June 18, 2017
“The Long Road”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Two disciples set out for home. It had been a long week. And over the miles, they talked together about everything they had seen and heard, trying to make sense of it all:
“Remember how Jesus rode into Jerusalem and the crowds cheered so loudly it was deafening. Remember how we thought that this was the moment we had been waiting for, for centuries. We believed that God was going to do exactly what we expected.
God had selected an avenger, a mighty prophet, a new king, a priest above all others, a revolutionary – Jesus was finally going to take the world by storm and when he strode into the temple, kicking people out, knocking over furniture, we thought it was finally beginning.
We thought we would at last be on the winning side, and even though we are not part of the eleven closest disciples, we are still insiders, getting front row seats.
But then everything changed, it seemed to only take a moment, and suddenly Jesus was arrested and the crowds that had cheered his name, were calling the name of Barabbas instead, Barabbas who had led an insurrection and had killed people, instead of Jesus who healed and who had never lifted a sword.
Suddenly we went from the followers of a mighty prophet, to the despised friends of a condemned man, enemies of the state.
Everything changed, our world grew suddenly terrifying, as Jesus died the sky grew dark, and we had no idea what would happen to us.
On the Sabbath we hid with the other disciples, we wept over the loss of our friend and leader, we mourned the loss of all our hope.
And on Sunday morning we were woken up by the women who had taken burial spices to the tomb of Jesus.
They told us that Jesus was gone and they had seen angels.
We didn’t believe them. Peter went and found nothing, no body and no angels.
And so, we left. We decided it was all over and it was time to go home.”
A journey of seven miles takes a while, especially walking slowly.
The roads were crowded and dusty with pilgrims going home after the Passover.
The heads of the disciples were bowed together and they talked.
They tried to figure it out. They tried to remember what Jesus had said and done. They tried to remember the things he had promised.
On the busy road, there were many travelers on foot, and soon they noticed that one man had been walking beside them. How long had he been there? They had been so distracted by their grief and fear to notice. How long had he been listening in on their conversation?
This stranger wants to know what they are talking about. They cannot imagine that he has not heard any of it, surely everyone knows by now.
They tell him everything, about how they thought Jesus would save the world, and then he didn’t, and then some women said angels had told them Jesus was alive, but that they didn’t really believe them, and then Peter went to see and found nothing.
And at that point their voices trailed off . . .was that really how the story would end?
And this stranger scolds them – they have all the pieces, everything they need to understand, but they can’t seem to see how everything fits together – and so he tells them.
As they journey home, the stranger walks them through the whole of God’s story, from all the way in the beginning to this very moment.
He shows them how the story was always going to be one of love and suffering, peace and passion.
When the disciples arrive home, they beg the stranger to join them. It is getting dark and the roads are treacherous and there is violence in the air. Come inside where it is safe, come inside and be family with us and share a meal.
And Jesus takes the bread and blesses it and breaks and hands it around.
And suddenly the disciples understand and in that moment they see Jesus clearly, for exactly who he is.
He is not superman, he is the suffering servant, the broken healer, the one who walks with those who weep, the storyteller, the friend who is invited in, the one who helps us to see clearly.
And this was the first time in this account of Jesus’ life that Jesus appears after his death, to these two nobodies. We have a name for one of them, Cleopas, who is never mentioned again in any of the writings we have of Jesus’ life, and the other is never named.
It could have been anybody – and perhaps that is the point, it could happen to anybody.
Cleopas and his companion, we are told in the text, have a seven mile journey to their destination, and in the Greek the words used for their travel implies that they walked very slowly. The two beg Jesus to come in out of the dark, and not travel any further that night.
But once they see Jesus, and understand what has happened, suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore that it is dark out, that there are dangers, and that the climate in Jerusalem towards the followers of Jesus hasn’t changed, it doesn’t matter – they get up and run out into the dark, flying down the road back to Jerusalem – this is just what the good news of Jesus Christ does – transformation.
We had no voice and no words, now we speak up.
We were afraid of the future, now we run towards it.
We had no hope, now we know that God can bring good out of any circumstances.
We thought we were alone, and now we know that always God walks beside us, even when we don’t always see it.
I love this story for so many reasons – because it is our story, our individual stories and the church’s story (which end up really being the same thing).
We are walking a long road of faith.
Our plans have not worked out the way we thought they would. God does not act the way we think he should.
We have so many unanswered questions. We cannot see the future.
And we are trying to piece together what we know about God. We have these stories from the Old Testament that feel foreign and far away, and we have all these voices in the New Testament trying to tell us about Jesus. We have our life experiences which become the lens through which we read and understand everything. We have the Holy Spirit beside us, whispering in our ear and working in our hearts.
We walk this long road together – this journey home. Spiritual writer Ram Dass states that “we are all just walking each other home.”
On this journey to our home in God, you’ll tell me something new and I’ll tell you something you’ve forgotten. You’ll invite me into your home and I’ll invite you into my heart. Together we will show hospitality to one another and to the stranger. Together we will break bread and see Christ anew all over again. On this long journey together we will discover that every road is an Emmaus Road – every step is a step with God, and a step towards home.
Every gathering, every act of service and hospitality, every conversation, every doubt and every question, every reading of the Bible, makes Christ present to us.
This is what the church is for.
We have been on a long journey together, and hopefully you saw all along that God walked beside us. I want to take a moment to tell you how it all began.
I graduated seminary in the spring of 2006 without a job.
Every interview I had I walked away from, knowing that it was not the right one. And then I came across you. Your Ministry Information Form (MIF) was pretty awful. You didn’t want a pastor, you wanted a youth director, and you wanted a youth director to do small group ministry, and intergenerational ministry, and young adult ministry, on top of youth ministry. But I applied anyway.
And I remember so clearly the day I drove out to Winchester. I had lived in Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia my whole life but had never traveled this far west on route 7.
And as I crested the mountain and looked down at the valley below, I thought, “What is this beautiful place?”
Your search team showed me around town, Ben Bousquet showed me around the youth building, Dan and Rich took me to the sanctuary.
I remember how it looked, even without the lights on it was filled with golden light.
And I knew that day that you were right for me and I was right for you.
One of the gifts of over ten years together is that we have walked a lot of road together. You came to my wedding and made desserts for my reception. You threw me a baby shower and baptized both my babies.
You allowed me to spend time with your teenagers and dream big dreams for the youth ministry.
Together we have witnessed the start of the New Stone worship service. And when I started I was preaching six times a year, but after New Stone started I was preaching close to twice a month. It is so rare the associate pastors get the opportunity to preach that often, but you gave me room to grow and to learn to love preaching.
I’m not sure I would have arrived in this place without you.
And when I began a doctor of ministry focusing on preaching, you cheered me on (and even agreed to help me in my research).
After ten years together, you know a lot of my story and I know a lot of yours, and you, dear friends, are the thing I will miss the most. You have walked me toward home, and I have seen Christ in our midst.