Acts 2:14a, 36-41 – Peter’s Pentecostal Sermon (part 2). Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 – I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
1 Peter 1:17-23 – You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
Luke 24:13-35 – Road to Emmaus. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
The Road to Emmaus – Walking Alongside
The Road to Emmaus story from Luke 24 is the text appointed for Easter evening in all three years of the lectionary. It is also the text appointed for the third Sunday of Easter in years A and B. Easter 3C (last year) is John 21:1-19, breakfast with Jesus on the beach, where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times.
This text follows right on the heels of the women stumbling across an empty tomb. It takes place on Resurrection day, in the evening.
One of my favorite hymns is on this text, Day of Arising, ELW 374. It is written by Susan Cherwien and Carl Schalk. A few years ago I encouraged the synod to sing this throughout the Easter season. The entire hymn is based on this text from Luke 24. There is also a simple Augsburg Fortress arrangement of this for choir and organ, with which the congregation could sing. Of course, Abide With Me is also based on this story and may be sung, but I personally love Day of Arising.
Day of Arising
Day of arising,
Christ on the roadway,
unknown companion walks with his own.
When they invite him,
as fades the first day,
and bread is broken, Christ is made known.
When we are walking,
doubtful and dreading,
blinded by sadness, slowness of heart,
yet Christ walks with us
our invitation: Stay, do not part.
Lo, I am with you,
Jesus has spoken.
This is Christ’s promise, this is Christ’s sign:
when the church gathers,
when bread is broken,
there Christ is with us in bread and wine.
Christ, our companion,
hope for the journey,
bread of compassion, open our eyes.
Grant us your vision,
set all hearts burning
that all creation with you may rise.
Text: Susan Palo Cherwien, b. 1953
Text © 1996 Susan Palo Cherwien, admin. Augsburg Fortress
Tune: RAABE (see RW #149)
I’m not sure why the story has had such an impact on me, but for me, the images are profound.
Emmaus, Luke tells us, is about 60 stadia from Jerusalem, which most people put to be about 7 miles (A stadia, from which we get our word stadium, was a foot race about 1/8 of a Roman mile, a bit over 600 feet or two U.S. football fields.) Wikipedia says Emmaus was 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
Luke says “two of them” were going to Emmaus. We are left to conclude that he is talking about two of the disciples, but we are not told which two. Eventually we are told that one of them is Cleopas, reminding us that there are more than just 12 disciples. Clearly this is not one of the 12 listed earlier in Luke 6: Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, a second James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.
Cleopas is a Hellenized version of an Aramaic name: Qlopha (קלופא). Some have pointed out that John 19 mentions Mary of Clopas (probably wife of Clopas) as one of the four women (three of them named Mary) at the cross. Perhaps Luke’s Cleopas and John’s Clopas are the same person.
Here it gets even muddier; stay with me. See two paragraphs above in the list of disciples, there is a James, son of Alphaeus? Well, Mark 16:1 mentions a “Mary the mother of James” as one of the women at the tomb. Matthew 28:1 lists Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” as going to the tomb.
So, do the math. Mix the gospels and an interesting mosaic emerges. Let’s imagine for a moment that Cleopas, Clopas, and Alphaeus are all clumsy Greek attempts to render the Aramaic Qlopha. The “other Mary” (Mt. 28:1) is then married to Cleopas/Clopas/Alphaeus (John 19). They have a son, James, who is a disciple (Mark 16:1 and Luke 6).
It’s all a puzzle, of course, but if this were the case, then Jesus had a second disciple named James, whose mother Mary was at the cross and possibly at the empty tomb and whose father was also a disciple, walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Let me be clear: this is all way too complicated for a sermon. It might make for interesting conversation in a Bible study group that really likes to dig deep.
Here’s the kicker. We are never told the name of the other disciple who is walking with Cleopas/Clopas. I wonder why not. Luke is the most detailed of the Gospel writers. He doesn’t shy away from naming everyone. Why leave this name out? How about this: what if the other disciple walking with him is none other than his wife, Mary? Makes sense. Most artwork paints the second disciple as male, but we are never told, perhaps because John thought it might be controversial.
Full disclosure: I’m not the first to espouse this idea. Sister Marie Paul OSB of the Mount of Olives Monastery in Jerusalem did this “Road to Emmaus” icon in 1990, depicting the second disciple as female. It’s possible. Luke never tells us the name or gender identity of the second disciple.
Here’s another possibility. John left the name out as a literary technique. A nameless disciple allows the listener to imagine herself or himself as the disciple along the road, grieving the crucifixion and encountering the risen Christ. This text makes an excellent guided meditation.
Moving on, Jesus joins them on their walk, but they are “kept from recognizing him.” This is one of those almost Shakespearean moments, where the audience cannot believe that the disciples, with whom he had spent years, did not recognize him.
“So,” Jesus says, “Whatcha talkin’ about?”
This has to have been an astonishing weekend for Jesus, and yet he’s asking them how their weekend went. This is almost humorous. It may be, however, one of the best examples of accompaniment. He doesn’t begin by lecturing them, but instead by asking them about their experience. Jesus walks alongside them, literally and figuratively.
Cleopas and the other nameless disciple simply stop in the road and stare at Jesus with sad eyes. Finally Cleopas, who seems surprised that their walking companion doesn’t know about the events of the weekend, tells him about their devotion to Jesus, their hopes, and his crucifixion. Then he mentions that this morning some women went to the tomb. After discovering the body was not there, they saw a vision of angels telling them he was alive.
Jesus then lays into them, calling them foolish and slow of heart to believe. He interprets the Scriptures from a messianic point of view. The conversation is so compelling that when they arrive at their destination they beg him to stay with them. At dinner he breaks the bread and they recognize him. Then he disappears, at which point they said, “Did not hearts burn when he was talking to us on the road, opening to us the Scriptures?”
This text lends itself to preaching about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. There is something about breaking bread that reveals to us the presence of Christ.
I am also captivated by the passage about their hearts burning. There is something of a spiritual fire in that. When we encounter the risen Christ we are very likely to get heartburn. I get heartburn when I encounter spiritually hungry people. I get heartburn every time I travel to a developing country and see people living in poverty, children in need of so much. “When I was hungry you gave me food…” We encounter Jesus in the faces of those who suffer. If you want to see Jesus, find the least of these, those in need.
There is a tremendous opportunity to talk with our people about sensing their call. What gives you heartburn? Make a list. Can you see God in the midst of your heartburn? Can you as preacher preach to your people the heartburn that you have? Can you invite them to talk about their heartburn and what it means?
We follow the risen Christ who gives us heartburn. The only question left is: what are you going to do about your heartburn?
Excursus: Emmaus-style Accompaniment versus Colonialism
Allow me to spend a moment talking about accompaniment and colonialism. This text, where Jesus gently enters their community, asking, not telling, sparks some thoughts about our companion synod relationships. Accompaniment is walking alongside. Colonialism is domination, even when it is unintentional.
Colonialism, in the strict sense, is acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically. The English, French, Spanish, and others established colonies in North, Central, and South America that eventually revolted and fought for independence. The English, French, Spanish, and Dutch established colonies in Africa and other places in the world.
These countries dominated the indigenous peoples of those lands. They brought with them their politics, architecture, culture, and religion. Viewing these things as superior, they sought to “civilize” what they considered to be savage societies.
Even when countries win their independence, their former overlords often still exert considerable influence over them, economically and militarily. While we don’t seek to acquire complete political control over other countries, we often operate with a kind of neocolonialism, that seeks to build wealth by manipulating the economies of other countries. We do so through corporate business policies and military means. There is also still a tendency to view other cultures as inferior.
The church participates in neocolonialism when we interact with people and churches in other cultures, trying to “improve” them or make them fit our western ideals. Are we able to tell when we are imposing our faith or imposing our culture on others? Are either appropriate? When missionaries preached the gospel, they often brought with them their cultural values, insisting women and men dress according to western standards, as well as think and organize in western fashion. How do we move beyond colonialist attitudes to a postcolonialism?
In their book, Wittenberg Meets the World: Reimagining the Reformation at the Margins, Alberto L. Garcia and John A. Nunes describe colonialism and postcolonialism as follows (p. 40):
Colonialism represents a nationalistic ideology with a purportedly civilizing mission, often reinforced by religious framework, legitimating the total or partial invasion and suzerainty of another’s land and people–extending beyond geography to their relationships, souls, intellects, and imaginations–accruing usually to the occupier an economic and/or military advantage.
Postcolonialism represents a critical and self-critical intervention of colonialism’s invasionary proposals and practices to the extent that colonialist structures are destabilized and transformed and a transfigured identity is reclaimed, asserted and recognized.
What Nunes and Garcia call colonialism, I would call neocolonialism. It is when wealthy, white, western Christians go to poorer countries trying to tell them how to run their country, their economy, their religion, and, in general, to have a society more like ours. We bring with us our materialism, commercialism, anxiety, arrogance, and a host of other maladies.
Accompaniment is an alternative to colonialism. Anyone who has ever tried to help a struggling friend has experienced this. If, in your efforts to help a friend, you sweep in with facile solutions. Just do this. Don’t do that… You soon realize you have no clue about their situation. Like Job’s friends, we can do more harm than good.
It’s so easy to look at other’s challenges and assume we could just fix them, if they would just do x, y, and z. Jesus warns against this and suggests that we focus not on the speck in our neighbor’s eye, but rather on the log in our own (Matthew 7). Sometimes the very best we can do for a friend is to come alongside them, not over them as superiors not trying to magically solve their problems, as if we could, but rather being friends who are present with them as they work through things.
The Road to Emmaus story models just such accompaniment. The resurrected Jesus could easily have swept in and told the grieving disciples to buck up and pull themselves together. Instead he walked alongside them silently, unrecognized. “What are you discussing?” Rather than telling them, he began by listening. Accompaniment always begins with listening. He is able to share hope with them in time, because he walked alongside and listened. At the end of the day, they share a meal together.
Accompaniment in our Companion Synod Relationships
When we visit our friends in Peru or the Central African Republic, we often get asked, “What are you going to do?” The assumption is that we are going to proselytize and convert, to pass out pamphlets or something. Others assume we are going to build houses or schools. Sometimes we do, if asked. But usually we go to simply be together. We worship together. We eat together, sharing table fellowship. We share our stories and our struggles as churches and people of faith. We learn from one another. And yes, where there is need and request, we respond. We don’t go to tell them how to be church in their context. And they don’t tell us.
I’ve seen colonialism in our companion synod and companion congregation relationships. It’s pretty easy to do unwittingly. Because of the nature of our economies, there is a built-in power differential.
Our companion synods are the Lutheran Church in Peru and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. U.S. Americans sweep in to Peru or the Central African Republic with dollars that are worth quite a bit in those economies. For us to have these relationships, which they want and we want, we need to subsidize events. Bringing dollars to the table can make people feel superior, and even when it doesn’t, it can leave our colleagues in other places feeling inferior.
We sometimes get asked, why do you go? Wouldn’t it be better to take the money you would spend on travel, food, and lodging and send it to them? I have asked that question a lot around the world. The response is always the same. We need each other. Andre Golicke, the former President/Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic, put it best.
“The most important thing is the relationship. Without that, we have nothing.” You see, it’s not about the money. It’s about the relationship. When we get that, we move into accompaniment.
The World Bank estimates the per capita income in the Central African Republic to be less than $1,000. In the U.S. it is over $53,000; 70% of the CAR population live in outlying areas. The vast majority of them are unemployed. They live by subsistence farming. U.S. Americans sometimes operate on the underlying assumption that people are poor because of their own doing, laziness or something, rather than because of forces beyond their control, like wars, government corruption, globalization, droughts brought on by climate change, and the like.
It is easy for well-meaning people from the United States to naively enter that environment and begin telling people how to get a job, make more money, change their government, and so on. People on short-term mission trips think to themselves, “They need a school,” and may even generously collect money for such a cause. The money comes with demands and strings. The charity can become toxic, when it creates a top-down imbalanced relationship based only on money. Donations give donors the feeling they have the power to call the shots. Those who live in the country, however, may feel they need medicine, a health clinic, or food as a higher priority.
Accompaniment means we love our neighbors. We do not go in and tell them what they need. We listen. We don’t offer what is not asked for. It means we are aware of the power differential that wealth creates. We check our assumptions at the door. We enter into the relationship slowly, gently, and with humility. We respect one another as equals. We approach not with the idea of improving them, but improving ourselves. We may bring some financial resources, but they bring a wealth of spiritual riches. The church in the CAR is bursting at the seams. What could we learn from them? We walk alongside each other, as companions on the journey.
Then, at the end of the day, we share meals together, like those two disciples in Emmaus. And hopefully, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.