Have you ever noticed that some of the most significant encounters or experiences of our lives happen while we are “on the way” to someplace else? Side trips, detours, the conversation we have with a stranger on the train or the plane, the encounter we initially looked at as an “interruption, “ in retrospect turn out to be the very things that change the course of our lives. But are we so focused on the end of our journey, on the goal, on the destination, that we miss the way God is breaking into our lives right now, “On the Way?”
In the Christian tradition, now is the time “after” Easter. We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus on April 20. So…now what? How does the resurrection of Jesus Christ change your life? Or mine? How did it change the lives of his first disciples? Interestingly, before they were called “Christians,” the early followers of Jesus Christ were called “People of the Way.” The Greek word for “Way” is “odos,” meaning “Road, path, way.” In our Lutheran tradition we are organized into these weirdly named regions called “Synods,” which literally means, “Walking the Way together.” (syn: “together” plus “odos, “road/path/way.”) I like that because it is about Life as a Spiritual Adventure. In fact, I like to think of Easter as a verb. Some years ago I titled my Easter sermon, “Easter US!” What would it look like in your life, if God were to “Easter” you? What would it look like if we journeyed through the adventure of this life, expecting God to show up every step of the Way?
One of my favorite mystics, Meister Eckhart (1260-1327 CE) said about the birth of Christ, “What difference does it make that Jesus Christ was born all those years ago in Bethlehem if he is not also born this day in your life and mine?” We might tweak Eckhart’s words to ask ourselves, similarly, “What difference does it make that Jesus Christ rose from the dead all those years ago if you and I are not also raised up to new life today?”
Some of my favorite stories about Jesus are his “after Easter” appearances. I especially love the story of the two disciples “On the Way to Emmaus.” It is found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24, verses13-25:
“Now on that same day (in other words, later Easter day) two disciples were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him…”
This “stranger” they met on the way asked them what they were talking about, and they told him all about Jesus, their teacher, and how the women who had gone to the tomb that morning had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. This stranger then explained to them how all of the scriptures came together and were fulfilled in this resurrection event.
As night fell, the two disciples, one named Cleopas by Luke and one named Susanna by later tradition, arrived at their destination, the village of Emmaus. The stranger they had encountered seemed to be traveling on, but they invited him, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in and stayed with them. We read, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” (Bible scholars call this the “Eucharistic formula:” took, blessed, broke, gave). “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
Only then, in retrospect, did they say to one another: “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road/path/way, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” We read that that same hour, that late night hour, when it was still dark and they had just travelled seven miles from Jerusalem, they got up and travelled seven miles back, back to the same place from which they had come, only everything was different now. They found the eleven disciples and their companions, and told them what had happened “On the Way,” and how he had been made known to them “in the breaking of the bread.”
Some years ago I participated in a four-year training program through Sacred Heart University to become a certified spiritual director. For four years every July we would gather for a week-long intensive class, and then throughout the year, do all of our readings, papers, course work, and peer supervision in small groups. Every year during our one-week intensive class, in the middle of the week of really long days of class work, we would take a Wednesday afternoon break. The instructors would literally pull names out of a hat, and we would be paired up in a kind of impromptu “buddy system,” for what our teachers called, “An Emmaus Walk.” For the rest of the afternoon we would literally walk, meandering around the paths and roads of the retreat center, sharing the stories of our lives. At the end of the afternoon, we would share our evening meal together, and talk about what had happened “On the Way/path/road.”
Did not our hearts burn within us as we shared the stories, the joys and sorrows, the hopes and longings of our lives? Did we not recognize the Christ as we walked the road/path/Way together? And later, as we shared our experiences with others over our evening meal, in retrospect, did we not recognize Christ in the breaking of our bread? In our meal shared together?
If our eyes/hearts/minds are open, do we not recognize that this life really is an Emmaus Walk, and every meal shared among friends is sacred, and everyone we encounter “On the Way” reveals Christ in our midst?
After every yoga class you will ever go to, the final word is “Namaste.” Namaste is a Sanskrit word meaning, “May the holy one in me acknowledge the holy one in you.”
This day, each day, may our eyes and hearts and minds be opened to see that every day is an Emmaus walk, every meal is sacred, and every stranger we meet “On the Way” is the holy one, Christ in our midst.
Copyright April 28, 2014