Strangers Along The Way

Luke 24: 13-35

The two had recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I certainly don’t need to tell anyone about the connection we have come to make when Luke mentions the “breaking of the bread”.  It’s of course what we do here each Sunday when we gather at this table.  It is central to who we are as a people.  However, we probably have overdone it at times through our history, focusing simply on the “breaking of the bread” and not paying much attention or giving much credence to the other half of what they recount, which is what happened on the way and their lived experience of the Christ in the form of a stranger as they make the walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

That phrase, “the way,” is central to the writing of Luke both in this gospel as well as in Acts of the Apostles which we hear from throughout this season.  Some of the most important things that take place in his writings happen “on the way”.  Long before there was Christianity or any sort of this institutionalized religion, there was what was commonly known as “the way”.  It was a way of life and a way of living for the early communities and so it means something when Luke uses it in his writings.

Think about some of the other instances we hear from Luke “on the way”, from one place to another, like from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  We are certainly also familiar with the prodigal son.  In that case the father has to go out from the house and meet the son on the way to bring him back.  There’s also the story of the Good Samaritan.  It happens between towns and the guy needs to be picked up and carried back.  Or even Paul and his conversion in Acts.  It happens on his way when he’s knocked down and made blind before he can come back.  So it’s no wonder that Cleopas and the other disciples think they’re walking with a stranger and are blind to who he really is.  They have not yet gone through their own experience of conversion and change of heart.  They’re still on the way, at the moment, somewhere between the total absence of what they witnessed in Jerusalem and what they’re about to experience, the fullness of the Lord before their very eyes, when things will finally begin to click and the pieces of their story begin to once again coalesce around a common story.  All of this happens on the way.

What Luke, still some fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, is trying to do is to lower the expectations that they continue to live with about who this Christ is and what it all means.  They say it themselves that they thought he’d be the one to redeem all of Israel.  And we thought he would be this.  And we thought he would be that.  Here we are, some 2000 years later and we often still cling to the same expectations, that somehow this God is going to come from the clouds and fix what’s wrong.  They lived in similar times when they knew about the corruption of the government and even the religious authorities.  But they fell victim to it and felt helpless.  What Luke, in his beautiful way of writing, moves this community to on the way is to recognize the Christ in the ordinary and often the mundane parts of our lives.  That’s his brilliance in reducing their expectations.  In the ordinary element of bread then why not in the ordinariness of our lives.  There it was and yet they were blinded to it, in their own encounter, in sharing their story, in walking along, doing the ordinary things of life, Christ is revealed.

So often in the world we live we want the big and magnificent.  We want that God who knocks us over the head or through some sign.  We become so attached to the extraordinary that we seek and believe we are that we miss God on the way.  We miss the encounters of our daily lives that try to speak to us.  We remain blinded so often by our own expectations and how we feel, trapped in our own little world that soon we become detached from the common story that we share in which we unite around here week in and week out.

Yes, it is in the breaking of the bread, but that doesn’t take away from the call for inner conversion, a change of mind and heart.  Even Luke knew that.  Just as it was with the prodigal son, the beggar on the side of the road, and Paul, they all had to be taken to that interior place within themselves before they could be sent forth.  They all had to walk the way of the inner life before they could become the evangelists that they and we are called to in this life and in this world.  Change always begins first with myself before I am set free to go out.

As we continue this Easter journey and continue to walk the way with the disciples, the way will lead us to this place of interior change, of conversion, as it did with Cleopas and the other disciple when they walked through those doors and shared meal and story together.  It gave them the space they needed to gain perspective of their own pain and at the same time, give them the strength to now journey back to Jerusalem a changed people.  That’s the change this Easter season desires of us, a change of heart.  They already knew that Jesus had been raised from the dead according to the gospel, but as they walked the way, it became coupled with the lived experience of the risen Christ, an encounter with the Risen Christ, and from that point on the scattered pieces of the disciples, shattered through suffering, finally begin to become one and united around the common story, the common story we share in Christ.

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