A very good friend of mine forwarded me this sermon to provide some comfort as I go through a difficult time in my life. The quote in bold from Barbara Taylor Brown was particularly comforting. One of God's greatest gifts to all of us is each other, particularly the gift of friends willing to stand beside you in your moments of darkness and distress. I'm very grateful that God has blessed me with so many of these kinds of friends.
Below is the entire text of the sermon (which was preached by The Rev. Judith Carrick is a deacon in the Diocese of Long Island, currently serving at St. Anselm’s Church in Shoreham, New York. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ):
Doubt and disillusionment, discouragement and despair: these are emotions that are common to all of us at some point in our lives. Loss of a job, loss of a loved one, divorce, illness, even the loss of a pet, any of these things and more can throw us into a tailspin and fill our hearts with anxiety and fear. We think that things will never be right again. Especially in the middle of the night, things seem at their very worst. We forget that there ever was a thing called hope, and all that we have learned about God’s saving grace is nowhere to be found. If ever we knew how to call upon God, it is now only a distant memory from a better and happier time; and even when we need God the most, we turn our backs on God and walk away.
That is exactly the situation in which we find Cleopas and his friend in today’s Gospel. Followers of Jesus, they had believed in the new life he had promised them. Their hearts were filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works, to his miracles. Fed in body, mind, and spirit by their fellowship with Jesus and with other believers, their lives had become filled with a new joy, and even all that they had to give up to follow him was as nothing compared to what they now had. They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them. They thought there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
So they started out, the two of them, talking as they went, and going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? As they do this, Cleopas and his friend, a stranger meets them on the road. It is Jesus, but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women had just heard what they wanted to hear.
When they had finished their side of the story, the stranger chided them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, Jesus becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true. It was just like Mary and the tomb. Jesus had only to speak her name, to call out to her in the same way he always did, with the same familiar voice and inflection, and she knew immediately who he was. For Cleopas and his friend, their doubt and despair were instantly forgotten. They were so renewed in faith, so excited and happy that their feet grew wings, and they ran all the way back to Jerusalem to tell others the Good News.
If Jesus was disappointed in the disciples and all the others who deserted him at the end, who, in the midst of their despair and disillusionment, chose to take the road to Emmaus rather than stick it out by his side, we never hear about it. One of the most wonderful things to come out of the resurrection is that we learn this about Jesus: no matter how bad things become for us, no matter where we go to hide ourselves when the world gets to be too much for us, even if we lose our faith for a time, he will come to be with us. He won’t ask us for explanations, we won’t have to justify our position, and there will be no recriminations. He will simply meet us as we walk, each of us along our own road to Emmaus. It may be in a shopping mall where, out of frustration, we are buying something we don’t really need, or it may be in a car that is taking us away from those things we can no longer endure; or it may actually be on a road as we try to walk off the results of that recent medical test that took us completely by surprise.
Whatever route we take when we just can’t take it any more, Jesus will meet us there. Even though it is us who are going away, he is always faithful. In the words of the noted preacher Barbara Taylor Brown, “He comes to the disappointed, the doubtful, the disconsolate. He comes to those who do not know their Bibles, who do not recognize Him even when they are walking beside Him. He comes to those who have given up and are headed back home, which makes this whole story about the blessedness of being broken.”
This should not surprise us. Jesus’ entire ministry was centered on those who needed him the most: the poor, the sick, the blind. Wherever he could find them, he shared not only his love, but whatever else he had, until finally he shared his broken body as well. The wonderful truth of this story is that God uses everybody to proclaim God’s kingdom, and not only when we are being good and faithful and true, but even in our moments of waywardness and faithlessness as well. Just as he made himself known to the two men walking along the road, and then used them to make his story and the news of his resurrection known to the world, so he comes and stands beside us in our moments of despair, calling our name, waiting for us to recognize him, to realize again the truth of his words, to be renewed in faith so that he can use us again. In countless ways, Jesus comes among us, never demanding, but patiently waiting for us to open our eyes and see him. It may happen as we stretch forth our hands in prayer, it may happen in the reading of Scripture or in listening to a friend; it may come as we walk along a road or, like Cleopas and his friend, it may be in the breaking of the bread. He is there. We have only to be willing to have our eyes opened in faith so that we can see the Risen Christ for ourselves, so we can feel his presence and his peace as they surround us.
The gift of Emmaus awaits you. Wherever you are on that road, pray that when the Risen Lord comes to you, your eyes may be opened so you can behold him in all his glory; and then, renewed in faith, run to tell others the Good News. Amen.