Our Road to Emmaus

Emilie Bouvier, "Springing"(Cowling Arboretum; Northfield, Minn.)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Dear Working Preacher,

This is our story — the story that sums up the nature and purpose of our calling as preachers as well as anything in Scripture.

Think about it. There they are, these two disciples, as exhausted as they are discouraged as they trudge the seven miles from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus. We don’t know why they have forsaken the company of their fellow disciples, only that they are now walking home. Perhaps it’s all they could think to do.

And Jesus meets them on the way. He doesn’t come to them in Jerusalem. He doesn’t wait for them at home. He doesn’t bid them make some holy pilgrimage or undertake some pious feat. Rather, he meets them where they are — on the road, amid their journey, right smack in the middle of all the pain, frustration, and despondency that threatens to overwhelm them. Even though they don’t recognize him.

Notice, now, what takes place. First, he opens up the Scriptures, helping them not simply make sense of recent events in light of the Scripture, but also to make sense of all of Scripture — and indeed, all of life! — in light of God’s redemptive work in and through the cross. And then he shares a meal, lifting and blessing bread, breaking it and giving it to them. And amid these simple and symbolic actions they recognize him. Through the interpretation of Scripture and the sharing of the meal, that is, the eyes of these disciples are opened and they recognize not just the person of Jesus but the presence of the Lord, the God whose powerful word called light from darkness and gives life to the dead.

And then he is gone, and they know they need to be gone too. So they get up, venture the dangerous evening road back to Jerusalem to tell of what they’ve seen. Why? Because they can’t help it — news this good just can’t keep.

Can you find yourself in this story, Working Preacher? Because this is what we do. For we are blessed and burdened with the responsibility of interpreting the sacred Scriptures and calling the faithful to gather around the sacred Meal that they might recognize Jesus as the one who meets them where they are and accompanies them on the way.

And if you have any doubt that this is exactly what Luke is telling us, consider the scope of this passage. In particular, notice that if you took out the Emmaus story and skipped from verse 12 to verse 36 you’d hardly miss a beat. Luke has clearly inserted this post-resurrection appearance story into an otherwise relatively stable tradition. Why? To respond to the heart’s desire of later Christians to see and experience the resurrected Christ just as the first believers did. Last week we listened to John’s story of Thomas where Jesus blesses all those Christians who have believed without seeing. This week it’s Luke’s turn, as he offers in this passage a word for those Christians who come later, starting with Theophilus and continuing on to each and every one since, now coming — though not concluding! — with those who will gather this Sunday as we interpret the Scriptures and share the bread.

It’s not a bad pattern to emulate, is it? Meet people where they are. Open up the Scriptures so that they can make sense of their lives in light of God’s mercy. Gather them to the meal that they might behold and be nourished by Christ’s own presence. And send them on their way, back into the world to partner in God’s work and to share God’s grace.

Oh, I know. It’s not always that simple. The responsibilities you shoulder are significant, and finding time to dwell in the world, to open it with care and creativity, can at times be daunting. It is, if we’re honest, hard work that we’ve been given. But it is also good work; work, in fact, worth giving your life to. Thank you for doing just that, Working Preacher. Thank you for giving your life — you strength, passion, and creativity — to help us to see Jesus. What you do matters so much, and I’m grateful to God for you.

Yours in Christ,