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On the Road Together

emmaus caravaggioLuke 24: 13-35
Acts 2: 36-42
Introduction to the reading
The season of Easter – the Sundays from Easter Sunday through Pentecost (on June 4 this year), also known as the Great Fifty Days - began last week with a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples.  That theme, along with words from Jesus ahead of that time, will be the focus of our readings until the beginning of June.

The reading for this morning comes from the Gospel of Luke.  

This passage from the Gospel of Luke is one of my favorites in all of scripture.  Partly, I’m sure, it is because the movement of it seems to capture the movement of our own Reformed order of worship, which I love to prepare and lead for you:  

  • we gather together, at the beginning of the week;
  • we confess our shortcomings before God and one another;
  • we hear the Word of the Lord in the reading of Scripture, in music and interpretation through a sermon;
  • we celebrate the Sacrament of Communion (on the first Sunday of the month);
  • and then we depart, freed to spread and live the Good News.  

The whole services is laced with prayers and silences and everyone has an opportunity to participate.  Often, there is something special added or a variation from the regular order, but essentially, every Sunday, this is what we do.  Every Sunday we walk that road to Emmaus, watching, hoping, expecting to encounter the risen Lord, present among us.

Among the notable features of this passage, and therefore of our worship, I’d like to point out three for you to think about.
First, movement, especially the walking.  Cleopas and his companion had been in Jerusalem and now they were headed home to their village of Emmaus.  They most likely had come to the city for the Passover festival, but then there was also that crucifixion – of the one called Jesus, the one everybody had thought was the promised Messiah, the one who would save them from the oppressive Roman regime.
I think this walking is a metaphor for the journey of life that we all take.  We walk, and we encounter others; we talk together about what goes on in the world and what difference it makes to us.  We walk, and at the same time come to decision points, different possible ways to take – what career path, where to live, who to spend time with, how to move gracefully from one stage of life to another.  We walk, and yet sometimes stand still, when the walking gets difficult or we sit down when it seems we just can’t go another step.  We walk, and at the same time reflect on where we’ve gone wrong, what we’ve done right, what we wish we had done differently.  
All this movement we also find in our worship time together:  we walk in; we sit down; we stand; we walk about, greeting one another as we pass the peace; we sit; we stand; we depart.  We are in observant motion as we take part in this service.
And there’s another important idea.  Even with all the movement, the worship services allows you to be still.  The familiar routine provides one brief hour of relief, reassurance and comfort in a world that is too turbulent for our own good.  Here on a Sunday morning is an open space to be silent, to absorb beauty and to think about meaning.

Second, hospitality.  Cleopas and his companion fall easily into conversation with the stranger (who is actually Jesus, but they don’t know it), sharing with him what they have been discussing.  And then Jesus draws them into the resurrection life - his resurrection life – explicating the Scriptures, testifying himself to what has happened to him.
And then comes the dinner –who is the guest and who is the host?  They invite him:  “Stay with us because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”  But he is the one who serves:  When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…
The importance of hospitality, of welcome.  Being an usher/greeter for the Sunday morning worship service seems like such a mundane task, but it is so important, for the greeter is the very first person a visitor or regular attender comes in contact with.  A warm smile, a word of care, and the service is off on the right foot even before someone enters the sanctuary.  Recall what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said:  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb. 13:2)  Is that not what happened to Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus?
And then, the open communion table.  We may celebrate the Sacrament only once a month, but the table is always set – centered under the empty cross, cup and plate and open Scripture.  Surely the dinner that the two men shared with Jesus was the Sacrament of Holy Communion – in the breaking of the bread their eyes were opened to his true identity.  As we say is our liturgy:  “Come to this table not because you must but because you may; not because you are worthy but because you are hungry; not because you are ready but because you are thirsty. … “Whoever comes to me,” Jesus says, “I will never send away.”

And third, repentance.
Recall the reading from the book of Acts.  It focuses on the other sacrament of the Reformed tradition, baptism, the visible sign and seal of repentance, which word itself means a turning around.  Peter said to the people who were gathered: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
I think this is what Jesus offered to Cleopas and his friend – an opportunity for repentance and a chance to reconsider and look anew at the events that had happened in Jerusalem that day.  So Jesus said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”  They stood still, looking sad.  And then they gave a review of what had occurred:  Jesus condemned to death, his crucifixion, the outrageous and highly unlikely story that the tomb where he had been laid was now empty, angels telling women that he was alive again.  And this utterly defeated commentary:  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
In essence they confess that everything is now awful.  But Jesus begins to turn their understanding around.  It is in this part of the story that their repentance begins, when they hear him open to them the meaning of the scriptures about himself, beginning as far back as Moses.  And then, they literally do turn around.  That same hour they got up, got back on the road, and returned to Jerusalem.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins is what the worship service can do for you.  If you have taken a wrong turn on the road of life; if you don’t think you are where you should be; if you haven’t given enough consideration to some situation or to someone who deserves more attention, the worship time, here on a Sunday morning, lets you encounter Jesus.  And Jesus has a way of asking you questions, of putting truth before you, of letting you being honest without fear.  God’s forgiveness, grace and love are freely open to you.  Renewal, refreshment, and joy are yours for the taking.

Notice that the title of this sermon is “On the Road Together.”  Contrast that with the Thought for Worship:  “The only journey is the one within.”   In worship, we constantly toggle back and forth between “I” and “we”, particularly in prayers and responsive readings. 

Yes, the journey of life and faith is an individual one.  Each one of us has a personal relationship with Jesus, some closer than others. But Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. We also have one another in this community that we call the church where together we can explore and share and rejoice in the open mystery of our faith.  Like Cleopas and his companion, we walk the road to Emmaus every week.  Amen.  

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
April 30, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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