Cleopas and Simon are heading to Emmaus. They have about two hours for one of the most important human experiences, a long walk with a good friend to figure things out. There is a flow to a good walk together. It begins with relief and gratitude of companionship. After Easter Jeanne and I took a walk with our son Patrick, along the Potomac Tow Path near DC. The azaleas were outrageously neon pink and red, turtles were sunning on the rocks and our ears were treated to a medley of flowing water and bird song. An egret glides spread-wing just inches from river flow, and our conversation stops to watch her skim for her lunch of little fish.
Walks like this restore balance to the soul. Lives are shared, complaints are released into the winds, concealed fears become revealed insight. Burdens are shared, questions asked, reality checked, evasions give way to revelations. Then hearts heal, ideas flow, plans are made, compassion is rekindled, harmony is restored and change is possible. That is how it goes on a long walk with a good friend. I don’t need research to tell me walking is the great antidote to all fear, anxiety and burdens. It is just so.
They needed a long walk, a getaway from their troubles. They had burdens and fears. Here is what they were talking about. Narrow minded and controlling religious fanatics attacked a good and honest man, who was bringing a hopeful future. They whipped up a mob, pressured the justice system to ignore its laws, and rushed the torturous execution of an innocent man. You may think the day after your candidate losing an election is bad, but it palls compared to state-sponsored terror designed to silence all opposition, which is the point of crucifixion.
Now what? Just when the world seemed about to change, where neighbors are encouraged to help neighbors, strangers are welcomed, brokenness healed and guilt relieved, and new world, a Kingdom of God, a beloved community possible. Then comes the counterpunch right to the gut, so you can’t even breath. The empire strikes back, evil has its way, and you are not even sure who to trust. What now?
It is time for a walk. First you may walk by yourself. Walk alone in case you need to stop in an isolated alley to scream, so no one sees you cry, get your head together. Then you realize you need to find your Cleopas, the one person in the whole world you trust, and you walk.
Some walks are full of surprises, like the stag racing down the hillside right in front of me, or the bear crossing the path, or the strangers you meet out in the woods with whom you strike a conversation. This is always a risk, it can be serendipity to expand the conversation, or you meet some dope who has no clue. In our text, Jesus takes on the latter role, at first.
What are you talking about? “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Dude, you are not “woke,” are you? Well, I’m not sure I’m woke exactly, but I did just go through a major life change. So, tell me, what things?
Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet of mighty deed and word, I mean he was an organizer and an orator, totally intersectional, so of course, they silenced him. It was all legal, but there is no justice in this. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. We had hoped. For the grammar lovers, this is the “present imperfect” verb tense. It means in the past something happened repeatedly, but it no longer happens in the present. The present imperfect. It sounds like more than grammar, it sounds like a state of being, or a book title by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn. “The Present Imperfect: Meditations for When Life Continues to Suck.”
The point is they don’t hope anymore. And when you don’t hope, even though you hear of possibilities, you can’t quite summon any enthusiasm, because you can’t bear to be disappointed again. Cleopas and Simon had been close enough to the action to know that the women had seen angels in the Garden who said Jesus is arisen, but nothing from the apostles and they looked around and didn’t see anything, so now they are on the road out of town. Hopeful people don’t leave town.
Here is where Jesus throws a little curve ball. Why didn’t he say what most angels and messengers from God say – Be not afraid!? Fear not. Take a closer look, it’s me Jesus. Now “bring it in” and give me hug. Let’s get down to work. Instead, Jesus is throwing shade on them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” We need to do some serious Bible study. Why did he do that? What did he tell them about Moses on the prophets? Well, if you really read that story, it is all about hope in the most improbable circumstances. Moses freeing the people from slavery, enduring 40 years in the wilderness, searching for the Promised Land where oppression no longer exists. Prophets keep painting wild pictures of hope, swords and shields beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks, God hears the cry of the people, and brings good news to the poor. The present imperfect is not an excuse to give up hope.
Whatever Jesus said in that sermon, he nailed it, (or perhaps he un-nailed since it is now after Easter) because they want him to stick around for the night and share a meal. You know what happens next, he breaks the bread, and they have a sense of déjà vu, they have seen this somewhere before, and suddenly they seem him, and then he vanishes again. Cleopas and Simon probably blinked a few times and then said, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Now whose woke?
These two are on fire now, it says they go back to Jerusalem that very hour. Remember that it is dark out and Thomas Edison had not yet invented the lightbulb. I bet that was quite a trip back to Jerusalem. Just because our hearts may burn within us and we have good news to share does not mean the path is clear or easy. These two are out walking home in the dark, with just the moon and stars to guide them. Soon they will be home, and you know what they will do next? They are going to sit down and make an organizational structure, draw Venn diagrams and write some by-laws, right? OK, maybe that is what I would do, I’m a planner. But the story and the mission are always bigger than our plans. Sometimes you just have to make the road by walking it.
Luke is ending his Gospel in this chapter, but he will go on to write the Acts of the Apostles, and many of the great events are going to happen out on the road. A disciple named Phillip meets a eunuch from the Queen of Sheba, and he the first to be baptized. Saul is on the road to Damascus, has a vision of the Risen Christ, and becomes a world traveler. Faith emerges as we walk the road together. The earliest covenant of the Congregationalists in New England 400 years ago goes like this, “We doe bynd our selves in the presence of God, to walke together in all his waies.
Cleopas and Simon walk out of the story. I would like to know what they went on to do! But this is all we ever hear about them and only in Luke’s Gospel. Why don’t we hear more about them in Acts of the Apostles or Paul’s letters? I think it is because the purpose of this story is to invite you, the hearer of the word, to walk the road to Emmaus. How will you face the present imperfect and spread your hope in the possibilities of the Jesus movement?