Growing up poor in the bush I know about roads. Roads took you to relatives houses, grandma’s piping hot bread and her large feather bed. Roads took you to sport and social activities, often many miles from where you lived. Roads took you on holidays, connecting one caravan park to another, and another.
At the same time I knew about walking. Walking around rabbit traps early in the winter mornings, walking barefoot across the 2 1/2 thousand acres following a mob sheep, lost in your own thoughts. Walking toward town when the car was broken hoping someone would pick you up and save your feet. Driving mobs of sheep through the scrub to be shorn.
Roads and walking were apart of my early life and both helped form who I became. Roads were the lifelines and walking the only way to get from one place to the next. Both allowed you to ruminate on life, the big questions, to day dream and imagine being somewhere else doing something else. I still like to walk and our favourite pastime is going for a drive.
On the farm you could easily get lost in your thoughts and almost step on a frill necked lizard just as it reared up to open its frill and its mouth, frightening the life out of you. It was there all the time but you were lost in your own thoughts that you simply didn’t see the obvious.
And that’s the Emmaus Road story. Two blokes lost in their own thoughts and conversation. Walking. Talking. Lost in their own troubles and worries. Their world had collapsed with the death of Jesus and they were going home, or at least I think they were. Their heads were down. Their words were low and sad. They probably weren’t even looking at each other. Like characters in a Harold Pinter dialogue they simply spoke out of their own pain without even connecting with the words of the other. It was a monologue delivered by two people who were trying to make sense of what had just happened.
No wonder they didn’t see Jesus. It is not that Jesus was mystically hidden from them. They just didn’t look to see who it was. It was just another voice, another person walking with them. As this was not a conversation as such, there was no need to look. Anyway if they did they wouldn’t have seen the obvious because the manner and mode of their walking and talking let no room for Jesus to be alive, let alone to be there. With them.
We all know the experience of not seeing the obvious. Our keys are where we left them or our glasses are on our head! It’s obvious to everyone else but us. We have all had the experience of trying to help someone with a major problem, the answer is so obvious but they are so convinced otherwise that it doesn’t matter what we do, they simply can’t see it. You can’t see the sun rising if you are always look to the west.
Yet this is where Jesus meets them. On the road. Walking beside them. In the midst of their preoccupation with misery and failure, Jesus comes and begins to converse with them. They stop talking and begin to listen as he talks to them. We know that they were listening, because after Jesus leaves them, they are able to identify that moment on the road when the light began to rise in them. ‘ Did not our hearts…… Something began to happen amongst the dust and the stones, the sun and the breeze. Their minds began to clear and hear. That’s what walking does for you. That’s what the road does for you. As it stretches out ahead of you and you take one step after another, almost without thinking, the worries of the world slip away or at least begin to clarify.
Jesus doesn’t avoid the dust and ruts of the road that is our life. Jesus walks with us everyday, the still small voice that speaks to us in then ordinary activities, the day-to-day rituals of modern human existence. Here, the resurrected Christ continues to walk amongst his people just as he had done previously. He steps into the conversation of the retreating disciples and gets his feet dirty.
There is a rhythm to the road. Walking is only one part of the journey. Hospitality is the other. Those of us who have undertaken long journeys on the road know that the time comes to avail yourself of the hospitality of others. A fellow traveller, an inn or hotel, or just a camping ground where you get to rub shoulders and conversation with others – fellow travellers of the road.
Sharing a meal with another is a privilege, be it either as the provider of the meal or the one partaking. We were in Ranau in Sabah Borneo. We had come to lay the first stones in a memorial for Australian soldiers who had died there at the end of the Second World War. The village was a very poor. Little work and even less income, yet they offered us a meal after the little ceremony. I prayed over the stones and we walked up to the community hall.
It was indeed a feast. The old trestles were creaking with the weight of food we not only could not identify but had no way of pronouncing. The students looked around unsure what to do. All I said was, ‘Eat, it is a privilege to share in their hospitality’. The students did just that, although with some trepidation I have to admit.
The walkers ask Jesus in to eat. We are not sure if it was their house or simply some kind of inn. Jesus accepts their generosity and hospitality and sits down to eat. My life is punctuated by great meals, not necessarily by great food. Great food sometimes accompany great meals, but not always. It’s the conversations, stories, transparency and honesty that make a great meal. In Paris I remember sitting in an Indian themed restaurant with a Bulgarian, 2 gypsies, an Italian, another Australian and a couple of Frenchmen enjoying one of the greatest meals of my life. Conversation was limited by the languages spoken and the table etiquette varied from those using cutlery to those eating with their fingers, but it was full of laughter and camaraderie.
Jesus sits down at the meal and returns the hospitality by blessing the food and revealing himself to the two travellers. Suddenly in the relaxed environment of the shared table they could see what they missed on the road. Their companion was indeed the risen Christ! It was so obvious. How could they have missed it?
They turned around and went back to Jerusalem.
Every day the risen Jesus is active in our world and our lives. He is present in our relationships, our encounters, our ordinary experiences. He walks the dusty road of modern life with us. Do we recognise his presence? Do we hear his voice? Or do we become so entrenched in our problems, our tragedies or our preoccupations that we simply do not see or hear him?
It is in these ordinary moments that Jesus is revealed and turns us around to continue our journey in his presence. Amen