13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
When I was in high school, my school gained a brief mention on ESPN. Yes, that ESPN. We were very proud of this fact – imagine it. A town about the size of Warren being talked about on ESPN. The school seemed to shut down for a little while, as the teachers stopped their classes intermittently to let their students watch the TV, hoping to see us mentioned again. It was a big deal to us. We didn’t get a lot of mention outside of our county, so to see Loyal High School on ESPN was pretty cool. Needless to say, we had never taken the National Spelling Bee more seriously than we did that year.
I don’t exactly keep it a secret, but I am a pretty big nerd, so I actually found the Spelling Bee fairly interesting, even if I didn’t really do that well in it. One of the more fascinating parts about the spelling bee is that the spellers can ask the judges what the origin and definition of the word is. From this, you can get glimpses into its context and the root words that make up the new word. In seminary, we actually do this quite a bit because it helps us look at the original meaning of the word and, in my opinion, actually gives a lot of power back to a word that I might otherwise not think that much about.
One such word, as it relates to our gospel for today, is companion. I think we all probably have an idea of what companion means, but, like so many of our words, it has an interesting and rich history. It comes from the Latin words “com” (meaning “with”) and “panis” (which means “bread”). When we talk about companionship, we are literally talking about breaking bread together. That’s exactly what we find Jesus doing today on the road to Emmaus.
And it seems that these disciples really needed that companionship. We find them on Easter morning traveling to Emmaus. Unlike the disciples who we saw hiding away in a locked room last week, these two disciples had a different approach – leave. They couldn’t travel on Saturday, it was the Sabbath after all, so they had to wait until Sunday. They left town and met a stranger (at least, they assumed it was a stranger). He didn’t seem to know anything about what had happened the last few days. In fact, he seems like the only one who hadn’t heard. So they told him all about this man, Jesus, as they walked – how he was a prophet who taught and healed and performed miracles, how he was handed over to the government by the religious authorities to be killed, and how sad and upset they were that they had lost their teacher and friend.
Then they say something that I believe is the saddest phrase in the human experience, no matter what language you speak it in. “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” Did you catch it? The past tense of hope – “we had hoped.” This is what suffering can look like sometimes – hope being destroyed, lost, forgotten, and neglected. We experience this in a lot of ways and it comes out sounding like this – “we hoped that this medical test would come back negative or would help us know how to treat it”, “we had hoped that after got that job/that degree/that raise that things would be easier”, “we had hoped that they would get better.” It is times like these that we most need companionship. It is times like these that we most need someone to break bread with, to grieve with, to suffer with.
And that’s exactly what Christ does. Because that’s exactly what Christ has always done. He comes along side those who are grieving, who are suffering, and who are trying to pick up the pieces of a past tense hope. He came along side these two disciples, unrecognized and yet fully present, and teaches them, through words and actions, that they are never alone in their heartache and pain. He explains scripture to them, yes, but it wasn’t until he broke bread with them that he would really be their companion. And that’s what they needed, and that’s what we so often need – not someone who can perfectly explain the suffering of the world but someone who knows what it feels like to suffer and who is willing to travel and suffer with us.
Jesus is that someone. Christ, who suffered on the cross, continues to suffer for and with all who are suffering in the past tense of hope. He comes to us in many ways through many people and in many times. Sometimes we don’t know this person on the road, sometimes we do. Sometimes, we see God working the whole time. Sometimes we don’t put the pieces together until we look back and see all the ways and times that he has been breaking bread with us. But always, always, the resurrected Christ is our companion, breaking bread with us.
In the midst of suffering, when we are thinking of hope in the past tense, most of us look for an explanation. We try to pinpoint why, exactly, something happened. We see this as true in our lives as it was for the two disciples going to Emmaus. Even after being told of the resurrection, they were in the past tense of hope. They, like we, want an explanation, and sometimes it helps us feel a little better. But it wasn’t until Jesus breaks bread with them that hope becomes present again.
That’s why we celebrate and receive the bread and wine of communion each and every week. That is one way that Christ continues to work in the world. And, being filled with his body and blood, we go to be companions to others. We have received the grace of his companionship and then we go, to offer that grace, that bread-breaking, to others. Christ is still coming, Christ is still alive, the resurrection is still real, even for those living in the past tense of hope. Love lives and because of this love, we love, too. Amen.