Our passage begins with “While they were talking about this…”, so let’s go back a few verses to see what they were talking about. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Lord Jesus arrived and began walking alongside two of his disciples, but they did not recognize him. When asked by Jesus what they were so intensely talking about, they shared the trauma of the Good Friday events, the death of their teacher, leader, friend Jesus and how all their hopes that he was God’s Messiah who would overthrow their oppressors were dashed. Yet, they hear from some of the women disciples that they found the tomb where Jesus was buried to be empty. At that moment, in their utter bewilderment, Jesus, still unrecognizable to them, recounts what their scriptures proclaim about God’s promises for redemption, and how Jesus is to be the culmination of that.
They journey on and the two invite their stranger-friend to stay with them since it has grown late. Jesus accepts and while at the dinner table, he took the bread offered to him, broke it, offered it to his hosts, and in that moment of shared hospitality, their eyes were opened and they recognized this man to be their Lord Jesus. Immediately, Jesus vanished from their site.
With excitement and wonder, the two disciples run back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples, who remain in hiding behind locked doors. As they swap their risen-Jesus stories, suddenly Jesus appears – no knock, no key, no open door – and stands before them.
What comes next in the story, when Jesus begins to speak, reminds me of Jesus teaching in Matthew (19:14; 18:3): “Truly I tell you unless you change and become like a child, you won’t see the Kingdom of God, you won’t experience God’s Realm.” Not having kids of my own, or kids in my own house very often, the children of the world, including yours, bless me with joy and many lessons about how and why to remain childlike.
One such blessing took place while I was making a silent retreat. During orientation we were given tips on keeping silence and were encouraged to also keep “custody of the eyes,” so as not to distract one another. Day one of the retreat, I left the retreat grounds to walk in the woods in a nearby public park. Some townspeople were on the walking paths, and I tried hard to avoid them to make it easier for me not to talk or engage. But a little boy saw me as I turned to walk in the opposite direction. He was riding his bike with training wheels and a tall bright red flag, and he rode all by himself – no help from his Dad, who was nearby.
As I walked away, I heard that little boy say, “Hello!” I kept walking and heard another, louder, “Hello!” Trying to believe he was not talking to me, I kept walking, until I heard a shout, “HELLO!” I simply could not ignore that sweet beckoning voice any longer, nor did I want to. I stopped and turned around and looked, and he gave me a big smile and a wave, as if to say, “Look, look at me! Look at my new bike, my fancy flag. Look at me riding it all by myself! Rejoice with me!” I gave a big wave and big smile and then turned and went on my way, happier, blessed, so grateful that I paused to offer my attentive look, to receive his hospitality, and to share in that joy. “Become childlike, and you will see the Kingdom of God,” Jesus said.
Last week while cycling on the Loveland Bike Trail, I came upon a grandmother riding with her two grandkids, ages 7 and 11. As I came along side them to pass, I greeted them and noted that the little girl, 7 years old, was decked out in rainbow colors from head to toe, including her bicycle. I told her how beautifully colorful she was. She said, “Thank you,” and then proceeded to tell me her whole life story, including how on her birthday next year she’s going to get a puppy. Then I learned that her older brother was a baseball player, what position he played and how he sustained a recent shoulder injury while making a big throw. When we arrived back to the parking lot, he got off his bike and came over to me and, tapping on his shoulder, said, “Touch here.” I put my hand on his shoulder as he raised and lowered his arm, so I could feel the click. Pride beamed from his face for his bonafide baseball injury, his badge of honor as an athlete. We packed up our bikes, said goodbye and I left filled with gratitude for the shared stories and connection made.
“Unless you become like a child you’re going to miss out on what God is doing,” Jesus seems to be saying. In our story today, Jesus appears miraculously into that locked room, to his closest friends and, childlike, he cannot wait to say to them “Look, look…it’s me! See my wounds, touch here, it’s really me! Why are you afraid? I’m not dead, I’m not a ghost. I’m really right here, with you!”
The disciples, filled with terror and doubt from all they have experienced and lost in those recent days, listen with mouths agape, eyes bulging, like children hearing a ghost story. As Jesus speaks, their fear lessens, allowing space for amazement, wonder, and even some joy at what they are seeing, hearing, touching.
Then, Jesus, seeing some leftover fish on the table, asked, “May I have some of that?” They offer him a chair, some fish and he eats. (Ghosts don’t get hungry. Ghost’s don’t eat.) In that moment of shared hospitality, Jesus begins to recount for the disciples what the scriptures say about him, about God’s promise of redemption, beginning with their faith ancestors Abraham and Sarah and culminating in liberation through the Christ, who would suffer, die and be raised to new life on the third day.
During a podcast about this story (Sermon Brainwave), on one of the hosts asserted, “You can’t go back to life before the storm.” We can imagine the disciples, in the wake of the horrific week of Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion, were longing for their life before the storm that shattered their lives, longing for their dear friend and rabbi Jesus to be alive. Their lives were far from perfect, living under Roman oppression as they were, but at least with Jesus still with them, they had hope and some sense of security that they knew where their lives may be headed.
Can you relate? As we live on in pandemic, any given day we may hear ourselves or others say, “I can’t wait until life gets back to normal,” or, “I just wish things would go back to the way they were,” even if that way was exhausting us or in other ways far from life-giving. We forget the pain and long for those days because the unknown is so daunting, unsettling, anxiety provoking. Yet, there is no going back to life before a storm, exactly. Calamities change things, our surroundings, us. In the unfolding of our present into our future, as was true for Jesus and his disciples and for all of our faith ancestors, is true for us: God remains by our side, leading, guiding, revealing more as needed for us to continue on our journey.
When Jesus sat with his disciples and retold them God’s salvation plan found in the scriptures, he would have gone back to the beginning, to the story of Abraham and Sarah as models of faith. To Abram God said (Genesis 12:1-3), Go, from your homeland to the land I will show you…and I will bless you, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you….” Abram and Sarai were given no road map, no address, no GPS. They were given only the promise of God’s presence, guidance and that more will be revealed, right on time.
As Jesus recounted these stories for his disciples, what is revealed for them is that the journey of faith does not come with a map, there is no going back to “how it used to be,” – it is truly a journey, open-ended, with an ongoing invitation to trust, to remain in God-reliance, childlike in wonder and expectation, noticing the gifts along the way, giving thanks for God’s moment by moment provision and presence, and to say “yes” to God again and again, each day.
This is God’s invitation to us for our own faith journey, and the Resurrection has something to do with this, otherwise there would be no testimonies written down of encounters with the Risen Christ. What does the Resurrection mean for us?
For starters, Jesus wants us to know that our lives, in our very bodies here on this earth, matter. As the risen Jesus sat down at the dining table and ate with his disciples, he was showing them, as theologian Dan Daly SJ puts it, that he was “worried about them, still with them and very much interested in what they were doing.” He was saying, “Your lives have meaning to me, to God, to the world. My resurrection is not solely to assure you of a future address in a future heaven. Resurrection matters for our lives right here and now.
What does resurrection look like? As the life of Jesus reveals, resurrection often happens around our dining tables. He was ever eating and drinking with friends, strangers, outcasts, those who considered him an enemy. Jesus was both invited and received hospitality and did the inviting, extending hospitality. And, lives are changed.
In the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck, two main characters Rose and Cosmo have been married for decades. Cosmo has experienced a late mid-life crisis of sorts; he feels his life is meaningless, and seeking some answers or relief, he begins an extramarital affair. He engages in an extramarital affair. Rose, knowing her husband so well after all those years, intuits that he is being unfaithful. At the breakfast table one morning in the midst of all of this, the air is thick with tension.
Gathered around the table are Rose at one end, Cosmo at the other, their 37 year old daughter Lorretta, her finance Ronnie, and Cosmo’s elderly father. No one is speaking. Rose, having served everyone breakfast, sits down, looks at her husband across the table and says, “Have I been a good wife?” Cosmo, without much thought, carelessly replies, “Ya.” Rose pauses and then says, “I want you to stop seeing her.” Forks drop, eyes timidly look up and around, from Cosmo to Rose and back again. Collecting himself after the shock, Cosmo looks at Rose and says, “Ok.” And after another pause, he speaks up again: “A man understands one day that his life is built on nothing, and that’s a bad, crazy day.” Lorretta, moved and teary and bordering on angry, replies, “Your life is not built on nothing!” And then she adds, softly, “I love you.” Cosmo looks at Rose, and says in turn, “I love you too,” and blows her a kiss. The tension around the room gives way to relief and smiling faces for all.
“I love you.” Cosmo’s life is not built on nothing, because of love. Cosmo and Rose were able to affirm their love anew because of the priceless gift of forgiveness that Rose offered her spouse in that very difficult and hurtful situation. And the peace that comes with forgiveness washed over that dining table for all who were gathered.
This same peace washed over the disciples as Jesus sat at table with them, and told them their lives had meaning because he’s alive, because God loves them, and that because he lives, so they shall truly live. Our lives, too, have meaning for we came from Love, we are returning to Love, and we are sent into the world to share this Love.
Jesus’ first words upon entering that locked room was “Peace,” and at the end of his speech he gives his disciples their new job – they are to go out into all the world and share the message of a change of heart and life through forgiveness, beginning right there in Jerusalem, right where they are.
We don’t have to go anywhere else to carry out our shared call of proclaiming forgiveness in Jesus’ name. We can begin around our own tables, sharing the hospitality of Christ with childlike wonder and expectation, giving and receiving the holy invitation to, “Come, look, see, touch, eat!” that Resurrection may be experienced and our lives transformed, again and again.