Signs Along the Way: A Billboard on the Way to Emmaus
Worship on April 10th will feature a gospel reading about Jesus appearing to two travelers on the road to Emmaus from Luke. In the lectionary, readings about resurrection appearances are typical during the Sunday’s following Easter and in fact there are eleven appearances described in the four Gospels, Acts and I Corinthians. What I like most about the account found in Luke (and briefly in Mark) is the location where it happens, that Jesus appears to travelers, and that it includes a favorite line of liturgy from the Holden Evening Prayer service.
The story happens Easter Sunday after the tomb is found empty and Jesus appears for the first time. Two followers of Jesus leave Jerusalem and get on the road to the small town of Emmaus. I can only imagine their grief and confusion given the rollercoaster of a week they experienced from the triumphant entry of Jesus to his gruesome death and now the news of the morning.
As they travel their conversation turns to what I’m sure is an intense discussion about all of the things they have seen and heard. Some seven miles out of Jerusalem their journey changes forever when a stranger joins them as they walk. Who knows how long the stranger had been traveling with them before they noticed but when they do he immediately engages them in continuing their dialog about the remarkable events.
It seems that the stranger was the only person who had not heard or experienced the events in Jerusalem that week and the two followers filled him in as they traveled. The men ask the stranger to stay with them as it was getting late. In the invitation the men forget about their needs, move beyond the sadness of the crucifixion and the astounding news that the tomb was found empty that morning. As they offer hospitality to the stranger, the two followers do what Christ himself commands us to do.
The stranger accepts the invitation to stay and then joins the men at the table. In an interesting twist as the guest, he breaks bread and pours wine. It is in the role of Host at the meal that they recognize Jesus. As they begin to understand the presence and resurrection of Jesus, he vanishes. But in living as He commanded and through their gift of mercy and compassion, they recognize and experience the Risen Lord!
The experience of the travelers is a reminder to me about looking for signs along the way. Too often in a busy day or week, I get caught up in the daily expectations and responsibilities of life. These two travelers are very much like me at the beginning of the lesson too caught up in themselves to see the signs of a gracious and loving God, experience the living Lord through others, and listen for the call of the Spirit to respond to God’s grace in our lives.
It is the invitation of two travelers offering hospitality that moves me: “Stay with us, because it evening and the day is now nearly over.” How often do I neglect the stranger, the poor, and the outcast? How many times in ignorance and selfishness have I missed an opportunity to experience the Living Lord? The Holden Evening Prayer liturgy includes their invitation and follows with the words: “Let your light scatter the darkness and shine with your people here.” Christ’s light scatters the darkness and the light of the Holy supper washes over the shadows cast by my sin and those of a broken world.
I will miss the Holden Evening Prayer but know that the comfortable cadence of the church year between Easter joy and a new year at Advent will be filled with many signs along the way. The comfortable stories and parables will teach me new lessons as they shed light that may bring uncertainty, discomfort, and new awakenings throughout the journey. I pray that my walk will include excursions of faith from signs like the one on the way to Emmaus.
Dear God of All Creation,
Remind me that this walk, like the one to Emmaus is easier when I’m not traveling alone. Help me to remember to pay attention along the way. When I encounter the signs of the cross and the Christ of salvation, guide me to ask Him to stay and walk with me. As I travel through my daily experience, may I see and hear the signs of grace and respond as you command. And during the long journey between now and Advent, may the words Jesus Christ you are the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome stay with me until I’m comforted by them again at a wintry evening prayer service.
In Jesus name, Amen