Albuquerque, NM 87107
Sunday May 8, 2011 Easter 3A
Text: Luke 24: 13-35 Road to Emmaus.
Theme: Jesus Incognito
It is Easter evening and two friends of Jesus are leaving the city. They are walking the 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and talking among themselves about the tragedy they have just endured. Their beloved leader is gone, killed by Roman soldiers at the request of the mob and temple elites. What will they do now? Their community is in shambles? They are full of questions, of uncertainty, and sadness.
In the midst of their journey a stranger joins them on the road. Unbeknownst to them it is Jesus incognito. The stranger engages the disciples in conversation showing interest in what they are talking about as they walk. The text tells us that at the strangers’ invitation to share their story, “They stood still, looking sad.” I love this moment. The moment the two disciples get in touch with their pain and decide to pour out their story to the welcome and attentive stranger. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” The stranger bids them share their story with “What things?” Ah, the power of a good question and a listening ear.
The story of Jesus of Nazareth pours out of the disciples as they journey toward Emmaus. It is full of pain and longing and remembrance, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” The travelers tell the stranger their most important story and of their devastating loss. They expose their shattered dream of a Messiah who would bring about the world as it should be instead of how it is, kicking out the Empire and restoring peace and justice in the Holy City. They speak of Jesus’ mighty deeds of power, his amazing teaching and of how the establishment eliminated their competition. And tenderly they speak of the mystery surrounding his death, that some among them are claiming that somehow Jesus is alive.
At this point the stranger begins to share his story, the story of how their sacred scriptures spoke of the coming “anointed one.” He brings into remembrance the wisdom of their own sacred texts and the strange connections between the life of Jesus and the tradition of the prophets. He uses their own shared story to stir their hearts, to challenge their fears, to awaken their minds and quicken their souls. For this is of course what the scriptures are meant to do, to tease our hearts and minds into activity, to stir our awareness of God’s action, to enliven our imagination to the possibility of God at work in the world in and through us.
As they approach the village of Emmaus, their destination for the night, the friends invite the stranger to stay with them. Their conversation on the road has been lively and stirring and they want to continue it over a meal. “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” “And besides there is a great falafel bar and brewpub in Emmaus.” This warm offer of hospitality toward the stranger makes possible what happens next.
At table the stranger takes bread, blesses it, brakes it, and gives it to the travelers. And at that moment the disciples recognize Jesus at table with them only to have him vanish from before their eyes. It is an obvious Eucharistic moment. Their friend and now “The Risen One” is revealed to them in the breaking of bread. They have feasted on the stories of the scriptures and broken bread at the table, nurtured by word and sacrament the disciples discover the presence of Christ hidden in their midst.
Their hearts burning within them were telling them the truth. Their friend and teacher is alive just as the women had told them. But Jesus will not stay put and neither do they. Immediately they returned to Jerusalem, traveling at night despite the danger of the road for the news within them was too good not to share. So a slow and hopeless walk away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus becomes hopeful and hasty return to Jerusalem.
So what are we to make of this mysterious story of the incognito Jesus, his Houdini disappearing act at dinner and the half marathon of the disciples?
I want to suggest something rather unusual as the point of this story. It is in welcoming the stranger in our midst that we discover the face of Christ in front of us. The whole story of Emmaus hinges on the traveling disciples showing hospitality to a stranger. First by including him in their conversation and journey on the road and then by inviting him to share a meal with them.
This passage teaches us something profound about the nature of Christian community. It is in welcoming the stranger, the newcomer, or the person we do not yet know that we are most open to discovering the hidden presence of Christ in our midst. For we can still catch a glimpse of Jesus in the faces of strangers, foreigners, the gardener, the person warming pew beside us.
The movement of this passage intends to show us a powerful way to deepen our life in community through welcoming one another by simple but radical acts of hospitality.
What is the radical act of hospitality I’m talking about? The whole story of Emmaus begins by engaging in a meaningful conversation. The incognito Jesus joins the disciples on the road and shows interest in them. He’s curious about what they are talking about. He asks questions of them and honors them with the gift of listening to their story. But it is not a one-way conversation because conversations, true conversations never are. A conversation involves a give and take of listening and vulnerability of sharing and showing curiosity. A real conversation is open to the possibility that something that happens within the talking and listening can really change you.
Have you ever been changed by a conversation? Has someone ever asked you a question or observed something about your story that changed how you understood the world, influenced a major decision or helped you to understand yourself better? I will never forget the day a stranger sat down at my lunch table talked and listened to me and ultimately said, “Have you ever considered being an Episcopal priest?”
The conversation that Jesus had with the disciples was a powerful one. One that had their “hearts burning within them.” It involved pouring out their own personal pain but also listening to the way that this stranger understood the scriptures and the ways of God. We are not told what the dinner conversation was like but I’m quite confident that it was just as engaging as the talk on the road to Emmaus.
I want to suggest that that degree to which St. Michael’s becomes a place of hospitality toward strangers and toward one another is the degree to which we will experience the depth of community that results in recognizing Christ right in front of our eyes.
The truth of the matter is that Christ plays in ten thousand places. He is hidden in every child of God waiting for us to discover the playful power of his presence. The challenge is to engage in conversations with one another that really have the potential for discovering where God is at work in one another, what is important to us, what we are passionate about, what injustices in this world make us angry and ready to act, what searching questions are truly important to us, what stories from our life have really shaped us and made us who we are.
The Road to Emmaus is meant to be more than a delightful story for us as a faith community. It is summons into a way of life, a call to become a community of deep hospitality, a community that dares to talk to one another about things that matter, not just about the weather or how good the coffee is or how many soccer games you sat through this weekend. The Mystery of Emmaus challenges us to dare to engage one another in real and thoughtful ways because the truth is we are mostly strangers to one another. Do you really know who you worship with? Do you know their pains and struggles? Do you know the stories that shaped them into the person in front of you?
The Mystery of Emmaus is that in engaging the stranger in our midst, the person we do not yet know we may discover the presence of Christ in our own lives. For Christ is incognito more than we know and delights in being discovered.
So this day I want to challenge you to dare to talk to one another, to take the risk to be curious about the person you worship beside or in front of and find some time to get to know one another. Last summer our ReImagine group created what we called a Season of Listening in which we trained, encouraged, and challenged ourselves to talk to one another by having intentional 30-minute conversations with people we did not know. Over a three-month period we had over 300 conversations and it was a very powerful experience.
For some it was a life-changing experience to intentionally talk to others in ways that tried not to be shallow and on the surface but honored people by listening, asking questions, and being lovingly curious about each other’s lives. Suddenly the community of St. Michael’s became alive to them in a new way and they began to discover their own story and to discern where God was at work in their own life as well.
As summer approaches the ReImagine team is planning another Season of Listening for there are still many people we do not know, there are still many opportunities to discover the Risen One incognito in our midst and there is still a deepening of community that we desire. So someone may be calling you to ask to have a conversation. Take risk and agree to meet them. We will have a sign-up table on Sundays if you are interested in getting to know others by simply having a conversation.
I believe that this work of radical hospitality, of having intentional conversations with one another and those new to our parish or new to you is the work of our whole community. For in taking the risk to a greater intimacy with one another we build-up a thick network of relationships that create the kind of community we all long for. In welcoming the stranger, which could be anyone we don’t yet know, we create a place of deep hospitality that is capable of transforming our community through sensing the presence of Christ in one another.
So, I invite you as a whole community to embrace the mystery of Emmaus and to risk a dangerous intimacy in daring to talk to one anther at a depth. It is I believe one the most radical things a community can do and at the same time so very simple. It is not just a beautiful idea but an intentional spiritual practice of engaging one another in meaningful conversation, showing interest in people for in doing so we may just recognize Jesus for a moment as the veil is lifted from our eyes.
So as we celebrate the Mystery of Christ in the Risen Season, and as we break bread around this table, my prayer hope is that St. Michael’s, our beloved community, may become more and more a place of deep hospitality through the radical act of listening to one another until our hearts are burning with us and we recognize Christ in our midst anew. May we too discover Christ incognito on our the Emmaus road and may it send us rushing back to our family and friends with good news on our lips and hope renewed in our hearts.