O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today’s Gospel, which you read in your home rite of Spiritual Communion this morning, tells the story of the risen Jesus making himself known to two dejected disciples as they walked home to Emmaus on the night of Easter. Rumors of the corpse of Jesus having disappeared from the tomb were circulating, and they weren’t sure what to think. But they were sure that the man they had believed to be the Messiah was dead, and that along with him had died their hope that a new creation would come about through his leadership.
It’s not surprising that these two disciples are dejected by their loss. Like anyone in grief, they are remembering how much they treasured moments with Jesus, the laughter they shared, the beauty of his teachings, the feeling of all being together. So when they meet this stranger on the road who gives them a chance to talk, they begin mourning the memories.
It’s so interesting that Jesus doesn’t try to comfort them by talking about the Resurrection. He doesn’t try to reassure them that they haven’t really lost anything. Because even with the Resurrection there is a loss: the old way of doing business, the old relationship in which they are naive learners and he is the expert Master – all of that is gone. All of that died on the Cross. A new era and a new way of relating to God has dawned with Easter, and they have to learn to function in this new time. And Jesus doesn’t reveal himself until he’s gotten that learning started.
How does he do that? How does Jesus prepare them to function in the New Creation? He turns to Scripture, and he gets them started reading it in a new way, a way in which they are actively seeking him, Jesus himself, as they interact with the texts. This is different than saying, don’t be sad, somebody will read to you from those texts again one day. No, Jesus is guiding them in digging into their religious heritage themselves. They’re getting empowered to work with Scripture as New Creation people, verse by verse, taking it in and digesting it and discovering as they do that it doesn’t only speak of the past, it speaks of right now. It doesn’t only speak of a faith background, it speaks of Jesus Christ.
It’s not until they’ve seen that that they sit together and break the bread that reveals the stranger talking with them as Jesus in person. And of course to us this moment points to his self-giving in the Eucharist, something we all miss deeply. But the way Jesus acts here reminds us that we can’t limit our thinking to what we miss, what we grieve. We can’t put our discipleship on hold until churches reopen; we have to let Jesus teach us how to follow him today. For some of us, this season of exile may even turn out to have a clarifying function, motivating us to make sure our allegiance is to Jesus himself and not to a meaningful Sunday morning routine.
I’ve heard Episcopalians all over the country say over the past month that they’ve enjoyed surfing around from church to church on Sunday mornings and checking out what different parishes are up to online. I haven’t really done that, though I’m sure it’s interesting, but I do hope it is fairly evident that grazing through a series of video feeds and posts is not the same thing as putting your full, sustained bodily and mental attention on God himself in Christian liturgy.
When used with focus and regularity, liturgy is a very powerful channel for your getting engaged in balanced and rooted ways with the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ. Liturgy is a full bodied yes to practices that open human hearts and make them capable of absorption in God. Liturgy requires you to take ownership of your participation intellectually, emotionally, and physically. It’s not Netflix.
It’s easier, of course, to graze and scroll for 2 minutes here and 3 minutes there, than to stop everything else and engage directly with God yourself for 20 minutes. But grazing won’t do the job we need done, or down deep, that we want done. When Jesus, the New Creation in person, starts drawing those two disciples into Scripture and equipping them to be full participants in the New Creation, they say that their hearts begin burning within them. Why? Because they know, on some deep level, that what he’s giving them is right, that it’s what they really long for -- this empowerment by the resurrected life of Jesus that inhabits them, that enlists them, that changes them.
I hope that for some of you, this has been your experience of being unable to simply arrive at church and receive what’s on offer. I hope that you’ve opened up the Bible and started to discover that you can read it and hear God speak. I hope your household has begun, say, praying Compline regularly, or that you’ve been led into acts of love and service that show forth your identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I hope that God is using this time to convince us all of Jesus’ ability to equip us to know and follow and serve him ourselves, where we are. Because the New Creation God launched in Jesus’ Resurrection is just as active here and now as it was on the Road to Emmaus. Deep down, you want it and you need it. And it needs you.