In this week’s reading from Luke 24, two of the disciples are headed to Emmaus. Surely, they were still reeling from the loss of Jesus, but something keeps them moving. As they walk along, Jesus falls into step next to them. “What are we talking about?” he wants to know. They respond: “Haven’t you heard? Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place?” In short, “What rock have you been living under?” (“Well, actually . . .,” begins Jesus.)
It is almost comical as the friends share a long account of Jesus’s death and resurrection . . . with Jesus himself. Was he just letting them ramble on because he found it amusing? Or because he knew they wouldn’t believe him if he tried? And for that matter, why didn’t they recognise him?
Maybe the answer, though far less funny than Jesus making rock jokes, is simple: they were heartbroken.
The Pixar movie Inside Out gets into the head of Riley, an eleven-year-old girl whose family has just moved to San Francisco. While her whole life thus far has been mostly happy, she struggles with sadness at leaving her friends behind and adjusting to a new school, city, and hockey team. The main characters— the feelings inside Riley’s head— work together to help her process all the change. Their biggest challenge turns out to be this: in the process of all that moving, the “Sadness” character touches some of Riley’s old memories and finds that her touch turns them blue. In other words, once sadness starts to move around inside of you, it can colour even your happiest memories.
In seasons of grief or just difficult transition, nothing looks or sounds as it should. We might find ourselves feeling lost and alone, and even those closest to us can’t reach us. Change and loss can leave even the most familiar things unrecognisable. I’d venture that every person in the pews (or chairs) prior to Covid-19 will be able to relate to this on some level. Even now many without the technology are probably feeling loss.
So how does love transform sadness? What does resurrection mean when we are lost and hurting? What does it take to draw the broken-hearted back into fullness of life and hope?
In the story I have shared that I read that is in Riley’s case, it had everything to do with the embrace of her parents and her place at the family dinner table. It seems like we could say the same for those disciples. He stayed with them, and they didn’t know him. They sat together, but they could not see him. Then he broke the bread, and they said, “Of course that was him. Of course, it was. Our very hearts were on fire, when he came around . . .”
The Emmaus Road story is also a lesson in being prepared to recognise the holy in everyone we meet, regardless of whether or not we were expecting to meet God in just that way. Stories of unexpected allies, strangers in need, or the formation of community in an unlikely setting would illustrate this truth well. I would suggest that you read Ann Patchett’s book “Bel Canto” or watch the movie “The Way” to further explore the transformation that can take place when people are drawn together through tragedy or in the midst of chaos.
Again, looking at a reading from this week’s lectionary, we can see that Psalm 116 presents an interesting tension: that of being free while also being a servant. Chris Tomlin’s arrangement of “Amazing Grace/ My Chains Are Gone” give us a way of exploring this in worship and provides us with a point of reference. If we use the images of becoming unbound— alongside the psalmist’s use of servant language — we are enabled to reflect and look at our own lives and how we deal with those things that bind us all.
I find myself asking myself about what “bindings” are harmful? Some that come to mind are addiction, other people’s definitions of worth, material wealth, abusive relationships, and so forth. As the psalmist suggests, that the ways of being “bound” might also give us life. These could include community life, marriage, pro-reconciling movements, peace and justice work, and so on. I wonder what we think and how we would ponder such images in our own minds. I also wonder how we might lead others into a deeper understanding of servant leadership and how it might transform the church, the workplace, and the world.