Some days are spent singing to seedlings, and some days are spent roping bulls. This day was one of the latter sort. The demands on our household included: a bagpiping gig for a Waldorf school's "May fair," a meeting of a church commission to address environmental and social justice issues, a half-shift of retail clerking in a British import shop, an evening of bull-wrangling and electric fence-troubleshooting, and an unfinished sermon that demanded completion.
The sermon is now complete, such as it is. It is based on one of this Sunday's assigned scripture readings: Luke 24:13-35, also known as "the Road to Emmaus."
BREAD AND SALT: A SERMON for the THIRD SUNDAY of EASTER
If they had had Twitter accounts, Cleopas and his companion would have used them. Like the rest of Jerusalem, they had thought of nothing else but the news and the prophecies, the wild rumours about the man just killed. For three days, the air around them had vibrated with dashed hopes and dangerous words, fearful whispers and mutterings of cynicism and despair. There were gamblers checking the odds of a miracle and prophets forecasting doom or resurrection.
If they'd had television, they'd have been glued to the screen, waiting for a hint or a sign. Or they'd have been on their computers, checking GoogleEarth, zooming in on Golgotha and the stone tomb. They'd be fact-checking the rumors on “Snopes,” the myth-debunking website. They'd be unfriending the women at the tomb on Facebook, because you can't have crazy people posting stuff like that on your wall.
Caught up in the terrible drama and distress of any publicised killing, amidst the desperation of any war zone, the scarcity and fear of any occupied territory, they'd tried to keep hope alive. They'd wanted to believe that this new prophet, Jesus, was different from those who had come before him. Hadn't he shown his wisdom and his power? Hadn't he healed the incurably sick and even raised some from the dead?They'd been drawn in by the stories about him and had come to believe he was someone extraordinary, like the prophets of old. They'd even—and they felt sick and foolish about it now—they'd even waited three days after the horrible humiliation of his crucifixion, just in case he might actually rise from the dead. But maybe that prophecy was just another crazy rumor, after all. Anyhow, Jerusalem was crawling with armed guards and angry crowds and people willing to turn anyone in for a few pieces of silver... it was time to get out of town, time to take a walk.
It was a seven-mile walk, but it might has well have been seventy. Their hearts were heavy and their feet felt like lead. Although the sun beat down, their minds seemed wrapped in a thick fog. Even though they fumbled and struggled to find words, they had a desperate need to talk, because the world they knew had just shifted under them and neither of them could make sense of it alone.
So they walked, bearing the weight of a thousand questions together. They told the story again and again—the parts that made sense and the parts that didn't. They puzzled over the wild tales of Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene, with their announcements of angels and empty tombs—or was it just the work of cruel, faithless people, grave-robbers for whom desecration was just a form of sport?
They hardly noticed the stranger at first. They hadn't heard his approach—they were too busy wrestling with all they'd seen and felt and heard. He seemed familiar, somehow, but they couldn't quite place him—and after all, there had been so many gatherings during Passover in Jerusalem, so many faces in the crowds. And then he asked them to share the story, share the news, as if he somehow hadn't heard?!? It was like he'd been in a cave somewhere, or just fallen out of the sky!
But the stranger listened in a way few people ever listened. Cleopas and his companion found themselves pouring out the whole story, complete with their deepest longings, their dashed hopes, and the despair that threatened to smother them. There was something in the gentle intensity of his gaze, his confident yet humble stance...he was so alive he almost seemed to give off sparks, and their own souls, dry as tinder, had leaned close and been set alight.
Still walking, still talking, their hearts began to burn within them. Who could he be? Where HAD they seen him before? He began to tell them their own stories, and the stories of their people, the holy stories of prophets and infidels, commoners and kings. The road unfurled beyond them like a Torah scroll, their own journey like the footsteps of countless generations. They were Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Israelites in the wilderness, captives in Babylon—and every character, every chapter, in the stranger's words, pointed to a true Messiah and a new kind of liberation.
The sun dipped low over the hills. Birds flew back to their nests. Goats bleated in the distance, answering a girl's sing-song call as they pointed their nimble hooves toward home. The stranger seemed headed somewhere beyond, but Cleopas and his companion urged him—begged him—passionately insisted that he stay with them instead of travelling on. For them, sundown meant Sabbath. Even though they weren't sure anymore what it meant to keep the holy laws, even though they weren't sure anything could ever feel blessed again, they wanted to welcome this stranger, open their house to him. After days of fear and distrust, they felt moved to hospitality. They wanted to offer him nourishment—this stranger whose words had been like food to one starving.
And then he took bread, blessed it, and broke it. He gave it to them. And their eyes were opened. Their eyes were opened. I might as well say: Earth and Heaven spilled into one another. Creation heaved its sides and life was renewed. They saw the stranger for who he really was: God's own beloved child, Jesus, fully embodied, there at the table with them in full communion. What next? He vanished, but so did all the fears and doubts that had tormented them. They—two nobodies, two half-nameless bystanders at the edge of the crowd, had shared a journey with the Risen Lord and seen him in the breaking and blessing, in the giving of bread.
And where are we, in this story? Where are we, along the road? Do you seek a way out of the city? Do you head towards home? Are your eyes on the horizon, or focused on the dust at your feet? What weight do you carry on your own journey? What stories do you wrestle with over and over, trying to make sense when your world has been turned upside down? Is there any fire in your heart, or just the taste of ashes in your mouth?
The rumours continue to fly. The gamblers continue to make bets. The chief priests of modern media spin their webs, sending sticky strands through the air, hoping to catch us all in their intricate net. They bind our eyes and stop our ears until we stagger and stumble. We lose sight of love's transforming power. We lose sight of liberation.
But Jesus meets us where we are—wherever we wander, whatever path we claim, whatever road... Jesus walks with us—not virtually, but actually. He is right here. He does not appear at the comfortable center, but at the edges and the margins—and he appears not first to the wealthy and powerful, but to grief-stricken women and hot-headed men and weary travellers. He comes to you and to me.
When Cleopas and his companion understood—the Bible says, “that very hour,” they hot-footed it back to Jerusalem. Seven miles. On foot. In the dark. The hard road of that long afternoon was transformed by their joy. They carried The Light with them.
There is a proverb in Russia that says, “eat bread and salt and speak the truth.” Bread—the nourishing gift of Creation, tended and shaped by human hands—this is what matters. Bread is real. So is salt—elementary and basic, there in our very real tears and our honest sweat, in every ocean and every drop of blood. And Jesus is that close to us, that profoundly present. That is the gift of incarnation: that Christ walks with us, weeps with us, reaches out to us, offers us nourishment, and seeks always and everywhere to be revealed. He transforms our own stories and challenges us to broaden our vision. He shows himself wherever we walk together, wherever we invite others in, wherever we show others they are truly welcome at our table.
“Eat bread and salt and speak the truth.” The truth? Christ is risen! The truth? Christ is risen indeed, and he walks with us, all the way!
--copyright MaineCelt, May 2011