The story of the Emmaus Road walk (Easter Three. Luke 24:13-35) is so powerful, inviting, recognisable on so many levels. This and other resurrection stories suggest that it is a such a mysterious and all pervasive process that we might explore the meaning of resurrection with words like restoration, process and revelation.
This gospel story works as a story – two friends walking and talking and someone else falls in step with them and they find themselves deep in a conversation that takes everything they know and don’t understand and reflects their lives and experiences back to them in a whole new way. The encounter is so profound that they want to extend the conversation and offer hospitality to the stranger. And then in the blessing and breaking of bread they realise that they are in the company of the holy one they thought had been taken from them. New life emerges out of the remnants of the old destroyed life. As a story so simple and so profound. So powerful that I named this website “companions on the way” to evoke this ongoing sense of the journey of discovery and encounter as we fall in step with the holy one who walks beside us on our walk home.
Let us begin with what this story says about the resurrection of Jesus. And then let us explore what the story might say to us now about the life of faith. Firstly this story reminds us that resurrection is a mysterious business! Jesus who died is alive again but it is not the same as simple reversal because his followers cannot easily recognise him. Jesus is real enough but not as he was. So resurrection is not simply “getting up” again. This and other resurrection stories suggest that it is a mysterious and all pervasive understanding that we might explore with words like restoration, process and revelation.
Resurrection has an aspect of restoration to it when we consider that Jesus is restored to his former glory through resurrection and then ascension. Jesus returns to the divine realms and yet it is not simple reversal as he takes his scars, his sacred wounds, back into eternity and so is restored to all he was and had and incorporates all his humanity. Any divide between matter and spirit is embraced and made oneness. Resurrection is the ultimate in restoration in the same sense as Jesus spoke to the Greeks telling them that unless a grain of wheat shall die it remain just one grain but that if it dies it becomes many grains. Resurrection has some of that great cycling through the physical and metaphysical stages of birth, growth, death and degeneration into new and greater life. The cross is the symbol in our lives of that pattern of metamorphous through the many small and not so small deaths we face and then the new life that comes the other side of such loss and disintegration.
Secondly I would reflect that resurrection is more process than single event. Yes the historical resurrection no doubt happened at a particular moment on a particular day but the Emmaus Road walk is a wonderful metaphor for the process of coming to experience resurrection. It takes time and miles for the disciples to come to know who they are walking with and what it means. And this process is partly intellectual – Jesus is unpacking the Scriptures and putting forward a comprehensive and convincing argument. Clearly the process is also about ritual and the revelation that comes in this other form of insight. And maybe most of all the process is about relationship and the walking side by side in conversation.
So we should be patient with ourselves and each other that it takes time and relationship to understand what resurrection means. Even more than intellectual proofs we need time for our hearts to burn within us with questions and moments of recognition. For many of us our relationship with the resurrected Jesus began long before we had (or have yet) a creedal certainty about the theological meaning of everything. Rather we experience relationship with the divine one as we stumble along and then over time and distance we begin to gain some understanding of what is happening. The great cycle of life, growth, death and degeneration and then new life is a process that needs to do its work in us, again and again, season by season.
And thirdly I would want to suggest that we don’t always know clearly what is of God in the moment that it is occurring. And certainly that we often don’t know the full implications of something, especially those curious blessings that life loves giving us, until long afterward. It is over time and in relationship that the full meaning of resurrection is slowly revealed to us. The disciples start out sharing their loss and grief and confusion with a stranger and bringing the stranger up to speed and then they find the stranger helping them understand the events from a long term overarching historical perspective! The disciples think they are offering hospitality to an interesting stranger and they find that their Lord is presiding at their meal.As is so often the case in life generally and the faith journey in particular we do not know what is really happening until we look back with the benefit of hindsight. And then we see that it was our Beloved Lord who walked beside us, who spoke those exciting confusing words, and that broke bread with us.
So resurrection is a mysterious force at work in Jesus, our world and in ourselves. Resurrection has a sense of one layer of revelation after another layer of revelation as slowly the full meaning dawns on disciples and followers. Surely this is our experience every Easter tide week after week, year after year, that we gain layers of insight. In claiming to be a resurrection people we are not claiming that it is all over, all achieved and we now only need to agree to the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus. That is just the beginning – the resurrection of Jesus shows us the great journey of each and every soul, the path that we must walk, and promises us the company of the one who knows the way.
This story encourages me to trust in the gift of the everyday: the wisdom of supposed strangers; the heart opening gift of suffering, loss and confusion; the slow work of encounter; and the necessity of the mysterious words, food and drink that we are sustained by week by week.
I am encouraged to attend to the immediate – to my surroundings and to my neighbours – and to be open to the possibility of holiness and gift in everything that happens. And I am encouraged to trust that everything is gathered up in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ in such a way that the world and I are forever being remade, being brought into the reality of resurrection.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, reveal yourself to us on the road. Amen.