On The Way

Grace Lindvall
(Luke 24: 13-35)

I still remember the walk perfectly. It was November 18, 2006, my freshman year of college at the University of Michigan. I had spent every Saturday that semester in maize and blue t-shirts, painted faces, and in the nosebleed row of the student section. It was glorious. I was a life-long lover of the Wolverines and now I finally was one, a student, attending the games, cheering my team on, keeping up with what was going on during practices. That season I watched the Wolverines plow through eleven opponents to reach their number 2 ranking. Number 2 in the country, how amazing. Except number 1, number 1 was our arch rival, the nemesis of nemesis, the greatest college football rivalry known, Ohio State.

November 18, 2006, it was an afternoon game, number 2 Michigan vs. number 1 Ohio State. We went to watch the game with eager anticipation, so certain of how it would play out. And then my dear Wolverines lost, by a mere 3 points, 39-42. So. So. Very close. They lost and we walked home. The walk home was the quietest I’d ever had after a game in Ann Arbor. Heads down, the streets silent. No joy in the streets, no fun to be had. When we talked, we talked about what went wrong, how close it was, what could have been. We had thought, we had hoped, that this year Michigan would be number 1. But they weren’t.

A trivial example of what the disciples felt on their walk home, back to Emmaus from Jerusalem. The disciples walked home to Emmaus hearts broken, hopes gone, unsure of what to do next. Frederick Buechner writes that Emmaus, where the disciples were travelling, is the place where “we throw up our hands and say ‘Let the whole damned thing go to hang. It makes no difference anyway.’” It is a desperate place, a place of no hope, a place of desolation. And that is where the disciples find themselves walking to, a place of desperation.

But we had hoped….that line in verse 21. Isn’t that the truest of emotions? We had hoped, and we found ourselves disappointed.

We had hoped that by this time in life we would have had children. Or by this time I would have been married. Or by this time we would have figured out how to stop being so anxious. We had hoped that the test results would come back with good news. We had hoped that our relationship would have been reconciled. We had hoped that all our hard work would have produced something more. We had hoped that our kids would have moved closer home. We had hoped that time would have healed those wounds. We had hoped.

Life is full of times that we have hoped. And life is filled with times we have hoped for something and we have found in its place emptiness. On a long walk home with shattered hope. On the way to Emmaus.

And there these disciples are, walking home, wondering what to do, what’s next, what to hope in now. We’ve been there. Oh so many times, we’ve been there. This story isn’t just an ancient tale, it is a very real recognition of our lives.

When all our hopes come together, and then all at once shatter. And then we’re left to try and figure out how to find any hope again, how to make any sense of it.

And that’s where the good news comes in. On their way to desperation and desolation, on our way to desperation and desolation. There. There Jesus will walk on the road with us. There Jesus will strike up a conversation with us. David Lose reminds us, “when Jesus arrives they are downcast and He does not immediately remove their bad feelings. He walks with them through their broken dreams to a hope they never imagined.” There, that is where Jesus meets us.

I believe that Jesus saw these two downtrodden disciples, devoid of hope, lost on their journey home, and went to meet them. Not to show his glory, or prove his divinity, but rather because Jesus saw two disciples who needed to feel the good news. Two disciples who needed to find a place of hope again.

To quote Frederick Buechner again, he writes, “I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that.”

That Jesus meets these two disciples, and in essence, all of us, because he recognizes us and our need.

The hope that Jesus brings them is a hope unlike the one they likely had when they started in Jerusalem. They find not a savior who makes showmanship of his power, but rather a savior who walks with them on the dusty road back to a place where it once seemed that hope was lost.

That is the good news of this passage. That Jesus recognizes their need on that walk, that Jesus sees two people on the road disheveled, disappointed, lost, and in need, and that is where he chooses to make his resurrection appearance. That is how he chooses to come back to his disciples, walking with them in the time when they feel hope is lost.

That’s the good news, but there is a lesson here too. One that we simply must take away with us.

Jesus came to them a stranger. To these disciples he was no one that they knew, a guy who wandered up to them on the street. They didn’t recognize him, they didn’t know him. But in that conversation, they were able to find Jesus. In the conversation with a total stranger on the walk to Emmaus, a place of desolation.

There is where we shall find Jesus, not necessarily where we may think, but in the face of a stranger, in the conversation of a fellow traveler. There we can glean the wisdom of Jesus and be in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus doesn’t appear to us in glowing flashing lights, or at least he seldom does. No, the risen Christ meets us in these most ordinary of places – on the walk home, in a pleasant conversation, in the sharing of a meal together. That is where we can find Christ.

I am struck by this text because these disciples are so stricken by their expectations of what Jesus’ reign would look like that they struggle to recognize him while he is walking with them. Their idea of what Jesus would be keeps them from finding Jesus right there walking alongside them.

This lesson is important for us to remember because it is too often when we are on the road to Emmaus, or desperation, that we expect to find Jesus glowing in front of us yelling that everything is ok and fixing all our problems. But that’s not how Jesus appears to these disciples, and most of the time, its not how Jesus appears to us on our own Emmaus road journeys.

So we must look for Jesus in these most unexpected of places and people. We must let go of the idea of what Jesus will come to us looking like so that we can open our eyes to the stranger who is greeting us in the name of Christ, welcoming us into holy ground as we journey together.

Let us find on the road that seems hopeless, hope in the people we wouldn’t expect, Christ in the ways we wouldn’t believe it, and the Holy Spirit in the most ordinary of activities.

In the name of God our creator, our sustainer and our redeemer. Amen.