Some of you may remember a few years ago, 20 of us from Douglas UCC took a trip together to New Mexico. Some of you were there. We got to visit so many wonderful places. And one of them was the home of the famed American artist, Georgia O'Keeffe. We actually got a private tour of her home. It was so amazing to be in the very space where she created some of her greatest works of art. We actually got to see the doorway, and the ladder and the tree that appear in some of her most famous paintings.
As a young man, I got to visit another famous home, the home of the American poet Emily Dickinson, in Amherst, Massachusetts. And again, it was incredible to be in the room right next to the desk, where she wrote more than 1,800 poems. And then, of course, millions of Americans – so people all over the world traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to go to Graceland to visit the home of Elvis Presley.
Because we, the lovers of art, poetry, and music, want to go to the very places, to have firsthand experiences of where the creative love, life, and being came into existence.
And so of course, it makes sense that when we are lovers of Jesus, we want to go to the Holy Land, because we want to experience firsthand the place where he came into being. We want to walk where he walked, visit where he visited. Those of you who have been to the Holy Land, you know that when you are there, you experience the presence of the divine in a very real and profound way.
One of my friends a few years ago returned from the Holy Land. He was so excited, and so moved to tell me about it. And he said, “Sal, you're not going to believe this. I went to the the exact spot where Jesus was born. And I walked the road to Emmaus that Jesus walked. And I saw where the empty tomb was. And he was so moved by telling me, that I didn't want to burst his bubble. I didn't want to tell him that he probably didn't visit the exact places where Jesus was born and walked, and was laid to rest.
Archaeologists tell us that most of the biblical sites no longer exist in their original formm and documents that point to where they may have been are fragmented and ambiguous at best. So for example, a few weeks ago, you may have seen the NBC Nightly News story about the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa is the road that Jesus supposedly walked, toward the cross. And millions of people from all over the world walk the Via Dolorosa every year.
But the NBC News report featured historians and archaeologists who said that road couldn't possibly have been the road where Jesus walked to the cross. It was in a separate part of town. And then, of course, there's the story I just read for you today from the third Sunday of Easter's lectionary about the Road to Emmaus.
If you go to the Holy Land today, there's not one, there's not two, there are five sites that claim to be the Road to Emmaus. As we heard, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, there are no documents that exist that mentioned a place called Emmaus. The only thing we have is this one passage from Luke's Gospel.
And that's why the theologian Marcus Borg said, Emmaus is nowhere and Emmaus is everywhere.
I really love that.
Now, you know me – the former high school English teacher – I love words, and I love the word ‘nowhere.’ Because if you take it apart, it says, “Now, here.” Emmaus is now and it is here. It's everywhere. Another progressive theologian John Dominic Crossan said the road to Emmaus never happened. The road to Emmaus happens all the time.
And I think he got that from Joseph Campbell. Because if you remember, Joseph Campbell said a myth is something that never happened, but happens all the time. And I talked about that in my Easter Sunday message. I said, I don't know if the resurrection of Jesus really happened. But I know stories of resurrection happen all the time. Just go outside now in the springtime, look at the flowers popping up out of the ground, the leaves in the trees, the birds. Resurrection is real.
Now I don't know if the road to Emmaus actually existed. But I do know that this story speaks to a great spiritual truth. So let's look at it together. First of all, the word Emmaus means warm spring. The road to Emmaus represents our spiritual journey to spring. What is spring? Well spring is new growth and new life. That's what the road to Emmaus represents – our spiritual journey to new growth and new life.
And we heard in the reading this morning, it's seven miles from Jerusalem. Now, if you've been coming to Douglas UCC for a while now, you know I often speak of the number seven, because it appears in the Bible so much. The creation story was seven days, Jesus had seven I am statements. He said, ‘Forgive 70 times seven times.’ And we know there are seven signs in the book of Revelation. Those are just a few examples. There are many more. The number is not a literal number. The number is a symbolic number, a spiritual number. It represents a time of spiritual completion. And so Emmaus is symbolically is seven miles from Jerusalem, which is the holy land, the Holy City. So again, the road to Emmaus symbolizes our spiritual journey, from darkness to light. To new growth, new life, a time of spiritual completion.
Now, notice, when these two disciples are walking on the road, they're sad. Their friend has just been killed. And they're also maybe a little bit confused and disillusioned by what happened. This man told them he was the Messiah who was going to save them. And now he's been crucified. So they're walking in confusion and sadness. And Jesus appears to them, but they don't recognize Jesus.
You may have remembered a few Sundays ago, when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. She didn't recognize him either. She thought she was talking to a gardener. It reminds us that in our moments of sadness and darkness and grief and despair, we fail to recognize sometimes the presence of God that is with us, especially in the stranger.
The front cover of your bulletin today says “Breaking bread,” because you notice that Jesus spent the whole day with these two disciples. They didn't recognize him, but they finally did at the end of the day when they shared a meal together. When Jesus broke bread with them.
As we heard, in our Words of Integration and Guidance, this morning, the word for bread – companio – the Latin word means, with bread, with one another. We’re companions. I often think of the famous quote by Ram Das, the late spiritual writer, who said, “We're all just walking each other home.”
And that's what we're doing in our journey through life together, the spiritual journey, the Road to Emmaus – we're all just walking each other home, we're all companions for one another. And that's why Jesus said, “When I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. When I was in prison, you visited me when I was naked, you clothed me.” And the disciples said, “Jesus, when did we ever see you in any of those situations?” And he said, “Whenever you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.”
That's what we're doing. As we walk the Road to Emmaus, our call as Christians is to recognize the divine, the Christ, the light in one another.
And so that's what I want to invite you to do in this week ahead. I want you to awaken more fully to the presence of God that is within your midst, especially in one another. Notice as those two disciples were walking with Jesus, it said their minds were open, their their spirits were lifted. May you have new eyes this week as you look around at nature, at one another, at the stranger and recognize the presence of God that is within them. And may you continue to more consciously walk the spiritual path. The Road to Emmaus, For Emmaus is here. It is now, and it is everywhere.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Rev. Dawn Hutchings
In today’s gospel story, two of the disciples encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Where is Emmaus? Historians tell us that there is no record of any village called Emmaus in any other ancient source other than Luke’s gospel. We simply don’t know where Emmaus might have been. Tradition tells us that it might have been a place just a few hours walk from Jerusalem. New Testament scholar Marcus Borg suggests that Emmaus is nowhere. He says, “Emmaus is nowhere because Emmaus is everywhere.” Each and every one of us travels along the road to Emmaus. As we travel this road, we become aware that God is not dead. God is alive and well. God walks with us on the road. God is our companion on the road. The very word companion comes for the same Latin word that literally means “with bread.” The companion is the one who breaks bread with us. It is in the intimate act of breaking bread, of sharing a meal with someone, that we come to know that person. When we meet a stranger on the road, we begin not with believing or not believing what that stranger has to say to us or what that stranger represents to us. We begin with the breaking of the bread. In the breaking of bread with the stranger, we will be able to recognize the divine presence that dwells in the stranger, and the stranger will be able to recognize the divine presence that dwells in us. It’s time for us to reclaim that ancient ability to recognize the divine in the eyes of the stranger and, yes, even in the hearts of our enemies. Believing that God is alive is not the point. Behaving like God is alive is the beginning of compassion. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, recognizing Christ, recognizing the divine in the stranger, is the pathway to justice, peace, and mercy. Let it be so among us.
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