Ezekiel 37.1 – 14: Luke 24.13 – 35
In our second reading today, two followers of Jesus, Cleopas and an unidentified companion, are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They are bewildered, trying to make sense of the events that had taken place earlier in the day.
Their imagination is stunted by an upsetting and confusing experience; emotionally numbing thoughts after a traumatic event. Their minds are confused because the horror that they knew for certain, the crucifixion, could not be lessened by the apparent Good News that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their imaginations are not yet ready for the radical outcome. Their attitude is sullen, their eyes overpowered.
We’ve also listened to Ezekiel’s equally powerful gospel story that tries to overcome despair. The dry bones represent the living exiles who fear God’s absence and have dug their own graves because that is all they have to look forward to. But Ezekiel prophesies as instructed by God, “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
I wonder whether Jesus made use of this story. He gives them a history lesson up to the later prophets. But to what effect? Luke does not record any reaction from Cleopas or his companion. There is an incapacity in their intelligence, despite all the facts that Jesus has recalled for them, to draw any conclusions of faith. Even the stories their fellow Christians had told them of the empty tomb and the angelic presence did not convince them. Jesus gets exasperated, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
When we’ve heard scripture how do we react? Do we set aside the stories we’ve heard when faced with real life situations of present difficult circumstances? At home, I’ve hundreds of books, mainly the works of theologians, stories and theories about God, Jesus, religion and faith. I have to be honest. There have been times when I have gazed at my bookshelves in times of sadness or disappointment and not had my hopes raised about what God could, or would do.
What sort of reception would the travellers have received when they got home? The wisdom of their families in blunt terms perhaps. “I told you following Jesus would lead to disappointment. What a waste of time and money” or something like that. Or maybe they are spared the lecture since they have a guest with them. They think they know the whole story. They certainly know about dashed hopes and the things that are making them sad. But God’s Word spoken to them by Jesus does not seem to have had the reaction Jesus was expecting. The Good News of hope, love, compassion that Jesus was embodying had not yet restored their lives. Perhaps this is why he decides to stay with them.
When the meal is ready, Jesus assumes the role of host and in the breaking of the bread their eyes open and they glimpse the Lord. A glimpse is all they need. Then the stories that were familiar begin to make sense and they are propelled into new thinking, new confidence, new hope. Eyes are organs of judgment, but they also fire the imagination. It took time to make the imaginative leap that the resurrection required, the radical imagination that offered a chance to see present reality. They had to make sense of this in their own time, not on the evidence of rumours; this time on the evidence of their own experience in the company of Jesus.
The journey was also important. How we travel the faith journey is important. Small things that happen along the journey begin to add up. The art of everyday living, who we are, what we do, are all important parts of the journey. Sometimes the journey is a slow one, we are a little dim-witted, we lose patience. Cleopas and his companion needed Jesus to walk with them, to come near to them and to stay with them. With hindsight, the stories along the way warmed their hearts, but it needed the episode of the breaking of the bread to lift the veil from their minds. Both were essential to their understanding; neither on their own was sufficient.
And with what result. “That same day they got up and returned to Jerusalem” (24:33) to announce the Good News to the disciples. This was also essential; that they find the people they had been sharing their lives with. As Evelyn Underhill says. “the worshipping life of the Christian, whilst profoundly personal, is essentially that of a person who is also a member of a group…..disciplined and supported by the social framework, to which each of its members has a personal responsibility and makes a personal contribution, but inwardly free.” [‘Worship’ p.83]
Our faith is sustained through Christian worship. It is the place where Jesus continues to reveal himself. We nurture our faith in worship and expressions of mutual care, the smile, sharing the peace, perhaps even a hug. Faith is also sustained in our daily schedule if we examine it with a new set of eyes. We might be given glimpses of the God we know, hours filled with quiet recognitions of a God of love and grace, a companion who walks the road with us, seemingly a stranger to our loss and yet, in ways that defy easy explanation, our closest companion.
Patience in this life is also a key issue for us. Patience in the face of promises yet to be kept; patience in the meantime of enduring illness, broken relationships, and unrealised expectations or hopes; patience after all our patience has run out. As the prophet Isaiah says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” [30.15] Amen.