Sermon: April 23, 2023 – Luke 24: 13-35

To set the context for today’s reading, let us hear Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus: “24:1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women [Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them] took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus…  suddenly, two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!’

9-10 “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened”.

The very next verse, is the first verse of today’s reading: “13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.”  Not a couple of days later, not two weeks later; no, it was later that same day. Mere hours after hearing the certainty of crucifixion and the incredulity of resurrection, the followers of Jesus dispersed to their homes with shock and uncertainty, bewilderment at this amazing news, and fear that the Romans – in cahoots with the religious authorities – would broaden the net, seeking out those who followed this zealot named Jesus, aiming to crucify all of them.

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It was with some trepidation, then, that these two Jesus-followers were joined on the road by a stranger.  Was he friend or foe?  Fortunately, he seemed unaware of the happenings of the day, and they gently mock him, saying, ““Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  Cleopas and his unnamed companion – suggested by some commentators to be his wife – engage in lively debate with this fellow traveler, sharing the story of Jesus and then, as the sun is going down, insist that he stay the night with them.   The stranger accepts their hospitality, and then at table with them “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him [as Jesus] and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

So we have, in essence, a trip that begins at the emotional storm of crucifixion and resurrection, continues with some good old fashioned witnessing about Jesus to this unrecognized traveler, then proceeds to hospitality offered and received, and in the breaking of bread, revelation that they had been in the presence of the Christ.  That strikes me as a pretty full day… and a day that keeps being lived in the hearts of believers.

Five years ago, Shannon and I were blessed to be able to go on pilgrimage to the Land of the Holy One.  Emmaus was on my list of places I really wanted to see. Problem is, your guess is as good as mine as to the location of Emmaus.  “About seven miles from Jerusalem” says Luke, but when the archaeologists and Biblical scholars draw that circle, no fewer than nine communities lay claim to being the ancient village, Emmaus.

In a way, this frustrating uncertainty works in our favour, as outlined by Lutheran Pastor Dawn Hutchings: “Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source… New Testament scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan suggest 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.”

I wholeheartedly agree.  Emmaus is nowhere because Emmaus is everywhere.  Every road that we walk with the risen-if-unrecognized Christ at our side; every journey in life that begins with difficulty and heads toward an unclear horizon line; every time that the presence of Jesus is revealed in the sharing of ideas and hospitality and the breaking of bread; we are on the road to Emmaus.

So I’d like to spend some time, imagining a few different journeys to Emmaus.

When the road looks like this… (dusty rural road)

Thirty-six years ago, I walked an Emmaus Road that looked somewhat like this, only hotter and dustier, with a wise and brave companion named Pastor Rey Aldaba.  Before the summer of 1987 it had not dawned on me that the Philippines had Indigenous peoples, but indeed they do.  One of their first nations, the Mangyan people on the Island of Mindoro, were fisher-folk who did a bit of farming on the side.  But in recent decades, their fishing grounds had been taken over by huge multinational trawlers – and they were forced off their farmland because of disputes over title – so that eventually, these coastal folks had to live up in the mountains.  So, isolated from their traditional ways, what did they do?

Well, it turns out that there was silver up in them thar’ hills, so they set up an old-style sluice.  It wasn’t going to make them rich, but it gave them a sense of purpose and sovereignty over their land.  And funding and supporting their start-up was the Church, and Pastor Rey, who carried with him a palpable sense of the risen Christ.

As he and I walked down this road leading nowhere in particular, he told me that the Mangyans were still under threat, and he personally had been threatened to leave or die. I asked him what it was like for him to live under that threat, Rey told me he didn’t fear death, for “many years ago, I already gave my life to Christ – so nobody else can take it away from me.”  And with that, he kept on loving, and supporting, and encouraging this resilient group of first nation Filipinos on their shared Emmaus walk.

My hope and prayer is that similar resilience accompanies us on our ongoing walk of reconciliation with the First Nations of this land.

When the road looks like this… (mourning)

The journey of grief – as we adjust to all manner of endings – is very much an Emmaus Road experience.  Much like those first disciples, it begins with a deep loss, and pushes us to question what comes next.  How do I find a new, healthy relationship with someone who has died, or how do I reconcile myself with the way a job or relationship ended?  Is there new life ahead?  Will I ever feel life’s full range of emotions again?

On that road of grief, we may well find unexpected companions – casual acquaintances or co-workers or neighbours who are helpful and present in ways we could not have anticipated – and in them, we experience the risen Christ.  We may also find holy moments when God’s still small voice of calm restores us, or times of simple gratitude as we receive from God a gift of grace – a memory, often bittersweet, of times gone by.

And we do well to remember the power of breaking bread with others, as we walk this road of grief, especially grief following a death.  From casseroles brought by neighbours to coffee out with friends to the formal reception after a funeral,  in the breaking of bread with companions, God’s nourishment for the journey is evident.

When the road looks like this… (back to Church)

Our road back from COVID is very much an Emmaus Road.  I think of the disciples and their confusion and lostness, separated from the person of Jesus yet not fully convinced of the resurrection of the Christ.  I remember that lostness, that absence of sure footing, from 2020 and 2021, an Emmaus Road made of quicksand. It will take us a long time to come to grips with the lasting impacts of daily uncertainty, month after month, especially for children and families; making plans only to see them dashed; thinking we were near the end, only to hear of new variants; wanting to “get back to normal” whilst knowing that this must be a time to address old inequities, to be better than we had been.

While I do not have empirical data to back me up, I hear one charity after another, one community of faith after another, lamenting the lack of bounce-back, wondering if this road actually leads to Emmaus or just drifts off into some gravel pit.  Donations and volunteer commitment are down one-third to two-thirds from pre-COVID levels.  And yet, on this road of uncertainty, Christ is still present… but we may not know that, if we only hear his voice in old ways, only perceive the previous goals.  Like the road walked by two disciples and their risen Lord, this road we walk may have a new and unexpected destination and it may seem very solitary, even fearsome.  But Christ, the holy stranger, walks the road with us.

I express my profound gratitude to those of you who’ve kept walking that road even amidst the uncertainty, for our staff and volunteers who are putting so much time and effort into the amalgamation and new governance and Futures work, and my prayers of hopeful concern for those who are finding other paths.

There are so many other Emmaus road experiences that could be cited – I think particularly of our extended family in Nepal, who were expelled from their homeland for religious reasons and are now patiently awaiting their resettlement here in Banff – and Sarah Arthurs spoke of this last Sunday as she described the “radical rearrangement” (quoting Richard Rohr) we need to make as we seek new ways of being human in response to the ongoing climate emergency.  I encourage each of you to take some time this week considering the Emmaus Road experiences of your life, times when you yearned for God’s guidance and only later realized how Christ had been walking with you all along.

This experience of walking beside the risen Christ, often unrecognized, is, in a way, one of the strongest connections between Christians of many times and places. Starting mere hours after Christ’s resurrection and every day since then, in every language and culture and socio-economic condition, this experience of Jesus’ walking with us binds us as one.  It crosses the eras; it spans the continents. And it remains part of the “good news” that is ours to share, in a world where so many people feel lost and alone and basically rudderless.  As the Christian contemplative Fr. Thomas Keating put it, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God]. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced… The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in [God].”  That word of truth, of the holy companion we know as the risen Christ, is ours to embrace and share.

And so, my fellow travellers, we journey on: Through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to whatever Emmaus our destination may be.  Amen.

References cited:

Arthurs, Sarah. Sermon preached at Ralph Connor, Banff –  16 April 2023.

Gourinard, Henri. (posted February 9, 2022)

Hutchings, Dawn.

Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Amity House: 1986).  Quoted in

© 2023 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church.  Preached in Banff.