To Emmaus and Beyond

A reading from Luke 24:13-24

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,  but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

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?”  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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.  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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us.

They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  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?”

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is the word of the Lord.

I remember my first Atlanta  Braves game like it was yesterday. The year was 1996. I was in the sixth grade and my parents had just moved my sisters and me off the mission field in Brazil to Roswell, GA and my dad wanted me to have as many American experiences as possible – in his way of trying to acclimate my sister and me to life in the USA. We’d done the glass bottom boats thing in Florida, we’d seen a couple of caves, and we’d spent about six months in small town America where my mom’s parents lived, trying to decide where we’d go next.

The move from Brazil to the United States had been exceptionally hard for us. My dad was trying to find work and starting a new church, and my sister and I were not at all impressed with the way of life, the food, the North Americanness of it all. I become even shyer than I had been in my homeland, and had a hard time making friends. I missed my buddies back home, my cat Oliver, my dog ‘Bama and actual freshly- squeezed orange juice. In dramatic 6th grade fashion, I’d resigned myself to a life of wishing for the good old days, and prepared to be miserable for the rest of my life. My parents, however, didn’t have the luxury of longing for times past. They set their sights on where to go next, and what to do.

We ended up in Atlanta, and one day, my dad ended up with tickets to the game.

We got to the ballpark and got our hot dogs and sodas. I watched people file into their seats, their excitement written all over their faces. I watched Chipper Jones step up to the plate and the crowd go insane.

I watched Chipper’s bat shatter into pieces as he hit that ball.

I experienced a home run for the first time. It was amazing.

I love baseball. Baseball is tied to my childhood in so many ways – the most memorable one is my old baseball card collection. I loved collecting baseball cards, trading with my cousins, and not a lot of things gave me more childhood joy than opening up a fresh pack of baseball cards to add to my collection.

I love going to the ballpark. The atmosphere is like nothing I could create on my own – people come from all over to get away from the stresses of life for a while, and to unite with other people who have also come – to relive the experiences of all our childhoods in some way, watching that all- American game with a ballpark frank in one hand and a classic coke in the other.

That day at the ballpark was great fun. We talked about Chipper’s shattered bat all the way home. I couldn’t wait to whip out my collection and see if I had a Chipper Jones card. There were neither Brazil nor USA, neither sadness nor teenage angst. There were only baseball, soda and hotdogs, and Chipper Jones.

Unfortunately, though, the game ended, and we went back to our normal life – a life that, for me, had been nice to get away from for a few hours.

Sometimes life gets to be too hard for us. We get stressed about jobs, money, our families, you name it. Sometimes the little, everyday worries of life add up and we can’t see the forest for the trees. We hope that it’ll blow over soon, that it’s just a phase, that that promotion will finally come, that the diagnosis isn’t as bad as we thought, that the cancer is in remission, that the house will sell, that the car will start this time.

It’s in the hard times that we look for a promise to hold onto. It’s in the hard times that Jesus meets us, and reminds us of the stories of our faith that extend beyond the trials that are clouding our hope.

It’s a beautiful day. A bright blue, cloudless sky stands in stark contrast to a dusty road, several trees that provide shade from the hot sun, and a gentle breeze brings the whole scene to life. The picturesque view could not be a more inappropriate backdrop for the two travelers as they walk along, engaged in conversation and entrenched in their grief.

“I just don’t understand how this could happen,” Cleopas says. “I know,” replies Judah. “I was sure he was the promised one.” They are so overcome with sadness that they don’t even notice this creeper guy who has been following them for at least 15 minutes, listening to everything they are saying.

He catches up to them and says “hey, what are you guys talking about?” “We’re just reliving the events of the past few days,” Judah responds. “What events?” the stranger asks. Cleopas looks at the stranger like he just shot their dog. “Are you new here? Do you really not know about Jesus of Nazareth? We thought he was our Messiah, but they killed him and now we have no hope. We’re on our way to Emmaus for the Passover feast – but it just feels wrong without Jesus.”

“Are you completely dense?” The stranger asks. “OK, let’s see if I can help you understand.” As they walk along, the stranger begins to tell the two travelers all of the stories they grew up hearing in Hebrew school, but in a way they’ve never heard before. He’s so passionate about everything he’s saying and the words come out of him like they are actually a part of him! “This guy has a great memory,” Cleopas thinks to himself as he listens, on pins and needles, to every word.

“Huh,” Judah wonders silently as he hangs on every syllable, “I wonder what happened to this guy’s feet and hands?” They journey on together:  the stranger speaks, they listen and when they arrive at Emmaus, they beg their new friend to please stay and eat with them.

When they have eaten their fill at dinner, the stranger takes a loaf of bread and holds it up toward heaven. There’s those weird holes in his hands again. Maybe he has a congenital defect?  He gives thanks for the bread and breaks it. As the crusty bread crackles and crunches under the pressure of the stranger’s hands, the light catches the bread crumbs as they settle like glitter onto the table.

Cleopas gasps. “OH! Jesus used to do that same thing after every meal!” Judah is beside himself with excitement, “nail scars, they’re nail scars!!! They’re not holes, they’re nail scars! This is brand new information!” but as soon as they realize what’s happening, Jesus vanishes from their sight, leaving them with a table full of breadcrumbs and hearts full of hope.

They quickly gather their things, making plans for next year’s passover at Emmaus and then they set off for Jerusalem to tell everyone they know that Jesus is risen and that he was revealed to them when they broke bread together.

The happy reunion turns full on party and lasts all night. Thankfully, Peter is a stress cooker, and prepares food to get away from his grief. He’s made a heaping platter of olive hummus with handmade pita rounds, stuffed grape leaves and olive oil sugar cookies that are gone in no time. “Remember that time those guys made a hole in the roof to let that paralytic in?” someone asks. Everyone smiles. “Or that one time Jesus helped us catch all those fish when we switched sides?” Adds another. “There was that time that Jesus let me teach a class at home church and he said I did a good job,” Junia pipes in. They continue talking, deep into the night, reliving the memories of their faith. “There was the little boy with the bread and fish. That was a good day.” Peter can’t contain himself. “Remember that time Jesus wasn’t dead?!” The room erupts in laughter. Someone opens the last bottle of wine from the wedding at Cana and all together, they celebrate the memories. They celebrate their precious Jesus. They celebrate the fact that the hope that they’ve been looking for is very much alive.

We can celebrate the memories of our faith. We can celebrate our precious Jesus. We can celebrate the fact that he hope that we’ve been looking for is very much alive.

The hope that we’ve been looking for is found in Jesus, who invites us to break bread with him, and to remember.

The hope that we’ve been looking for is found in Jesus, who uses our memories to weave wonderful stories of faith that we can look back on when times get hard.

The hope that we’ve been looking for is found in Jesus, who makes every meal sacred and every place Emmaus. *

Emmaus is the place we go when life becomes too hard for us. *

Last Friday night, the Atlanta Braves retired Chipper Jones’ jersey.  My sister, brother-in-law, his parents and I arrived at the ballpark and got our refreshments.

We filed into our seats, full of excitement, watching others do the same. We watched Chipper Jones ride around the field and the crowd go insane. We experienced three home runs. It was amazing.

Turner Field is my Emmaus. Find your own Emmaus – and go there when you need to be reminded of Jesus’ love and the hope we have in him. Find your Emmaus and go there when you need to relive the stories of your faith – but don’t stay there. Come back again and tell everyone you know that Jesus is alive, and all you have to do is remember.

*R. Alan Culpepper, “The Book of Luke: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol IX, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995)

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