13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Today is the third Sunday of Easter. For us, Easter morning was two weeks ago. But for our gospel story, it is still Easter morning. And in our story we meet two men. Men we’ve never met before in the gospel story. They are strangers to us. One is named Cleopas and the other is left unnamed. But they are disciples of Jesus and at this point in the story, on Easter morning, they don’t even know for sure that Jesus has risen from the tomb. They’ve heard rumors about it, but they haven’t seen it with their own eyes. The last thing they know for sure is that Jesus was nailed to a cross and died. And so they are likely feeling defeated. And disappointed. I mean, this was the one on whom they had placed all of their hopes. And now all they know for sure is that he’s been killed. And perhaps, maybe, they are feeling a bit guilty, because they didn’t stick it out with him. Remember, they all ran away as soon as Jesus was arrested. They are feeling lost. And hopeless. And disappointed. And it says that they were on the road to a town called Emmaus. Now, here’s the thing. Archeologists today have no idea where Emmaus is located. They can’t find it. The text says it is just 7 miles from Jerusalem, but no one seems to be able to find where it was.
And so maybe….maybe Emmaus is not a physical place. Maybe Emmaus is an emotional place. What if Emmaus is that place where you flee when you’ve run out of hope. When life has disappointed you, when guilt weighs on you. When everything feels kind of dead and gone. To be on the road to Emmaus is to be on “the road of deep disappointment.”
In just this past week, just this past week alone, I have heard about a friend of mine who led the funeral for a 19-year-old girl who took her life, because she was so ashamed of some of the things she did in her life, and the bullying she received was too much to bear. I heard about woman who wonders if she should tell her 7-year-old daughter that her absent father took his own life. I heard about a man who is getting married, but still carries the grief and guilt of his previous divorce. I heard about new congregation, just four years old, that fears not making it due to financial strain. I heard about a father whose daughter is furious at him for moving her across the country to a new school and a new town right in the middle of junior high. And I heard about a town 15 miles west of here that has been shaken to its knees over learning that one of their own wanted to go on a massive killing spree at Waseca High School.
Just these stories alone give witness to what it is like to be on the road to Emmaus – the road of deep disappointment. And fear. When everything feels hopeless and dead. And I suspect that we all know this road, in some way in our life.
So what is your Emmaus? Where do you go when life is like that? Where do you go to escape? Do you go to the movies? Video games? The bar? For me, it is easily the TV. That’s where I go. To zone out and go numb for a little while.
And so that is where these two disciples are headed. They are on the road to Emmaus. And notice what happens. It is at that point. When they are on the road of deep disappointment, a stranger comes and joins them on the road. Now, we know that it is Jesus, but they don’t know that. And so we get to hear again, as some of us have heard in the past couple of months, sometimes Jesus comes to us as a stranger. And just because we don’t recognize Jesus, doesn’t mean he isn’t present in our life.
Too often we’ve been told that we have to believe in Jesus, we have to know Jesus, we have to let Jesus into our life, before he will come to us. But this story teaches us otherwise. This story tells us that sometimes Jesus comes to us as a stranger. As someone we do not recognize. And Jesus comes to us when we have run out of faith and hope, and to walk with us.
So Jesus comes to them and asks what they are talking about. And they say, “Are you the only one who hasn’t heard?” You know, which is a kind way of saying, “What are you, clueless?…Haven’t you heard about the things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Now, remember they don’t know they are talking to Jesus. But we know. And they said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” What they don’t realize is that they just told Jesus about their disappointment in Jesus. Jesus comes and listens to them tell him what a failure he was. Isn’t that incredible? I mean, what must that have been like for Jesus? To hear from them how he had let them down. It likes when you stumble across a text on a family member’s phone, and you see they’ve been talking about you. Or when you over hear someone say something unpleasant about you.
And I think what is remarkable and perhaps one of the greatest moments in the story is what happens next… Jesus stays with them. What an incredible moment of grace. To stay with those who are expressing their deep disappointment in you. Jesus is more concerned about being in relationship with them, then in whether they believe in him or not. Jesus doesn’t come to us when we’ve got it all figured out. Jesus comes to us when we are disappointed, and frightened, and hopeless, and when we have lost all faith in Jesus.
And now notice where Jesus meets them. It is not in a church. It is not on the road to faith. Or the road to a Christian life. It is on the road to Emmaus. When they are down and out. Jesus meets us out there. On the road. In the world. Not just here.
I don’t know about you, but I have heard more times than I can count that we are to behave ourselves in church. We are to be on our best behavior in church. As if church is the only place where God is. As if church is the only sacred place. And this story tells us that Jesus meets us on the road. Out there. That all places are places where Jesus might meet us, which means all places are sacred. This room is no more sacred than your living room. Or the classroom. Or the boardroom. This table is no more sacred than your dinner table. Or the boardroom table.
All of life is sacred. All of it. And Jesus will be present to us in our lives. Not just in our churches. And Jesus will be especially present when we are walking on the difficult road to our Emmaus places. This is good news for us all, but this is perhaps the greatest story to be told on a day like today of affirmation of baptism. Today, for Jonh, and Emily, and Quentin, today is a day of celebration and accomplishment. And surely Jesus is present. But the good news and the news that we all need to hear is that Jesus comes and meets us when we don’t have it all together. When we are lost and broken and doubting. Which is perhaps what I want them to take away from today. That they don’t have to have it all together. They don’t have to know exactly what they believe or have a super strong faith. We often call what happens today – confirmation, or being confirmed, but the technical term is affirmation of baptism. And what that means is Jonh, Emily, and Quentin will be affirming their baptisms. They will be saying yes to the promises that God speaks in baptism.
Now, perhaps you noticed, but baptism has been in the news this week. Former Governor Sarah Palin made a very disturbing comment about baptism this week. She said that waterboarding – a form of water torture that creates the experience of drowning – is how we baptize terrorists. She likens torture with water to baptism. And it is yet another example of violence in the name of religion.
Now Sarah Palin is right about one thing. Baptism can be painful. Because in baptism we are claimed as part of this community of the people of God. And as people of God, we are asked to love one another and our enemies. And our enemies. And that is very, very hard. Even painful some times. It’s hard enough to love the ones we’re supposed to love, much less our enemies. Inflicting pain and suffering in the name of Jesus is not baptism. And Jesus will have nothing to do with it. And today is about saying yes to the promises of God in baptism. What are those promises? That you have been made in the image of God. That God has claimed you as God’s own child forever and always. And now, having heard that, that we are then to go and live that out. And how do you live that out? By trusting that if Jesus can come to us in the stranger, then every single person we meet has the potential to be a vehicle for Jesus to come into our lives. And if every person has the potential to be Jesus for us, then we are called to love and welcome others as if they are Jesus. Because they just might be, even when we don’t recognize Jesus in them.
The two disciples on the road. Even when they get to their stopping place for the night, they still don’t know that it is Jesus who is with them. He is still a stranger to them. And it isn’t until Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, that they finally recognize him as Jesus. Surely it is no mistake that those are the exact same words used at the last supper and in our communion liturgy. Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it and gives it for all to eat. When these two men invited Jesus to stay with them, Jesus was a stranger to them. But then when they broke bread together, then their eyes were opened. And they could see. So maybe what we learn is that when we invite and welcome the stranger, and when we break bread together, perhaps then, our eyes will be opened to the presence of Jesus among us.
Friends, we are about to partake in Holy Communion. A couple of weeks ago, I had a friend at worship. He was visiting us and he didn’t know if as a visitor he would be welcome at the Communion table. I don’t think that was our fault, but I do think it means we have work to do as Christians when visitors don’t know if they are welcome. And we have a lot of visitors here today. And who knows. Maybe one of you strangers is Jesus in our midst. Who knows if we will recognize you. But let there be no mistake — each and everyone of you is welcome here at this table.
Jesus comes to meet us when we are out there. On the road. Living our ordinary lives and walking toward Emmaus. May that be enough of a promise from God for all of us to affirm this day. AMEN
 Barbara Brown Taylor