Third Sunday in Easter A
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Two men walked the road to Emmaus, and no one followed behind.
Tired, broken, crushed, and alone, they set out on the seven mile journey from Jerusalem back to their home. In a few hours, it would be dark. In a few hours, the horror of the past few days would be behind them.
The sand and gravel crunched beneath their sandals as they walked, side by side, with heads bowed. For a long time, they walked in silence. Occasionally, the call of a wild animal on the wind broke the seclusion. The leaves on the trees and bushes whispered on the breeze.
“I guess that’s it,” said the one to the other, breaking the silence, and they halted. “He’s really dead.”
“I still can’t believe it,” said the other. He paused to stand in the shade of a nearby tree, for while the sun was low in the sky, the journey was taxing. “I thought… I mean, I really, really thought that he was going to, you know…”
“You know what?” his friend asked, sipping from an old skin filled with stale water.
“You know… that maybe, maybe he could have done it.”
“What, you mean stand up to the Romans?” asked his friend. A nod was given in answer.
“I guess I hoped for the same. Heck, I’m always hoping for the same,” the first man said. “Our ancestors lived in their own country, a country they themselves ruled. It’s been nearly forty years since we ruled our own country, and a hundred since we did it freely.” He, too, stopped under the shade of the tree, sitting on the ground between the roots.
A long silence set in. “We will never be free,” said the second.
“Why do you say that? Don’t say that.”
After another pause, they both rose to their feet and continued on their journey.
Two men walked the road to Emmaus, and a third followed behind.
The first two did not see him, for he wandered up suddenly and without noise. He fell into step behind them, listening to their conversation. He could tell by their tone of voice that something was wrong.
“Gentlemen, I’m sorry to bother you, but, what are you talking about?”
All three stopped in the middle of the road, and the first two turned to face their new companion.
“You’re coming from Jerusalem, right?” they asked him, disbelief in their eyes.
“Of course…” he replied, confusion in his.
“Then, surely you know what we’re talking about. You were there.”
“Sorry, I don’t. What are you talking about?”
One simply stared, then turned around and continued walking. The other took pity on the poor stranger, who was just as lost, if not more so, as they were.
“Sir, we… my friend and I, we just lost a close friend of ours.”
“Jesus, from Nazareth. You heard of him, right?” The stranger shook his head.
“He was our teacher, and our friend. We thought… well, we thought that he might, you know… be able to rally the troops, so to speak. I know some people hoped he’d start a rebellion, but honestly, that’s not what my friend and I wanted.”
“What did you want, then?” the stranger asked.
The two men thought carefully. What did they want? What should have been a simple question stumped them. Finally, one spoke up.
“What I wanted was freedom.”
“I don’t know, from everything! Look around you. We are a people living under occupation. The Romans are here to stay. We were once a proud people, and now we live grovelling to a foreign power. We don’t have control over our own lives.”
“It’s not just the Romans,” said the second. “We are slaves to ourselves. Yes, we can try to blame the Romans for all of our problems, but that’s not true. We are God’s chosen people. You would think we would do a better job of acting like it.
“Take this festival, for example, the Passover. Sure, the city was packed this weekend. Everyone from all over the province came to celebrate how God rescued us out of slavery. But look at our history since then—read what it says in the scriptures. We screwed it up. We screwed it all up. We gather for these festivals, but then what? Nothing changes. We go back to way things have always been, either because we want to, or we can’t help it. We are slaves to ourselves.”
The stranger pondered their words. “So what happened?” And they told him—they told him about Jesus’s ministry, his teachings, his miracles, and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, welcomed and hailed as king by the entire gathered crowd.
And they told him. They told him about how the crowd turned when it became clear that Jesus was not who they thought he was. About the trip to the Garden of Gethsemane, where one of their own betrayed their teacher. How he was taken to the governor, stripped, beaten, and then finally, crucified. Dead, buried. The end of everything they hoped for.
All three stood silently in the road. The sun continued to fall, dimming as it continued its path to the horizon. The wind kicked dust into the air and carried it to unseen destinations.
“And to top it all off,” one began, “some of the women in our group came today and told us that they went to his tomb, and guess what? No body. Someone took it during the night… as if his death wasn’t enough, now his body’s been stolen.”
Two men walked the road to Emmaus, and a stranger walked with them. And then something happened that they did not expect. The stranger laughed.
“You have quoted me scripture, but you don’t understand it!” He laughed again, and sat down on the side of the road.
“Listen here—there is nothing wrong with your observations—we are in bondage. We are under occupation. We are unwilling servants of Rome and often too-willing slaves to ourselves.
“But how are we freed? You said it yourselves! In Egypt, our ancestors lived under the whips of their masters. If they could pull themselves out of their situation themselves, don’t you think they would have? Instead, it was God who took them by the hand and led them out.
“And when the Assyrians came, and the Babylonians, and the Persians, and the Greeks, and the Romans, who was it who rescued us? Not us, on our own power! No, it was God who rescued us from thse powers.
“What of ourselves? For this, God required a different kind of power, a different kind of liberation. Armies can be overthrown. Nations conquered. Kings deposed, captured, and thrown into prison. To combat that sort of evil power requires power to be used. But to free ourselves, that is beyond your ability and power.”
Two men walked the road to Emmaus, and a great crowd followed behind; a crowd they could not see, for it had not yet been born; a crowd who could not see them, for to the crowd, they had been dead for thousands of years. A crowd made up of thousands and millions of those who trust in God, making their way down the road, down to Emmaus, down to the house where the disciples stayed.
They invited the stranger to stay with them: “The sun is ready to set—please, come in with us. We’ve got a spare bed, and you shouldn’t have to travel at night. Come, stay with us this evening.”
One went to prepare the quarters, and the other to prepare a light meal for all three. They could not see the crowd gathered just outside their door, waiting to come in. A crowd of slaves to themselves, seeking desperately a way out, and drawn, like the disciples, to this stranger. The bread was set, the meal prepared.
The stranger sat down with them, and they ate. They ate a meal like none before, but like one after that is at once familiar and wholly foreign. And when the stranger broke the bread, suddenly, they recognized him—how could they not? They knew all along, and yet, this man before them, this stranger, was only revealed and identified by the breaking of the bread.
They finally understood.
Two men walked the road to Emmaus, and we walked to. Slaves to ourselves, seeking redemption, salvation, healing, and wholeness, we too go to the house. We, too, meet the risen and resurrected Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
We are afraid. We are downtrodden. We can’t help ourselves. But are also traveling from one home to the other—pilgrims on a journey, a journey to meet the risen Christ in ways we do not expect and in ways we cannot imagine. But meet him we do, and will.