I’m calling this sermon, “The Road to Emmaus Revisited”. Why? Because the Road to Emmaus story seems to be in my radar everywhere I look these days. First, when I got to looking at the readings for this week I realized that I had preached about this story three years ago. (The fact that I even have these readings to preach about is because Bonnie and I switched preaching weeks due to last week’s Camp Victory Boy’s Camp, so it is interesting/maybe even coincidence? that I ended up with the Road to Emmaus story again.) Also, what was the Gospel reading from Sarah’s ordination over a week ago—this Road to Emmaus story! And, with my own job search I feel I am having a bit of a secular Road to Emmaus experience—more about that later. There will be some parts of that sermon from three years ago in this one today, and you might remember some of it—historically or culturally speaking.
As I said three years ago, it seems odd that this Gospel story from Luke was chosen by the lectionary committee for this Sunday in Easter season, when all the others are from John. But I did lately find one explanation that seems plausible—the post resurrection appearances of Jesus near the tomb on Easter Sunday, to his disciples in the upper room on Easter 2 Sunday (last week) and on the Road to Emmaus (from Luke today) are the three prominent stories of encounters with the risen Christ before his Ascension. So, getting these stories together for the first three weeks of Easter Season makes sense to me.
Some history about the possible location of the Road to Emmaus:
On our pilgrimage to Israel in September 2008, with Bonnie, Mary and Yo, we visited the town of Abu-Ghosh, located in the middle of the Kiryat Yearim Ridge Route between Tel Aviv and present day Jerusalem, six miles away near a modern freeway, as it was pointed out by another priest in our Diocese. The large church there, at the entrance to Abu Ghosh, is one of the best preserved Crusader era remains in the country. It was built about 1142 by the Crusaders who believed the site to be the biblical town of Emmaus. After being captured in 1187, it basically sat empty for seven centuries, then was acquired by the French Government in 1899 and placed under the care of the French Benedictine Fathers. Since 1956, it has been restored and run by the Lazarist Fathers. Today a double community of nuns of the Sisters of St. Joseph and monks of the order of St. Benedict continue the worship in the church and offer hospitality, reflecting the ancient story of the disciples on the Jerusalem-Emmaus road. It is a beautiful place, and we celebrated communion there in a chapel in the depths of the church.
Again, some interesting present day notes about Abu Ghosh:
- Although mostly Muslims live there, it is known for its good relations with the State of Israel and welcoming attitude toward Israelis. (The relations are good enough to have been able to build a new large mosque, just completed, in what is clearly Israeli land, part of the territory obtained from the 1948 war for Israeli independence.)
- The Elvis Inn, a restaurant in Abu Ghosh, is known for its large gold statue of Elvis Presley in the parking lot.
- It is popular among the Israelis for its Middle Eastern restaurants and hummus. It is known as the "Hummus capital of Israel". Abu Ghosh once secured the Guinness World Record, in January 2010, for preparing the largest dish of hummus in the world. The famous Abu Ghosh Hummus Restaurant, organized the event, which brought together 50 Jewish and Israeli-Arab chefs (surprise—it took food to bring these people together!). The winning 20-foot dish weighed almost 9,000 pounds, about twice as much as the previous record set by Lebanon in October 2009. In May 2010, the Lebanese people, who insist they are the kings of hummus, regained the Guinness World Record with a dish weighing almost 23,000 pounds, more than doubling Abu Ghosh's total, and that is still the record.
Back to the story: Two disciples (but not any of the 11 apostles) journeying to Emmaus from Jerusalem recognized their risen Jesus when he broke bread with them at the “Supper at Emmaus”. Later that evening the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to share their story only to hear that Jesus had appeared to Peter, too. And, that evening (in the next few verses of Luke after our reading today), as they all celebrated the good news, Jesus appeared before the entire group and commissioned them to preach repentance and forgiveness to all nations.
This story is very special, in that it shows us that belief in Jesus as the risen Messiah was not evident to his earliest followers, even after his crucifixion and resurrection. The reason why these people came to believe in him was that he ACTUALLY appeared to them. In other words, it took Jesus’ appearance and revelation for them to believe. That was true for Peter, and it was true for those who traveled on the road to Emmaus.
This might be a stretch, but I feel my own Road to Emmaus story has been playing out these past few weeks. I have been trying to find another job since my last one for Boeing ended at Thanksgiving. Recently I decided to try my hand at being an insurance agent, quickly studying for and passing the state licensing exam to sell Life and Disability insurance. I started working with a local office selling Aflac insurance, and immediately found I do not have the mental toughness to coldly call on businesses and try to sell them something which is not strictly required for their success—I just could not do it! I heard all of the statements from my leaders about how what I was doing was providing a good product (which it likely is!), that I was just making friends (not my normal way to make friends!), and that even it was maybe a kind of ministry—helping those who did not even know they needed help (by selling them accident or hospital insurance!). Well, in my failure, I found my eyes opened to at least call this what it really was—a job selling insurance, basically a way to earn money, and not much more—not a special calling or ministry for God. That doesn’t mean I’m working in the world without God’s presence or support. But, at least whatever I might get to do or not with my insurance license, or in whatever job I find, I hopefully will have better clarity of purpose in what I am doing.
Back to the Emmaus story, did the disciples really need “opened eyes” to have table fellowship with Jesus! Others had already done that with Jesus at the Last Supper, but they did not understand. No, it came as a result of this shared meal after His resurrection and revealing to them! What does this say about us having "full communion" with other Christians? Do we have to wait until we have total understanding and agreement with other Christian groups before having communion together? I think not! Or can we just celebrate communion together and expect God to work it all out? I think so—we’ve already shown that with some of our other churches in Montesano.
So what about our own opened eyes, and our personal walks to Emmaus? This story focuses us on worship in our church, where we may encounter Jesus in the word and the sacraments. But not just to "our church"--this building, and Sunday worship. We are led even more to the Church that meets a very ordinary world, of which we are an important part, a world marked by human loss but also human hospitality. As our Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley said this week: “So our work as stewards is to be attentive to realizing the blessings of Christ's presence and work in our everyday lives, and to share the stories of our encounters with the Risen Lord. And our work with burning hearts is to respond in gratitude for these blessings generously with our lives and resources to further God's kingdom here on earth in our midst.” AMEN.