The Road to Emmaus
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Today’s account from Luke is probably not the most-remembered one in church circles, and it’s probably not one that you’d hear about if you pointed a mike at someone walking down the street and said, “Can you tell me two or three stories about Jesus?” But, when people hear it, they love it. When artist paint pictures of it, people get it. There are probably all sorts of reasons why this is a well-loved story about Jesus, but three of them that occur to me are: it’s about walking, talking, and eating – activities that we people have done for countless millenia. Walking, talking, and eating. And in doing those things together, we often figure out what life is about. Or, perhaps more accurately, often when we are doing those things, that’s when things dawn on us. That’s when we might say, “Oh, I get it!” And sometimes it takes someone else to guide us in our thinking so that those “aha moments” happen.
Almost all of my Wilson family lives “back East” in and around Philadelphia where I grew up. And I have forgotten how to talk like they do. But my family now is mostly Nan’s relatives—mostly Norwegian-German Minnesotans who really do say, “Yah, sure, you betcha!”. If you want to know how and what they think, you go to one of the three annual dinners – Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. For sure, we always eat and talk, and sometimes, depending upon the weather and our energy level, we walk after the big meal. And as we walk and talk and eat together, we figure out what’s going on in life.
But, sometimes the light doesn’t come on that fast for us humans. Here’s a slightly silly story of one time for me when the light came on about 27 years late. I was sitting in 8th grade Developmental Reading class. I never saw the title of the class in writing – just spoken words. And, in my 8th grade wisdom, I thought the class was “Develop Mental Reading” which I interpreted as learning how to read with our mouths shut and making no noise. After a few classes of reading out loud, I raised my hand and Mr. Goldberg said, “Yes, Billy, what do you want?” Being a W (Wilson) I was in the back as I usually was, and the whole class turned around and stared at me. “How come, if this is about mental reading, we are reading out loud?” There was an awkward pause and everyone stared even more at me. I slunk down into my chair and Mr. Goldberg said, “Well, Billy, that’s because it’s the way we do it.” Too embarrassed to say anything, I just sat there as class resumed. It was 27 years later when I was 40 years old, and I saw the word developmental in print. Aha! Not develop mental reading but developmental reading! I get it! How could I have misunderstood and took 27 years to get it!
Luckily for the two disciples, with Easter being at sunrise and the walk to Emmaus being later that evening it took them only about half a day. Jesus walked and talked with them to set the stage for understanding, and then they ate together. And they got it. Finally. It took a whole day. But for some of us, it takes weeks, months, years, or a whole lifetime. And our Lord will work faith in our hearts whenever and wherever he wants to.
The Lutheran expression of Christianity was born in a German university. Those 16th Century German professors were no slouches; their faith was strong, their scholarship exhaustive, their preaching long, and their love of the Sacraments as deep as the bones in their bodies. If their brilliant studies didn’t start faith for you, then maybe preaching would. And if not that, maybe the Sacraments. Hard work, studying, and talking usually don’t cause faith to happen, but experiences often do. Hard work, studying, and talking may not cause faith to happen, but they set the stage. And then the Holy Spirit will bring about faith when the time is right – it’s a day later, 27 years later, or even at the very end of life.
The Lutheran reformers talked about free will. And they said, “Of course, we have free will. We can decide what to wear each day, what to eat, what to do at work, what to do at school, what to do at play. And in the realm of church, we can decide to worship, to go to adult forums, or to go to Sunday School. But we have no free will to create faith—that is the work of the Holy Spirit.” We can set the stage for faith in ourselves and others – we can walk, and talk, and eat – but the Holy Spirit is that aha moment when we say, “O, now I get it!”
Faith is, of course, a matter of the heart. Faith is a matter of belief. And the way we get to the heart is not by opening a trap door in our chests or our heads – it is through the senses. The stage for belief – the stage for faith is set because we hear, we see, we smell, we taste, we touch – and when we least expect it, faith dawns on us like a light bulb that the Holy Spirit turns on. It dawns on us like Mr. Goldberg saying, “Because, Billy, that’s how we do it.” Faith comes to us, perhaps, as we draw our last breath, and we say, “Oh, now I get it!” Faith comes to us perhaps as the bread and wine of Holy communion hit our tongue, and we say, “Now I get it!”.
And we can’t really control it. It’s God’s work and for that we can only say, “Aha, now I get it. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of faith.” Walk and talk and eat with the people of God, and those moments of faith will start and grow. Amen.
There once were some folks who were walking,
Who spent all the day full of talking,
Then Jesus took bread,
And soon they were fed,
With faith, now was that so shocking?
Guessing who Jesus might be?
Look ’round and see what you see,
Your eyes and your ears,
Might stop all your fears,
God’s Spirit will set all you free.