“What Things?”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

May 7, 2017

Luke 24:13-35


It was a long road trip, that journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  For those of you who ran in the Jog with Judy yesterday (and I know there are several), seven miles might not seem all that bad—just a bit more than twice the 5K you completed.  But seven miles in the Middle Eastern desert is rather different from a similar distance in the cool, damp, springtime Quiet Corner air.

When I visited Israel/Palestine two years ago, we spent a little bit of time in the desert outside of Jerusalem.  Let me tell you, it was hotter and drier than anywhere else I’ve ever been.  After a short walk up a hill to a stony promontory, which left us all a bit out of breath, we sat for maybe half an hour of silent prayer time.  And I remember thinking how vulnerable I felt, how exposed to the elements, in spite of the sun hat on my head, and the water bottle in my bag, and the air-conditioned bus waiting for us back at the roadside.  It felt like the sun was pressing down on me, the hot air pushing me toward the hard-baked earth.  Without our guide, without our modern conveniences, I would be a goner.  Walking seven miles in that kind of heat, over rocky, uneven, and often steep terrain—it was a long road trip.

And there’s another reason why that journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus was a long one.  One commentator says it this way:  “There are some walks that are longer than others—not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens.”  The journey those two followers of Jesus were taking was long enough to tire a person out, long enough that their feet would be sore and their muscles weary.  The path they walked was dry enough to leave them parched and thirsty.  But the journey was made all the more arduous because they embarked on it with heavy hearts, with broken dreams, with hopes in pieces on the ground.

It was the afternoon of that first Easter day.  At dawn, the women had gone to the tomb and discovered it empty.  The male disciples, hearing the women’s testimony, had gone to see for themselves.  But as yet, they were not convinced that such an unlikely thing as resurrection could actually have happened.  They still believed that the powers that be had won yet another victory, that the One they had followed had been a failure in the end, that the hopes they had placed in him had evaporated like raindrops hitting the bone-dry desert ground.

They were walking along, talking with each other about all that had happened in the previous week, with the kind of solidarity that only members of a losing team can have for one another.  And that’s when Jesus showed up, though they did not yet recognize him.

He asked them what they were talking about.  He invited them to name their dashed hopes, to tell him all about their grief and loss and fear and disappointment.  It’s not like he didn’t know what had happened—he was kind of an important part of whole thing.  But he knew that they needed to tell the story before they could hear his teachings anew and find the perspective that would enable them to see him for who he really was, to understand the world-changing good news of that day.

The poet Judy Brown says it this way:  “What makes a fire burn / is space between the logs.”  The hearts of Cleopas and his companion were full of broken hopes, choked by dreams turned to nightmares, smothered by the wet blanket of loss and sorrow.  Waterlogged as they were by grief, there was no room for Jesus to kindle the kind of fire that would warm them from within and bring them back to life.  So he asked them to tell the story, because he knew this truth:  that sometimes the telling of our stories of heartbreak is the precursor to healing.

And here’s the thing:  we are not so different, you and I, from Cleopas and his companion.  Jesus knows the same truth about me, and he knows the same truth about you.  He knows that sometimes our hearts are too cluttered with the debris of our lives, too caught up in the anxiety and fear of our world, to make room to receive the good news he longs to share.  And when that happens, he wants nothing more than for us to tell him our stories, to share our burdens, to make enough space between the logs that he can set our broken hearts to burning again.

Jesus comes to us as he came to Cleopas and his companion on that desert road from Jerusalem to Emmaus so long ago.  All concern, all compassion, all patience, he asks:  Beloved ones, what is it that has broken your hearts?  What is it that has made you afraid?  What is it that has left you high and dry?  What disappointment do you think you cannot withstand?  What betrayal do you think you cannot endure?  What heartbreak do you think will never be mended?  What is it that has left you feeling like the powers of sin and death still have dominion in this world?

It’s not that he doesn’t know what has happened.  It’s not that he isn’t already present in the midst of every pain and hurt and sorrow.  But he knows that you need to tell the story in order to make space between the logs for the fire to burn once more.  And then, after you have told him your story, after you have released your fears, after you have poured out your heart, then he will tell you again of the promises God has made—that you are never alone, not ever; that all that has gone wrong will yet be made right; that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate you from God; that justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream; that the day will come when mourning and crying and pain are no more, and Love is all in all.

And then, after you have invited him to stay with you, then he will take bread, and bless it, and break it, and give it to you, and make himself known to you in the breaking of the bread.  Then, after he has fed you and set your heart to burning again, he will send you on your way to tell what happened when you met that stranger and invited him in.  He will send you on your way to bring good news to the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the brokenhearted.  He will send you on your way to love your neighbors as yourself.  He will send you on your way to do unto others what Jesus has first done for you.

May it be so.


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