April 15, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Today we share a beloved story from Luke’s Gospel of the travelers on the road to Emmaus. There were actually ten or so encounters with Jesus after the Resurrection and this is a favorite. One of the companions is Cleopas and the other is not named; perhaps it was one of the women who had been inspired by his message. Some say that we are meant to put our own name in there as the other companion to Cleopas. Might we imagine that we were there, that we had this firsthand experience to what Jesus shares as he instructs them through scripture about some of the things they are missing in their understanding of what has happened in their lives? As they stop and break bread together, in the blessing of the bread, he becomes visible to them.
Let us pray, O God, companion on our journey, be with us this day and open our eyes to the ways in which you have been present to us on all of the days that have come before. Help us to understand the deeper meaning of your Way as we continue along this journey of life. Amen.
Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century philosopher once wrote,
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Almost all of us have lived through a time of great loss, perhaps preceded by days or months of doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, upsetting days of worry about a loved one, or the haze following a sudden loss. In the midst of the upset, we couldn’t really take time to reflect upon the events at hand, the meaning of this loss in our lives or what the future might look like with this person no longer with us. We’ve all been there in one way or another, and probably more than once. We can only take in so much when life gets hectic and so the real grieving, the real coming to terms with the loss doesn’t happen until long after the death and Memorial and gatherings have taken place.
In the stories shared in the Gospels we hear of many events in the life of Jesus and his followers. We have been told about the people healed by his touch and words, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and of his time of struggles and doubt. We know that these shared stories are powerful, but perhaps none are more powerful than the simple story from Luke about the journey to Emmaus.
We hear of these two friends walking along the dusty road making their way to Emmaus. They are overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, both for their dear Teacher whose life was taken all too soon, but also in the despair of a lost vision. How can they move forward? Is all lost? What about the beautiful vision of a Kingdom come here on earth that Jesus had so often spoken about? All of that seems eclipsed by the immediacy of the sorrow that weighs them down.
They are traveling along the way from one place–a place of hope-turned-into-despair, a place of suffering and death and the incredible story of the resurrection-to another place: Emmaus. In his book The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner writes about the many ways that so many of us may seek to find a place, an Emmaus, to run to when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do, a place of escape, of forgetting, of giving up, of deadening our senses and our minds and maybe our hearts, too. He even says that for some: “Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday.”
And so the experience of these two travelers is brief, much like our own experiences of God, or glimpses of God’s presence, often are. We often reflect back on our experiences and process them, understanding them better “in hindsight” than we do in the moment they are unfolding. It leads us to ask ourselves how God speaks to us today, not only by listening to these stories from Scripture of the encounters these early Christians had with Jesus, but through our own encounters with Jesus, in the breaking of bread, the sharing of stories, the moments we share in communities of faith?
We might ask ourselves if we take the time to listen to our hearts when they are “burning,” speaking to us of a deeply felt experience that calls us to reflect more intentionally on what in fact has happened. Why did it touch us so deeply? How was God present in that moment? The same amazing things, the wonderful works of God, are happening here, today, in our lives, too, if we open our eyes and see, and then, maybe our hearts, too, will burn within us. When we struggle with questions of meaning and we just can’t understand what’s happening around us, maybe, just maybe, the answer is right in front of us.
In these days following Easter, we experience the hope of new life and we look to all of the important ways that the unfolding of spring may yet teach us lessons. Here in the northeast, we often have to wait a long time to see the earth awaken to the warmth and sunshine. Shoots of crocuses work hard to climb through the snow and tiny buds slowly open on the trees around us. When we think that spring will never arrive, we have to remain watchful as new life is presenting itself all around us.
“Just as there are seasons in the world around us, so there are in our interior life,” Teresa of Avila wisely observed. “We cannot expect it to be otherwise.”
Spring is a season of renewal and rebirth. It’s a time when buds become leaves and flowers, when healing rain washes city streets and falls like grace on parched country fields, when the hard ground beneath us softens to allow shoots of new life to emerge.
As we watch the unfolding of new life outside of our homes, we are invited to reflect upon the new life we so desire in our interior lives. Spring is a time for cleaning out and making way for fresh possibilities and new commitments. It’s a time to revive our senses and expand our horizons. It’s a time to begin again. (Spirituality and Practice)
In the reading from Luke, we hear these words, “their eyes were opened” and they recognized the presence of Jesus in their midst. How might we open our eyes in new ways, how might we metaphorically clean out what is no longer working for us to make room for the newness to come? The two companions on the road had to set aside their grief and fear to welcome this stranger to walk along with them. They had to open themselves up to new possibilities so that they might hear with a new openness the stories that Jesus shared, and it was in the ritual of the breaking of the bread, of sharing table fellowship, that somehow their eyes were opened if even briefly, and they recognized him. How might we let go of those things which drain our energy, deplete our spirits, and crowd out the hope and laughter and lightness of the lovely days ahead?
Much like our spring cleaning, we have to do some preparation work and carve out the time to assess what we need to do. We need to collect our thoughts and get our cleaning items sorted so that we have what we need to do the level of cleaning we want to undertake. Perhaps we need to let go of something that takes up time in our days to clear the way for something new…perhaps we need to literally screen out what we are taking into our hearts and souls. For many, that means we need to limit what bad news we take in because we know it is out there every day, tragic images and heavy problems. Do I think we should know what’s going on in the world? Absolutely, but do we need to allow it to take over such that we have compassion fatigue.
And what might help us in terms of our tools? A journal, a new book of reflections, perhaps some music and a candle? Perhaps a new pair of walking shoes or sneakers or running shoes so that we can get out into nature and allow it to touch us. With whom do we want to spend time? Are there people in our lives who lift us up, expand our horizons, help us look at things in new ways? Are there people who engage us on a level that touches into our spirits? Perhaps too there are those who drain us, who only share negative energy and news; maybe we need to limit that time in our days?
When we speak of spring as a time of new life; we might reflect upon what new thing we wish to learn about or master or explore or visit? They say that trying new things bring happiness to our lives. Is there a path that we have yet to explore that might help us see with fresh eyes? We know that with our often busy lives, to try something new means we need to free up the time to do that and to free up that time, we need to think about what we will let go of.
Winter seems like a time of turning inward, of hunkering down and staying warm, staying inside, close to home. In spring, we yearn to open our arms and our hearts to all that is awakening outside our doors. We have to open all of our senses and allow ourselves to take in the lessons that are unfolding all around us…in nature, perhaps in a momentary encounter with someone we meet in the course of our days, and perhaps when we take the time to be present to the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feeling of springtime and to those who may stand beside us along that journey.
I’ve always appreciated that language in Luke’s Gospel when the two companions reflect back on their experience walking along the road as Jesus once again tried to explain what had taken place. They later say, “were our hearts not burning” as he spoke with us? It’s a great image, the thought that our hearts are burning; it means we have woken up, our hearts are alert to the feelings and the experience we are having at that very moment.
Thinking back to that quote from Kierkegard, that our lives can only be understood backwards, I invite you in the coming days to think back to times in your life when you have felt your heart burning inside; where were you; whom were you with; what did it say to you about the Holy in our midst? Let us agree to find the time in these often too brief days of spring to wake ourselves up and really open our senses to the fullness of experiences surrounding us, paying close attention to what speaks to our hearts and may teach us new things about our Creator’s work in the beauty of our lives?