A Monumental 10K

a sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter [Year A]

Luke 24:13-35 and 1 Peter 1:17-23

It is rare that we get this kind of geographical detail in the New Testament, but Luke tells us that the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus is roughly seven miles. The actual measurement Luke uses is “sixty stadia,” and one stadia was a unit of measurement in the ancient world that equaled approximately 600 Greek feet. We think. Exactly how long a “Greek foot” was is difficult to know for sure, and the precise location of Emmaus is a fact lost to history, but over time consensus has emerged that this village was about an 11 kilometer walk from Jerusalem. That means, then, that a couple of Jesus’ disciples essentially did the Monument Avenue 10K, plus a cool-down, on the night after Jesus rose from the dead. Could you imagine? On the very night after rumors were swirling that Jesus, who had been crucified, was actually risen from the dead and that Mary Magdalene herself had seen him, two of Jesus’ inner circle get up and decide to hit the road for a 7 mile walk!

In all likelihood, Emmaus is where these guys were crashing since Jerusalem would have been packed with other people celebrating the Passover. Therefore this wasn’t a recreational journey. They aren’t trying to P.R. or win their age division. This is a trip most likely of necessity, a walk that would have allowed them the opportunity to process things.

Other than the 20,000 participants yesterday, I don’t know how many people go on seven-mile walks with other people anymore. When I first came to Epiphany over 14 years ago there was a group that got together each Saturday morning to train for the Monument Avenue 10k. There were different groups according to different running ability and there was also a group for walkers. What drew me to the practices I came for wasn’t reailly the chance to train but it was the chance to get to know people. I still remember the great conversations I had with John Stapleton and Laura Dietrick and Tim Sparks as we completed a course, and through them I learned quickly how warm and friendly this congregation is. The first part of our congregation’s mission statement is “walk the journey,” an acknowledgment that taking a journey together, provides the time to share insights and ponder things about our faith.

These disciples walk the journey that day to Emmaus, but it is a journey of doubt and confusion and disappointment. They are trying to unpack the events of the weekend where Jesus, their beloved leader, arrested, tried, executed, and buried all within a few days. And on top of that, there was this peculiar testimony that Jesus’ body was missing and that he had been seen alive. I would certainly need a seven-mile journey to sort out fact from fiction in something like that.

Whatever their reason for walking and talking we see disciples earnestly trying to get to the truth of a serious matter. They have a version—or several versions—of events and they are picking through the evidence carefully, leaning on each other figure out what really happened. They are being careful about the details because life and their future really depend upon it.

Faith—whether it is in Jesus or anything else, for that matter—depends at some point on truthful information, on a situation that looks at facts as much as it can, in an account has had agenda removed from it so that people can reach their own conclusions. Was Jesus raised from the dead? Is he bodily appearing to people? Could a true leader of Israel really suffer death and then enter glory? Would God be willing and able to redeem a situation this bleak?

These are important questions that people will ask. In fact, we probably asked them ourselves, and it would behoove Jesus’ followers to have an answer that they’ve thought through and to be honest about their doubts. The church over the centuries has given people plenty of reasons not to believe us and not to trust what we say. The apostles’ initial struggle to get to the bottom of what happened at Easter is central to our authority in this matter, and we are grateful for their diligence.

It is a difficult thing to tend to the truth, especially when people so often praise you more for telling them what they want to hear. God still lays this responsibility in front of us, whether we’re in the pulpit or in the pew. People who encounter us each week rely on us sharing our faith honestly and openly. You may not think about it much, but you are an authority on your faith, and you are therefore an authority on Jesus. People will encounter you seeking an honest answer, for example, about why you make so many quilts. For people you don’t know! Why you treat people so kindly or show compassion so freely or believe God is good.

Truthfulness is really important for building trust. Peter, another apostle, testifies to that in the second lesson this morning. Writing to some of the earliest Christians, who were under assault because of their beliefs, he encourages them, saying “now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth…love one another deeply from the heart.” Truth-telling is essential to loving others, and these disciples on the road to Emmaus, are attempting to be obedient to the truth of the events of Jerusalem so that God’s love can be known.

And in the midst of it all, shockingly, the truth himself shows up, walking along, listening, and keeping himself hidden, staying attentive to their disappointment and confusion. They explain Jesus’ the details disgraceful death to Jesus himself, as if he wasn’t the one who went through it all, ending it by saying, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Father James Martin, in his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, says that the words “We had hoped”  are the saddest words in all of Scripture. On a day when they had hoped to be celebrating the Messiah’s new reign, and the overturning of the Roman oppression, they are dejected and lost. Life is filled with too many instances of unfilled hopes, be they personal or professional or financial or spiritual. The Monument Avenue 10k assures us of things like athleticism and goal-setting, that the physically and mentally fit will persevere. The Emmaus 10k assures us that the Lord Almighty stays attentive to our disappointment and confusion. Jesus stays with people as their journeys of doubt and unfilled hope stretch on and on, Jesus pulls up a chair at the table, leaning in, when our long day draws to a close and we can only think about the things that could have been.

The walk eventually comes to a pause as they reach the village and unwittingly as Jesus to join them for a meal. It is the first evening of God’s new creation in Christ and we are hearing about a meal. The sun has not fully set on the first day of Jesus’ resurrection, and people gather around a table for food and drink. Jesus is saying something to us here about our own journey of faith. Breaking bread together is going to be central to our common life. Whether it is at a church potluck, or at a funeral reception, or a Men’s lunch group gathering at Frank’s West, the church can’t really be the church if it doesn’t eat together. And the most important meal of all, without a doubt, is the one where Jesus’ body is blessed and broken and the words of his forgiveness are repeated again and again.

Also central to our common life is welcoming strangers, and since eating a meal with someone was one of the most intimate things you could do in the ancient world, central to our common life is opening ourselves up to new people. On the first day of his risen life Jesus appears as a stranger—a stranger who appears “out of it” about basic knowledge. How does Jesus show up today in the appearance of people we don’t know and maybe consider clueless? Do we invite them deeper into friendship?

That Jesus was unrecognizable to them has always been one of the most perplexing things about this story. Why didn’t they immediately know who he was? Had the resurrection altered his appearance in some way? And what’s this about suddenly disappearing at the end? Is his risen body able to shape shift? Will ours?

In the end these specific answers evade us, but Jesus doesn’t. Jesus doesn’t elude us and doesn’t want to elude us. He is made known in the breaking of the bread and the disciples realize their hearts burned within them when he discussed Scripture with them on the road. The fact of the matter is the church is going to find itself in all kinds of confusing and bewildering situations. Life is complicated, seasons change. People of faith are going to feel like these disciples quite often—we are going to be like these disciples quite often—wondering how to move forward in grief and disappointment, not knowing exactly which paths to take and how to speak up in faith. One thing we can always count on is that Jesus will be present in the Words of Scripture and in the meal where his forgiveness is promised. God will continue to gather us in the midst of many trials and hardships, in the joys and celebrations and show up when we are formed by his word and when we eat of the meal where he blessed the bread and broke it and passed it around saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Supper at Emmaus” (Carravagio)

The saddest words of Scripture may be “We had hoped” but Christ still goes in to stay with the travelers. And their saddened hearts yet burn. And their downcast eyes yet open. And Christ yet lives. And there they go, full of faith, back on the road for another Emmaus 10 K to let everyone know the truth. Christ is risen.

Last week in worship when I was giving out the bread and people were coming forward to kneel at the rail, a young girl stuck out her hand to receive a piece. Out of instinct I went ahead and tore off a piece of bread and placed it on her palm. There was some momentary awkwardness because I realized after it was already hers that she hadn’t gone through our 4th grade Holy Communion class and may not have discussed receiving communion with her parents yet. I wasn’t trying to preempt a parental decision or subvert anything there, but I did notice that her eyes got instantly wide and she kind of stared at the piece of bread as if to say, “This actually just happened!”

Afterwards I discussed it with her parents to clear up the confusion, and we laughed and everything was OK, but they shared that, there at the rail, once she realized sticking out her hand got her a surprise, and that no one was mad with her, and that she could just go ahead and eat it, she looked at her mom and said, with the gears of her 8-year-old theological mind visibly working “Well, I guess nothing bad’s gonna happen.”

Now ain’t that the truth. Out of the mouths of babes! Nothing bad’s ever gonna happen with Jesus, whether we’ve anticipated him or not.

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s