Meeting Jesus on the Road

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Prayer of the Day: O God, your Son makes himself known to all his disciples in the breaking of bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Luke 24:21.

“But we had hoped….” There are so many tragic endings to this sentence. We had hoped this treatment would finally arrest Mom’s cancer. We had hoped that this time the pregnancy would take. We had hoped that rehab would finally put our son on the path to recovery from addiction. Our gospel places us in the company of two people whose hopes for Jesus, for Israel and for the future of creation have been dashed. Though the scriptures do not tell us why these two disciples were going to Emmaus, I strongly suspect that they were on their way back home. In any event, it is obvious from their remarks that they had given up on Jesus. They were done with the reign of God Jesus proclaimed and ready to put the whole sad affair behind them.

I strongly suspect that, for Lutheran preachers anyway, the emphasis on our gospel reading will fall upon verse 35 wherein the two disciples, returning from their walk to Emmaus, tell those remaining in Jerusalem how Jesus revealed himself to them in the “breaking of the bread.” We Lutherans are pretty emphatic about the “real” presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine. And that for good reason. For Martin Luther, the true presence of Jesus in Holy Communion was an inescapable corollary of justification by faith. The availability in the sacrament of forgiveness for sin and the promise of eternal life depends not on the worthiness, faith or understanding of the recipient, but on God’s promise to be present in a redemptive way. Faith is not a requirement for the efficacy of the sacrament. To the contrary, the sacrament generates and sustains faith.

These days, however, we are not breaking bread together as a gathered community. Our posture is more that of the disciples on the road with their dashed hopes than the disciples at the table recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread. That isn’t a comfortable place for Lutheran believers like me. This discomfort has led many of my colleagues to seek ways of celebrating Holy Communion “virtually” on line, live or by way of prerecorded liturgies. I don’t want to engage in arguments over the legitimacy of these efforts. But I have to wonder whether they do not reflect, at least in part, a diminished understanding of the real presence of Jesus. Jesus was no less present to the disciples on the road where they failed to recognize him than he was at the table where they did. The sacrament is not a commodity we need to get our hands on in order for Jesus to be present for us. It is rather a gift through which that saving presence is mediated in a way that nourishes and strengthens the community of believers.

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Luke 24:15.

It is not my intent to minimize or discount the importance of the sacraments for the life of the church. But I think we need to be reminded that, even as we are prevented at this time from seeking Jesus through these means of grace, Jesus never stops seeking us. He meets us on the road, even when we are separated from the rest of the community, even when we have given up and are moving away from him. Jesus seeks us even when we are not looking from him. Can we recognize this time of separation from our sanctuaries as an opportunity to encounter Jesus on the road? Can we see this time of “fasting” from Holy Communion as an opportunity to sharpen our awareness of Jesus’ presence in our day to day lives? Is this a time for discovering holiness in places where it has always been, but our eyes have been kept from recognizing it? It may be that Jesus is walking with us even now-and we just haven’t seen him yet.

Here is a poem by Elizabeth Bajjalieh who met God “on the road.”

I Met God on a Train Last Week

Bumbling along
As the night sky rose like fire
And the iron angels
Stuck staccato like twigs on the ground
Propped up, reaching out to the masses

And I was on the train
With a man I’d never met
And his brother, wailing to the side

My heart was a rock
Falling through my chest
And they spoke to me
With malt liquor
Singing from their tongues

We spoke
Of God
Of writing
Of Love
And of loss

And he spoke of Hope
And he told me
To hold on
As bittersweet pills
Dissolve in the pit of my gut

He told me
To hold on

These were not the words
I was ready to hear
From slurred strangers on the train

But to speak of God
With a man
Who preached from a pulpit
Of worn plastic CTA seats
Is the closest
I have ever been
To a revelation
Amongst rocks
Amongst sand
Amongst water
Amongst twigs
And iron angels

Source: Friends journal, January 27, 2020. (c. 2020 by Elizabeth Bajjalieh) Elizabeth Bajjaleih is the Interim Advocacy Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. She is a graduate of Loyola University in Chicago and has a long history of social service, including advocacy for LJBTQ rights and promotion of peaceful and just resolutions to conflicts in the middle east. She currently lives in Palatine, Illinois.

2 thoughts on “Meeting Jesus on the Road

  1. Disagree with you on that. If there was ever a time to break the bread together virtual or otherwise is this. I am tired of arguments but what I know is this. That people are missing the presence of Christ and “fasting” sounds like a hallow word when all we hold dear is taken away. We need to touch Christ and in bread and wine, elements that we all have in our homes. We need Christ presence in this way open our eyes because frankly people are losing their faith in a church that makes them fast when they are the most hungry for Christ. I am one of the pastor who are called to share communion virtually and I believe this call is from Christ. And the people who break bread together? I see the affect of communion more than ever. I am so upset about this fasting practice I can cry over it every day because you can only do this fasting if you don’t hear that hunger for Christ real presence right where you are.

    1. Thanks for your comments Viktoria. And please don’t take anything I have said as a judgment on your ministry to your congregation. These are extraordinary times and I greatly admire and support all of you parish pastors who are doing your best to minister to your people under circumstances I never had to face in all my own years of ministry. That said, I think Jesus is bigger than the sacraments and I don’t equate being without the sacraments with being without Jesus. My concern with our fixation on getting people communion by any means possible is that we are turning the sacrament into a work that needs to be done in order for people to be connected with Jesus. That, it seems to me, comes dangerously close to legalism and turns the sacrament from a means of grace into a work of the law. If this is something “we have to do” to experience Jesus, it starts sounding a whole lot more like law than grace. The point I was trying to make (and perhaps didn’t make quite as clearly as I should have) is that Jesus comes to us quite apart from our seeking him and his presence in our lives is just as real Monday through Saturday (or a Sunday at home) as it is in the sanctuary. Once again, thanks for your comments and may God continue to uphold and strengthen you in your ministry.

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