Third Sunday of Easter 2020
‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road…...’ These burning hearts take us further into God’s world.
When Jesus approaches the disciples along the road, ‘their eyes were kept from recognizing him.’ It is up to our imaginations as to why, excerpt that Jesus invites them to tell him their story. They are talked about the arrest, torture, crucifixion and death of Jesus.
Hopes did not materialise. Expectations were unmet. Investments failed to return. Rumours that he was alive seemed like ideal talk (Luke 24:11). Their lives seemingly shattered, there was nothing to keep them in Jerusalem and Emmaus was an escape from life – or so it seems.
Their eyes were opened, not when the stranger approaches or walks with them or tries to explain everything to them but when he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives them bread. It was such an ordinary gesture. It seemed so ordinary but they learn, as we do, that God approaches us through ordinary gestures. It is not in the miraculous, but in ordinary taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. For others, it may be a friend’s embrace, the laughter of a child at play, walking through a forest, offering food to a person in need, and in sharing a meal with family. The two disciples having their eyes opened in the midst of everyday reality are reminded that all is not lost. Love has won. All is not lost. We are not defeated or alone.
We see in the gospel that Jerusalem and Emmaus are not geographical places but portals of understanding. Emmaus, for which there seems to be no evidence for its existence, can be seen as the place to go in order to escape. It may be a bar, a movie or a point when we throw up our hands and just give up. It is the place where we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred and that love, freedom and justice have been twisted out of shape by selfishness. Emmaus was that symbolic place to which we run when we have lost hope or don't know what to do; it’s, the place of escape, of forgetting, of giving up, of deadening our senses and our minds and maybe our hearts, too. Could it be like the tomb the disciples created for themselves in the locked room of last week’s gospel? The Emmaus they are running to is the place of comfort, safety and avoidance of the reality of the Jerusalem, the reality of their world. Emmaus was like the looked room where the disciples were in hiding for fear of those outside. There is no record of any village called Emmaus in any r ancient source. Tradition, suggests that it might have been a few hours walk from Jerusalem. Marcus Borg suggests that Emmaus is nowhere. Emmaus is nowhere precisely because Emmaus is everywhere. Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus unless one has skilled the fine art of turning off the brain and check if one’s heart is still beating. Going to church can be like Emmaus as a way of avoiding the real world – the world of wounded and scarred people and Earth - when are called to open our eyes to those with whom Jesus identifies - ‘to the least of these’.
Jerusalem is the place - the Empire - that continues to oppress by inflicting pain, hardship, and death. It is the place of disappointment, violence, corruption, abuse of power. Yet, though the place of power and violence, this was where Jesus did not respond in kind when the disciples ought a warrior god who would destroy the enemy. It is in this place that Jesus teaches a totally new way where violence is overcome through love – love and forgiveness of the enemy. Jesus offers a totally new way of making peace through justice. Easter is good news. New life for Jesus means new life for his disciples, and new life for the disciples means new life for the world. But Easter is not necessarily good news for those who abuse power then and today. Improbable as Jesus’ resurrection was, it must have haunted them as they came to realise that they had placed themselves in opposition to a power stronger than death.
We are reminded that we do not walk alone even when it seems pointless to go on, when our voices and cries for justice and peace seem to be unheard. In our journeying, our peace-making, our caring, our attempts to make a positive change, we meet many women, men and children. What do we see? Do we see God hiding in them or not? Will the grime and the grit blind us? Will the ugly and the spiteful, the colour and the smell repel us? How do we deal with the things that make for difference and indifference, hostility and hatred? As people lament during this lockdown that they cannot have communion, the broken bread, can we see that Easter becomes real for us when we see Jesus in the breaking hearts around us. Can we look past our inconvenience and be open to the reality of people who continue to live under repressive regimes and under this pandemic? Can we look past our inconvenience and notice the 1000’s of asylum seekers in Turkey, Greece and Bangladesh who cannot isolate themselves to keep safe? Can we look past our inconvenience and see the desperation of the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon who have no protections and still face theft from unscrupulous farmers, miners and timber merchants? If we do look, then maybe our hearts will burn within us!
Jesus meets us along the road that we take, but like in the story he might also reroute us as he did for the disciples and take us back into the heart of the struggle, into the world of others. We are reminded that whenever goodness is shared, tears dried, comfort given, charity done, he is present. We are all on a journey. Our paths are uneven. Losses, at times are heavy. We might seem to march without purpose whilst searching for some meaning. But we are not alone.
The stranger, who insisted on walking with the disciples, and walks with us, is recognised in gestures of hospitality. It is along this road that the strangers find one another, cradle one another’s pain, share stories and what they mean, deliver each other by finding the presence of God together. The road that was taking them away from Jerusalem, away from the place of suffering and lost hopes now is the road that takes them back but this time towards hope, life and love. Hearts that were dull, hopeless, despairing, aggressive and violent can be wakened by the Stranger who accompanies us.
When pandemics and disasters strike, we are called to see and respond to the One who shares our grief, death and suffering. As our planet is threatened by the violence of greedy consumerism which has caused ecosystem degradation and resulting in pandemics, we are called to respond to the One who gave, and gives, life to the universe. When war and conflict cause suffering and harm to innocent people, we are called to respond to the One who brings peace. Of course, we can ignore these things and go about our lives as these things do no matter. We can walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, we can worship, etc., and then let him walk on, or we can invite him in for a meal, and allow ourselves to be drawn into his life and through our prayer and action be open to something breaking out or breaking into our lives calling for another response. ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he was talking to us on the road…...’ These burning hearts take us further into God’s world – the world of the stranger, the outcast, the poor, the abused and minority people. If we welcome them will encounter him, and our hearts will burn within us and our eyes will be opened to God's presence and power in our parishes and faith communities. This is what it means for us to call ourselves Easter people.
It is less about believing things but about behaviour and behaving differently in a world where religion is often hijacked by terrorists with various spots quoting from the Koran or the Bible to justify their prejudices, their violence, and their judgmentalism. It is not so much about believing that God is alive but behaving like God is alive that makes a difference and the beginning of compassion and recognising the divine in the stranger as the pathway to justice, peace, and mercy.
The great religions insist that our compassion cannot be limited to one’s own tribe, group or family but must touch everybody-not just love one’s neighbours, but for the enemy and the stranger. One question about the present pandemic that we live with is how it can blind us to us to our neighbours, strangers, the poor and refugees? Whatever religion we hold on to fails us if it does not promote a great sense of the other and appreciation for the other and for creation.
Our experience of the risen Christ shapes our entire understanding of the journey giving us renewed energies for the journeys ahead. The disciples realize that Jesus has been in the midst of all they have done, guiding and shaping their conversations and movements along the way. They race back to Jerusalem with the good news, ready to serve Jesus once again.