“The Holy Ordinary”
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35, NRSV)
“Are you ready to take a walk?” Before I can answer the question, my sneakers are laced up, the dog is in his leash and I am one foot out of the garage door. Ever since Jacob and I started dating, more than 16 years ago, walks have perhaps been the single most transformative, yet incredibly ordinary part of our lives. In our first months of dating, we walked the nature preserve behind Jacob’s apartment most every weekend without fail. It was during those walks we learned about each other’s families, reminisced about our shared past and began pondering our shared future. As a newly married couple, we walked every evening down Briarcliff Road, in the heart of Decatur, Georgia towards the campus of Emory University. We would walk until the sun set around us and would often lose track of time. It was on these walks where we dreamed of better things to come, in hopes to move from our small one bedroom city apartment to the quiet sprawling suburbs. We shared our dreams for a family and wondered how our work lives and ministry dreams might one day intersect.
As proud new homeowners, we walked countless miles around our new suburban neighborhood in Marietta, Georgia. The towering, mature maples and pines would shade us from the hot Georgia sun during summer afternoon strolls. It was on these walks we would discuss our next “do it yourself” project for our home or debrief our pastor’s sermon from last Sunday’s service. It was on these walks where we discussed at length for days whether or not we were crazy for taking a risk and moving to Melville, NY.
As culture shocked southerners, we walked miles in the knee deep snow around our apartment complex in Suffolk County. On these walks we would share in our grief of being in an overtly foreign land and away from our family and friends. We would commiserate together about feeling isolated and wonder if we had made a huge mistake. But it was too on these walks that we sensed a newfound excitement as we tossed my resume into the ring of a wonderful church we had just discovered.
As proud new residents at 90 Country Club Drive in Port Washington, we walked and explored the beauty of our new neighborhood. It was on these walks where we began to love our new surroundings. It was on these walks where we shook our heads in disbelief and walked in silence at times with a sense of gratitude. It was on these walks where we pushed a crying baby in a stroller in desperate need of fresh air and exercise. It was on these walks where we pushed a crying baby in a stroller and carried a second one in a cloth wrap around our chest. It was on these walks where we discussed preschool concerts, Kindergarten registration and playdates. To this day, it is on these walks, now joined by two children on their scooters, where we walk and enter into each other’s lives. These walks change us. There is something incredibly Holy in the ordinary. On these walks, we see each other and we meet God.
In today’s scripture lesson, we meet two ordinary people on a walk, remembering events, discussing life and meeting the Holy. The two walkers are not well known characters in the Biblical narrative. They are two commonplace friends debriefing the events they have recently witnessed. It has only been three days since Jesus had been led to the cross and crucified. The air around town seems heavy and burdensome. Things are eerily quiet and dismal as grief sets in and Jesus’ death becomes a reality. Perhaps Cleopas and his companion need a change of scenery. Perhaps they need to walk and talk things through – possibly gaining new perspective along the way. Theologians note that the actual location of Emmaus has never been determined. The name is familiar as there is a tourist site in Israel today where thousands of pilgrims recreate the walk. But the people who know assure us that the location of Emmaus remains a mystery. Maybe Emmaus is where we go when life seems overwhelming and complex. Maybe it’s where we are most likely to meet God?
Rev. Thomas Kleinert, Pastor of Vinestreet Disciples Church in Nashville identifies the two companions making their way to Emmaus to our own unique journeys. He writes, [Cleopas and his friend] are like us, ordinary people struggling to keep hope alive. They are also, like us, folk who sometimes struggle to see outside of our own story. Slow-of-heart folk. The story of the resurrection of Jesus is the story outside of our stories, it is the story of God’s faithfulness surrounding our stories of lost hope, the story of God’s creative and redemptive possibilities enveloping our stories of dead ends. It is also the story inside all of our stories. Now you see it, now you don’t.
Today’s narrative is not only about two friends walking their way to a new perspective, it is also about the power of remembrance. Fred Craddock, the late Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, says there are three ways to know an event: anticipating the event, experiencing the event and remembering the event. In anticipation we are hindered by not knowing what exactly is going to happen. You can eagerly anticipate the game, concert or movie, but who knows how great or awful it will be. At the moment, Craddock says, we are hindered by the clutter and confusion of so much happening so fast. But in remembering ̶ recognition, realization and understanding happen.
As our friends on the Emmaus road remember the events that have taken place, they encounter the Holy. I have witnessed this phenomenon time and again in our own faith family. Following the devastation and grief after losing a loved one in our church community, we come together to remember. We come together to recognize their larger story within our own stories. For in the re-telling and in the recollection of their lives, we sense God’s presence. We say things like, “Do you remember that one time when she made us laugh so hard we cried?’ Or “Do you remember how he always made sure we had what we needed – often putting his own needs last? Or “Do you remember how she always made us the most delicious cookies? She never showed up empty-handed to church and you could almost taste the love in every bite.” These moments of remembering, piece together for us a grander picture. As we call our loved ones to mind and share in their memory, we sense God in a very real and present way.
In her memoir, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes about dealing with the death of her father, a process that went on for more than 20 years. She remembers visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston which she describes as "a small ecumenical sanctuary designed by the great abstract painter, Mark Rothko. . .a deeply sacred space. It is quiet – there are huge Rothko canvases on the walls, purple and wine red”. . . she writes. "I felt like the thing inside was conspiring to get me to stop. . .I've heard that the Holy Spirit very rarely respects one's comfort zones." In the middle of the experience of sacredness and silence, she began to think about her father. She says, "I saw my dad sitting beside me. He loved silence. He read me Wallace Stevens' great poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ a dozen times over the years." She begins to remember more – the stillness of her father's office, the way he made her feel great, "It's so different having a living father who loves you, even someone complex and imperfect. After your father dies, defeat becomes pretty defeating. When he's still alive there are setbacks and heartbreaks, but you're still the apple of someone's eye." And then she begins to experience the loss all over again. "I started to cry, and I cried for a long time. . . Twenty years ago. For twenty years I have ached to go back home, when there was nobody there to whom I could return."
“And then, in memory and tears, healing and resurrection begin to happen” . . . she writes. “The light in the Rothko Chapel was very beautiful and it bathed me. . . The thing about light is that it really isn't yours: it's what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness: if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup. And then you can give it off yourself. And, in the healing of memory, she remembers as a little girl trying to keep up with her father who always walked fast . . . "That's why I naturally walk so fast, and why I sometimes feel I can walk forever."
Like the two friends, we too meet Jesus in our remembering. In the same way, Jesus meets them in another one of the most common and ordinary of human experiences – eating. In their remembering, Jesus meets them on their way, although still unaware of his identity. In another twist of ordinary events, the two men invite this mystery man to dinner. It is in the simple eating, drinking and being together that Jesus is fully revealed and recognized by the two friends. The text tells us “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
Today’s story is about God coming to us through the wonderfully ordinary, because this is where we exist. On his day of resurrection, Jesus did not first appear to the kings or religious rulers. He did not announce his presence in a grandiose display of epic proportions. He came to ordinary folks, engaging in their most ordinary moments of life. Rev. John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, says it this way, “In this season of Easter, we continue to be reminded that ordinary moments become sacred moments; that memory clarifies and seals experiences of grace, and that God lives. God lives not in a remote corner of the universe, not on a throne invisible above the clouds, not even in creeds, philosophies, theologies or sermons, but in the world, in the ordinary experiences of your life and mine: in your classroom, your board room, courtroom, jail cell, hospital room, emergency room, your kitchen, your office, your church. …He goes on to say, [God] comes to us in the daily round, in the activities that occupy us, in the people whose faces pass by, in moments of intimacy and passion, in moments of kindness and compassion, in bread broken and meals shared.
Easter is about an empty tomb. But it is also about the one who meets us exactly where we are. Might we go now in the hope of resurrection, knowing that God is with us. In our daily walks as we dream and hope and reflect, might we recognize God’s Holy nudges. In our remembering of those who have gone before us, might we sense God’s enveloping presence of love and grace. Might we become Easter people, walking in hope, striving for better days, and trusting that we will meet our loving God all along the ordinary way. AMEN.
We give you thanks
For Jesus has risen.
He comes to us with words of peace
Come to us today.
In government rooms where politicians meet
In city board rooms where executives plan,
In court rooms where lawyers debate,
Come with words of peace.
In hospital rooms where people are waiting,
In prison cells where people are afraid
In homes where people struggle to make ends meet,
Come with words of peace.
Come to us whenever we are afraid
Whenever we are grieving
This Easter breathe on us again with your Spirit
Renew us that we may open the doors
And go out into the world
To bring words of peace to the people we meet.
We pray for our world today. We pray for those who are victims of natural disasters around our globe. Comfort them and bring hope in the midst of devastation. We pray for those who are separated from their families. Bring peace to them and may they sense your spirit.
We pray for the needs in our community of faith.
Let us join together as a family of faith as we seek to experience your goodness in our lives and in this hour of worship.
Through Christ we pray, AMEN.
Prayer adapted from a prayer by ~ written by Susan Miller (alt), and posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday website.
 John Buchanan, http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/1999/041899.html
 Kleinert, Rev. Thomas; http://www.vinestreet.org/blog-thomas-kleinert-new/2014/5/5/walking-to-easter.html
 (Interpretation, Luke, p.287)
 Lamott, Anne, “Traveling Mercies”
 Ibid. (p.221-228) http://www.fourthchurch.org/sermons/1999/041899.html
 Buchanan, Rev. John Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago.