The road to Emmaus

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter


We’ve all been there – seen the person across the street, or through the window of a passing bus, disappearing around a corner whom we know it couldn’t be, because we buried them. We buried them. But if they were to approach us on the road home from the funeral, or the next day as we tried hard to remember the words of consolation that had accompanied our alleluias to the grave – what then would we think?

And what about Jesus? Last week, we talked about how difficult it was for Thomas’ friends, Jesus’ friends, to persuade the grieving disciple that the Lord had risen, that Jesus is alive! Now, here is the Christ himself, walking alongside Cleopas and his companion, and even that is not enough for them to see and know that resurrection is real – at least, not yet.

It’s worth perhaps noting here that while Cleopas’ companion remains unnamed, and in other sermons I have offered the name Fred to fill in the gap, and St Cyril of Alexandria decided that it was a man called Simon, one of the seventy sent out by Jesus during his mortal lifetime, some scholars think that this companion was Cleopas’ wife, and that her name was Mary, and that she was one of the women who stayed at the Cross, and watched the burial, and may even have come early on Easter morning to the empty tomb.

All of this, all of this witness and proximity to the truth, and still they could not quite see it, could not quite grasp the reality of the resurrection, the new and enduring life of Christ. They struggled to see through that window that the Cross breaks into eternity.

This week, the news has been grim. In Akron, the trauma of last year’s killing of a young, black man came back to haunt a city in a hail of bullets captured on video and legally excused. Teenagers were shot here, there, everywhere by people who could or would not see them as lost innocents, as children who had lost their trail of breadcrumbs in the forest we have planted.

We’ve all been there, too, haven’t we? Found the wrong house, tried the wrong door handle in the parking lot – right colour, wrong car; got lost and tried for a quick turnaround in someone’s driveway. One of my own children, in a trip across the country, waiting for their companion in the car outside a convenience store; someone jumped into the back seat, said, “Oops!” and jumped out again. And we laughed about it.

Just last night, coming out of Giant Eagle, I walked right up to the wrong bright blue car. The thought of what could have happened next is exhausting, even for me, with the privilege and protection of white skin and middle age.

That child, the young, black boy we first heard about last week, went to three houses looking for help after he was shot in the head before he found someone to take pity on him.

Look, I want to stop talking about these things. I really do, but they will not stop happening.

It makes me wonder, if the risen Christ stumbled through our doors, unexpected and unrecognized, visibly wounded in his head and his heart and his hands, how would we treat him? As a victim of our human violence, or as a threat?

As long as we are so afraid of one another that we cannot envision a stranger without rhyming them with danger; so long as we arm those fears with deadly weaponry, with too little caution or consequence, so long will these things keep happening, and injuries from being shot will remain the leading cause of death for children and teens in America.

Cleopas and companion – let’s assume for today it was Mary, his wife – were approached on the road out of Jerusalem by a stranger. It is safe to assume from other accounts we have read that this stranger was marked by the wounds of crucifixion – they may have wondered how it was that he survived, escaped; what it was he had or had not done to get himself nailed to a cross in the first place.

These were difficult times, and the place has never stopped being dangerous.

But Cleopas and Mary, rather than shying away from the stranger, pretending a stone in a shoe to shake him off, or telling him simply and harshly to leave them alone, instead entertained his inane question: What’s wrong? Well, what do you think is wrong? Have you not heard the news lately?

Instead, they invite him into their grief, their uncertainty, their doubtful hope after the empty tomb, their fear of being broken-hearted once again if the stories of sightings of the risen Christ were wrong.

They let the stranger share with them his faith, his understanding of the story of God, and how it began, and where it is leading them, and suddenly here they were, at the intersection of that story and theirs, and they had the choice once more to let him go, but instead they took the next step, and invited him into closer companionship with them.

And you know what happened next, and how Jesus broke the bread, and how they saw in that moment the rift between mortality and eternity. They saw through the window of Jesus’ humanity the divine in whose image we are made.

And what if instead they had feared the stranger and run him through with a sword or a spear, metal piercing his already pierced flesh? If they had not risked a little love in the midst of their confusion, they would not have seen his eternal life. But because they were willing to share with the stranger their story, and his, along with their bread, they found themselves suddenly and unmistakably in the presence of God.

Peter advised the people, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” (Acts 2:40) And in the letter written in his name, it tells us how: “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)

The news these days is exhausting, and so instead we come and sit a while, and ask Jesus if he will not please stay a while with us, breaking bread. And will we know him when he comes to us?

Blessed are those who love the one whom they have not recognized, but in whom they discern the image of the living God, which is the design for our humanity. Blessed are they, for in doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it, and others, Christ himself.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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