A More Light Congregation

Bethany Presbyterian Church


I wonder what your first thoughts are when you hear this scripture?  It's important to note that paragraph headings many bibles have were only added by editors.

Here are some paragraph headings that I could make a case for today.

The Great Recap! where we hear the two walking tell the story of Jesus' last days all over again, because it is important to tell the story.

The Man Who Didn't Know, about someone walking along not having heard the biggest news of the day, reflecting on how natural it is for us to remain in our own context and miss something.

Burning Hearts.  Unless it refers to a medical condition, our hearts burn within us when there is something important, special, new, exciting, or dangerous happening.  Our hearts burning is how our bodies get our attention.

The heading my bible lists is The Walk to Emmaus.  I like that heading too.  There are so many images that come to mind when I picture this story.  I have probably seen this story depicted in pictures and paintings over the years.  When I read it now I see a path, probably a really long one, maybe not bending for miles, and it's very dusty and wide, and maybe it's in a desert.

I love paths.  My favorite photographs or artwork usually depict a path in the woods, or through a garden.  There's something inviting about a path.  We want to follow it because it shows us a way through and we don't have to feel lost.  It can be a kind of guide.  We want to follow it because we're curious and we want to go just around that next bend and see what's there.  Mind you, dark paths at night don't beckon me anywhere.  Can you take just a few seconds now and picture a path in your mind?


Don't worry about where your path is heading.  For now, just stand on the path you pictured.   Even in our story, Emmaus was the destination, but few scholars agree about where it is actually located.  Stories claim that Emmaus was anywhere from 7 miles to 19 miles from Jerusalem. It is not known why the two were traveling.  Were they going home after the Passover events in Jerusalem?  Were they trying to get away from the terrible things they had witnessed?  What was known was that Cleopas and his companion left and then returned to Jerusalem.  For Luke, unlike any other gospel writer, Jerusalem is the primary location for all of Jesus' appearances and the Church's beginnings.  It seems for the road to Emmaus, it is not the destination that is key.  

Here is how theologian and writer Frederick Buechner interpreted this story.  He says that Emmaus is:

“…the place we go to in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole damned thing go hang.  It makes no difference anyway.”  …Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one.  Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday.  Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred: that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.”

Indeed.  It doesn't take too much imagination to equate the lives of so many and the state of the planet and the level of our trust, with this definition of not just Emmaus, but the paths we take to get there.  

Reverend William J. Barber II is an American Protestant minister and political activist.

He is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. An author, preacher, and professor, he is the chief architect of the "Forward Together Moral Movement." *Pain & Action | The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.  He's a man who speaks for so many in these times of poverty and anxiety, especially for those who have been disadvantaged all along.

Regarding the pandemic he writes:

We cannot return to normal. Addressing the depth of the crises that have been revealed in this pandemic means enacting universal health care, expanding social welfare programs, ensuring access to water and sanitation, cash assistance to poor and low income families, good jobs, living wages and an annual income and protecting our democracy. It means ensuring that our abundant national resources are used for the general welfare, instead of war, walls, and the wealthy.1

He also writes,

Before COVID-19, nearly 700 people died everyday because of poverty and inequality in this country. The frontlines of this pandemic will be the poor and dispossessed - those who do not have access to healthcare, housing, water, decent wages, stable work or child care - and those who are continuing to work in this crisis, meeting our health care and other needs.2

Frederick Buechner wrote his words in 1966.  Rev. William Barber is a contemporary of mine.

Both of these authors examples are depressing and gloomy words and represent deeply dark ways of seeing the world.  

And they are true and valid.  They describe a road that we are on.

The PC(USA), the full name of the Presbyterian denomination we are a part of is all about social justice if nothing else.  Whether that works it's way through the denomination to individual congregations depends on so many different things.

Glory to God for the work that people do that brings the injustices perpetrated against people to light and work tirelessly to make sustainable changes, and never give up the fight.  For explaining that you can't try food stamp dollar amounts for one month and try it out.  People in need don't have an end date to their struggles. People in need and in desperate straits economically or medically or socially or physically don't  get to get out of their misery when they're tired.  They stay tired, and they get worn down and they feel trapped.  And being trapped sucks all the life out of us.  Bless these authors and fighters for putting either a window or a mirror up to us to display the harsh everyday reality of struggles that you or I can't even begin to imagine.

Or can we.  

There is no person who has never suffered.  The extent and depth to which people experience suffering is not easy to see.  For many it will never be visible to others.  The worst thing someone who is suffering can hear is….it's not as bad as…. Or …at least it's not….  Because it IS something and that cannot be denied.

I can tell you that one of the messages about the road to Emmaus story is that God meets us in unexpected ways, when we least expect it, on our way.  On that path, and stays with us in that place.

Another message that comes from this story is what happens when the two travelers and Jesus arrive in Emmaus; what happens after Jesus meets us on our way.  Jesus didn't disappear from their sight then.  Jesus did not leave them.

Here is where I get the heading I would give to this scripture passage.  I would call it The Remembering Story.

This story of Emmaus only appears in the gospel of Luke.  Luke has a distinctive emphasis on appearances of Jesus.  What happens in the house is important.

First, the two model the very thing that Jesus has asked his disciples to do – offer the stranger hospitality.  Jesus also modeled his own previous instructions to the disciples, that they should  “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide.”  (Luke 10:7)

The meal that follows was not a planned sacred event, like our current Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  But it became sacred, after the fact.  The four verbs, take, bless, break and give are Jesus' signature actions when feeding, as was the case at the feeding of the 5,000.  When Jesus, as the guest, becomes the host, and takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them, the disciples in that live experience, remember Jesus doing this before.  They remember the last supper, they remember the 5,000.  

This unplanned breaking of bread becomes a sacred act only in hindsight.  None of the explanations of Jesus' life and events of the terrible week and death in Jerusalem convinced the disciples that the man along on their walk was their Lord.  Just as the words alone of the women or Mary at the tomb was enough for the disciples, and just as the words of the disciples were not enough for Thomas.  It is only in the act itself that Jesus' identity becomes clear to those sharing the meal.  And it's after the fact.

And then Jesus vanished from their sight.  Then.  Not before they remembered.  While other gospels prove Jesus' presence in post-resurrection appearances by Jesus eating – a ghost or an angel doesn't eat real food!  In this story, Jesus doesn't eat because for Luke, the remembering is what brings the sacred.  Luke 22:19 is where the last supper takes place and Jesus says to his disciples then, “This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

A few weeks ago I mentioned that if you have had a personal experience of the holy, you know it.  Because when Jesus comes into our lives, even if, and maybe even especially because, we recognize it only later, the beautiful Jesus scar that remains with us is indelible.  Jesus entry into our lives is a transforming experience.  We can be like the disciples who look back and remember their hearts burning within them.  Luke tells us “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee….and Then they remembered his words.”  (Luke 24:6,8)

When we celebrate the Lord's Supper next week, we will hear the words “do this in remembrance of me.”  What will you remember?

I invite you now to return in your mind to the path you pictured earlier.  You can close your eyes there at home, or soften your gaze.  What do you see?

Has the path that you picture now changed at all?

Can you imagine where you might be headed on this path?

Is there anything you remember feeling on this path?

What might you go and tell, about this path?

Please pray with me…..


1 Letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Members of the 116th Congress, Poverty Amidst Pandemic: A Moral Response to COVID-19 (March 19, 2020), co-written with Liz Theoharis, Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival

2 Letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Members of the 116th Congress, Poverty Amidst Pandemic: A Moral Response to COVID-19 (March 19, 2020), co-written with Liz Theoharis, Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival

What a Road We're On

Reverend Debra McGuire

April 26, 2020

Luke 24:13-35