This is a picture of Sheryl Sandberg. She is perhaps best known as Facebookís number 2 executive. This week, in the media we heard from Sandberg as an author and a follower of the Jewish faith. When her husband, Dave Goldberg died suddenly in 2015 while they were vacationing in Mexico, she became a widow with two young children, 10 and 7 years old. Sheryl felt so alone and as if her childrenís joy had been taken forever. She has co-written a book on grief for the benefit of others. Sheryl said, "the grief felt like a void, like it was sucking me in and pushing on me, pulling me in and I couldnít even see or breathe." She has come to realize the value of those who made comments like, "things will get better," and we will be here with you through this. When Sandberg returned to work at Facebook she was in a haze and wondered why people didnít ask her how she was doing? "She felt invisible, as if standing in front of them but they couldnít see her. "
Perhaps there are similarities in Sandbergís journey and the journey of Cleopas and Jesusí other follower down that road to Emmaus. Can we imagine that journey?
Cleopas and I had walked that road from Emmaus to Jerusalem and back again many times, and the way had never seemed uncommonly long. But this time the road stretched out endlessly before us. The long day after the Sabbath had finally dragged to a close. The shadows were creeping forward at a sluggish pace. We should have quickened our pace and hurried along our way in order to reach home before the sun had set. But what did it matter if darkness caught us on the way? What did anything matter anymore? For us and for a handful like us the sun had set long since. An eerie, crushing darkness had enveloped us three days before. And now, although the light of the sun was still bright upon the road, we were like people groping, stumbling in the dark, feeling our way along a much traveled path, but a journey now strange, unmarked, and unfamiliar. What was the point of hurrying home now? What was there? A dark house, a dead candle on the table, and tasteless bread.
The gospel writer doesnít tell us why these two followers are going down the familiar road, what their agenda is, or why they left Jerusalem. Maybe theyíve left in fear, maybe in despair, maybe because they donít know what to do now that everything has changed. On the road they meet this stranger, and I wonder if he seems even a little familiar to them, like maybe theyíve met him somewhere before but canít quite place it as they walk along. So the three of them talk as they walk, and the two travelers donít seem to understand what has happened, and the stranger tries to tell them.
On this side of Easter we find their reaction a bit strange. After all, this is the same day that the women discovered the empty tomb, were told Jesus had risen by two dazzling angels, and ran to tell the male disciples. How is it that, instead of a journey of joy, this walk to Emmaus is more like a grief therapy session? They did not understand. I can imagine them saying, "We are not on a journey of joy. We are just trudging down this path paved with disappointed hopes."
The One they do not recognize says, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then he continued to interpret past and present events by referring to the Scriptures.
Before they knew it, they had arrived at Emmaus. It is late, so they invite him to come in and eat with them and Jesus accepts, though it turns out that he may have been the one doing the inviting all along.
Surely, when they sit down to eat, it starts to come back to them, where they had met this stranger before. Surely, they start to remember other meals theyíve shared together---that bread-and-fish picnic when the 5000 were fed or the last supper in an upstairs room just a few days ago. It was that very night when everything "fell apart" after he spoke of things they did not understand and did not want to hear about. He had passed the cup and broke the bread. Surely, it starts to come back to them.
Itís the breaking of the bread that does it. Itís when he breaks the bread that they finally remember where they have met this man before. Itís when he breaks the bread, when the flesh of the bread is torn and the crumbs fall to the tableóitís then that their eyes are finally opened and they can see whatís really happening. Itís when he breaks the bread that they are brought back from the shadows of death and they realize that life has won.
Perhaps we live in the middle of this chapter---between the abandoned linens of the empty tomb and the ascension to heaven. In about a month we will celebrate the birthday of the church on the fiery festival of Pentecost; but I think our faith is freshest here, broken open here with the breaking of the bread.
Every one of us is on a journey of one kind or another.
In a relatively comfortable life, a person might feel that "Iím not on a journey with the kind of discomforts and sacrifices of travel you expect. Iím here in my nest, just making it as comfortable as I can." A friend was telling me in a sermon recently, how she challenged her congregation with the question: How do you suffer or sacrifice on account of your faith? A woman came up to her after the service and offered her answer. "I suffer because of a couple of medical conditions, but I donít think I suffer or sacrifice on account of my faith." Iíd thank her for being honest. But what kind of journey is she on?
What about the man in his 60s whose wife died and who now drinks more than he should? He might say, "Iím not on a journey. Iím in free fall."
Iím hearing this kind of story more and more. "We are in our 80ís and though we have enjoyed traveling in the past, our stamina and our mobility are not what they were. My wife and I get lots of flyers for interesting trips and tours. We read the brochures, look at the pictures but in the end we just recycle them. Just because that couple stay put physically, does that mean that they are no longer on a journey?
There was a man who was volunteering serving at the breakfast for Regeneration Outreach at Grace United Church. He was not attached to one of the churches that normally supports Regeneration Outreach. When asked what motivated him to come and help out, he said, "Iíve got a younger brother who I have lost touch with. From the information I do have I suspect he is living on the streets of Vancouver. I havenít the means to go and find him. I can help here. And I hope there is something like this happening in Vancouver to help him." What kind of view do you suppose he has on that journey?
There is a woman in her 20s who goes from what she calls, "one dead end job to another." Where is the journey in that?
Everybody is on a journey, though we donít always recognize it. What kind of a journey are you on? What direction is it taking you? Are you moving in the direction of liberation from destructive habits or energy-sapping anxiety toward peace, life, and joy?
About six months after my mother died (7 years ago) I called up my dad and said, "I think we should go on a trip together to Kelowna, BC to see a friend there and my motherís remaining brother. We landed in Calgary and went to visit, Central United Church. The presenter at the Yonge Street Mission was the Rev. Wayne Lewry. After the second world war the congregation was among the largest of the United Church of Canada. Now, this downtown church has found itself surrounded in the rather Ďseedyí part of town. There isnít one parking spot that the church owns. In the latter 1980ís there were grand plans to put up a new office tower with space for the church inside. Some thought that was a wonderful idea and a sure way to deal with the congregationís sagging building. A whole other group of other people disagreed vehemently. There was quite a uproar in that church! Most of the staff left and thus began the more recent part of their journey to this day.
Rev. Michael Ward did not leave. Starting in the early 1990's, led by the Rev. Michael, Central opened its doors wider than ever before in its history. External priorities began to remedy internal dysfunction. Vulnerability and faith eventually countered tension and doubt. Gamblers, drunks, and drug addicts, long acquainted with the buildingís outer walls, found themselves welcomed inside. Bread was broken and people saw the Ďcrustyí effect life was having on many.
With the addition of Wayne Lewry to their staff, Recovery ministries sprang up with fervor. Initiatives were launched to feed and clothe the needy, and to shelter the homeless, meeting with many triumphs. Centralís role in the creation of CUPS (Calgary Urban Project Society) in the late 1980's and the "Inn from the Cold Society" were prime examples that continued to be built upon.
The churchís website describes the change this way, "The building became an obliging host and an enthusiastic springboard for social outreach in the name of Jesus Christ." On Sunday mornings there is a traditional service with an attendance of about 150 people. On Sunday night the music changes, the volume gets turned up a bit and the Recovery ministry draws 300 people.
The most telling line I have heard from Michael Ward was this one. "God welcomes you just the way you are," warts and all, "but God loves you so much that God will never leave you just the way you are." We are all on a journey of transformation. God desires for us, ultimate peace, joy, and fullness of life.
Those disciples on the way to Emmaus, pace down a path of despair. Their conventional hopes for a Messiah who would liberate their people from Roman imperialism had no place for a Messiah who would suffer and die, above all on a cross. Jesus, during his ministry had repeatedly described his journey, but they had not fully heard it. Then, when he broke the bread, they remembered he had said, "my body is broken for you."
Their eyes were opened! It was like a fire burning in them! The Lord is risen indeed!
Acknowledging inspiration from:
Central United Church, Calgary, clergy, website
McKenzie, Alyce, "Joy for the Journey," May 1, 2011
Moses, Rev. Lee Hull, "Breaking Open", May 8, 2011
Ormond, J. Will, "The Emmaus Road Revisited, Preaching Eyes for Listening Ears"