished that flowered coffee cup, but because of all that she was to me, I can hold that familiar, comfortable cup and remember.

We do well to gather our memories around things we can feel and touch. When it comes to simple, ordinary, familiar things like water and bread, we can remember our baptism and the gift of the breaking of the bread with Communion. Both can sustain us as we journey on the road of life.

The truth is, the story of the two travelers walking on the Emmaus road is also our story. It’s a story that shows us that it is easy for our losses, our disappointments and our grief to pull us into sadness, resentment, anger, and bitterness.
The stranger on the road to Emmaus took the sadness and the disappointment of the two travelers and wove them into the fabric of Scripture, hospitality and relationship.

Finally, it was the simple breaking of bread by Jesus that opened the eyes of his companions and cut through all the layers of hurt, sorrow, pain, grief and doubt that surrounded their hearts.
This simple act showed that God’s activity in the world breaks into our daily lives even when we do not expect it, bringing us comfort and hope as we open ourselves to the rest of the story of Easter.

May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.