This past week, we have enjoyed having Benedict and Sabine Schubert here with us at Volmoed. I have been privileged on several occasions during the week to listen to them telling parts of their story in various contexts. I have appreciated how rich their story is, and how effectively they tell it. By speaking of the ways in which God has been present in the complexity of their lives, they invite their listeners to reflect on God’s presence in our own lives.
I think that this morning’s Gospel reading does much the same for us. The evangelist Luke lets the story unfold much as life does as he tells it, but he understands where the story is going and invites us to bring our lives into the light of the story he is telling. As we relate to the characters in Luke’s story, we can let their experience enrich our understanding of the mystery of our own lives.
It is a story of stories. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, perhaps Cleopas and his wife returning home from Jerusalem, are disappointed and sad, as well as confused and disturbed. They are deep in conversation about what has just happened, and so maybe take a while to realize that they are no longer alone.
I wonder what prevents them from recognizing Jesus as he joins them. Whatever it is, possibly just that they assume that he is dead, I think it might have been a good thing that they did not immediately know who he was. The listening stranger beside them enables them to tell their story honestly and vulnerably, with two questions that draw the heartache out of them by giving them opportunity to speak of their lost hope.
Their story provides a context for Jesus to tell his story in turn, and it is a story that reshapes their whole understanding. His story is deeply rooted in their shared scriptures and much larger than the disciples’ limited perspective. It revives their hearts and restores their hope. Jesus is not who they thought he was. He is more wonderful than they imagined.
Luke tells us that Jesus had tried to tell his story to his disciples at least three times before, his story of necessary suffering but also of inevitable resurrection. At those times, they could make nothing of it, as what he said was quite obscure to them. Only now, on the other side of death, including the death of their stubborn preconceptions, is Jesus able to open their minds to receive what he is saying and so reinterpret their own experience.
An act of insistent hospitality sets the scene for another opening, the opening of the disciples’ eyes to the presence of Jesus himself with them. Their guest takes bread, blesses and breaks it, then gives it to them, as Jesus had done before, and they finally recognize him as being really alive in their midst.
These disciples now have a new story to tell, and it is a story that sends them back to those they had just left. They find that the others also have new stories, and a community begins to be established on the foundations of these shared stories of resurrection life, as they talk and listen together.
We too have stories to tell. We have stories of disappointment and loss, of pain and heartache, of insecurity and fear. We also have stories of unexpected encounter with Jesus really alive among us, whether present in the breaking and sharing of bread together or in the mystery of his presence in our daily lives and conversations.
I think community is formed and strengthened when we invite one another to tell our different stories honestly, with our various struggles and our diverse ways of recognizing the presence of God. Listening together allows us each to reinterpret our experiences and understand our lives in more hopeful ways, as we all learn to love one another deeply, from the heart, while the truth purifies our souls.
Let us begin again by acknowledging Jesus’ presence with us in the Eucharist we will soon be sharing.