Rev. George Miller
April 7, 2013
Although Easter was last week, today is a story that in my heart is the Easter story. It’s an account of two people on a journey to Emmaus who have an amazing encounter with Christ.
Marcus Borg and John Crossan in their book The Last Week comment that this story is filled with truth because Emmaus is not a one time event but “…Emmaus always happens…again and again.” (pg 201)
This is also a story sure to raise eyebrows. Why didn’t they realize it was Jesus? Why, did Jesus disappear into thin air? Perhaps most perplexing: how did they run 7 miles back to town in an hour?
Pastorally, this story makes sense. It’s an account of what happens to people after they have experienced trauma; what happens to people going through grief.
A few months ago the UCC offered a seminar on how to respond to human caused disasters. We learned how the body and the brain respond to traumatic situations.
One of the first things were taught is that when something disastrous happens, more often then not, the thinking part of the brain shuts down.
We go into a fight or flight mode in which large amounts of adrenaline is released, our digestion is slowed down, and our immune system is suppressed so we don’t get sick.
In this mode we are what they call agitated, becoming highly irritable, quick to anger and over reactive. Time collapses and minutes seem to either speed by or slow down to unbearable levels.
As evolved as we are, our brains have not developed to the point that we can think and feel at the same time; it’s one or the other.
So when one is emotional, you can’t force them to think or be logical. But you can give them a time out or a moment of pause; to stop, breathe, and to regroup.
If a traumatic event takes place, it is hard for the victim or the witnesses to make meaning or to clearly recall what happened.
That’s where clergy, as first responders, come into play. Pastoral providers will create space and time so thinking can take place, anger can be expressed and chances exist for that person to remember and share what has transpired.
A good pastoral presence will temper this with love, forgiveness and patience.
How? Well, by letting the person or people tell their story. By simply being present, by simply saying “Tell me.”
This creates a supportive environment in which the body and mind can reset itself, and for that person or people to experience the presence of the Lord in an assuring way.
Guess where we see a good example of this? Right here in today’s reading.
Keep in mind that this is a story about two every day, ordinary folk who have experienced an extraordinary thing.
Jesus, who they believed to be a prophet, who they had hoped would redeem their people, has been publicly crucified.
As if that’s not traumatic sounding enough, now some women are claiming that his tomb is empty and Jesus is alive.
How would you feel if someone told you your favorite teacher or preacher had come back to life three days later? Unsettled? Elated? Scared? Disbelieving?
The fact that these two individuals have separated themselves from the group, the fact that they are walking 7 miles out of town gives us some clues as to how they feel.
While on their journey they meet Jesus. But they do not recognize him. This part often confuses folk, but it makes sense.
If they were in flight mode, if they were dealing with trauma, time would have been collapsed, their feeling, not thinking mind would have been working.
It’s like when you’re looking for your sunglasses and they’re right on your face or a piece of paper with a phone number and it’s right there on the desk in front of you.
I recall a time when I drove up to hospice and a parishioner was getting into their car. They literally were not able to see me. Even though I said hi, even though I rapped on their window, they were so focused on who they were visiting that they could neither see nor hear me.
So these two individuals have witnessed a horrible thing; they have heard astonishing news, they are moving slow and looking sad. Jesus asks what they are discussing. They say “Have you not heard what things have taken place?”
Jesus responds “What things?” In other words, “Tell me.”
The Resurrected Christ has met them on the road to Emmaus and he wants to hear what has happened. Clearly something is affecting them, so Jesus says “Tell me. Before you go any further, before you take another step, tell me what happened.”
And he listens.
The result: Christ enters into their home, joins them at the table and they are able to see him for who he is. Their hearts burn within, they return back to the city, back with their comrades to share their Good News.
…Each Sunday we begin service by saying “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
We are indeed all on our own journey, aren’t we? Every day we have experiences to share and memories to process.
Because every day is a journey, Emmaus is not a one time event. Emmaus always happens, again and again, day after day.
If we believe this to be true, then it means that just like the two travelers on the road, we also have an opportunity to tell Jesus what we have experienced each and every day.
Not just the good things. Not just the things that make us glad.
But the other things. The mistakes we have made. The losses we have endured. The things we feel ashamed about.
Popular culture likes to tell us that we should forget, we should brush things under the proverbial rug.
But that doesn’t really do anything. Those thoughts, those feelings are still there.
That’s not what Jesus does on the road to Emmaus. Jesus doesn’t tell them to forget what they have experienced or what they heard. Jesus encourages them to share, and in sharing, the presence of Christ becomes a reality.
With Christ we never have to act as if nothing is wrong. We can tell and retell our story. We can express our shock and dismay, our rage and confusion.
We can tell the Lord everything…and the beauty is that Jesus will listen, and Jesus will hear.
No matter if our journey is one mile, three miles or seven miles long, Christ will hear every word and walk with us along the way
Does it take the events which happened away? No. Does it turn back the hands of time? No.
But it can create space for the unexpected to happen, for healing to begin and the opportunity for us to return back to life, back to family and to friends.
In conclusion, life happens. Jerusalem happens. Pain and suffering, losses and mystery are real.
But just as real as those things are, there is also the reality that as we journey, we do not journey alone.
As we journey, we have opportunities to encounter the resurrected Christ, to tell him our stories and to share all the things that have transpired, be they good or bad.
Certain situations may make us want to detach from reality, but we never have to detach from Christ.
Amen and amen.