It Must Be Jesus – Rev. Tony Romaine – May 3rd, 2020
This painting you see here on your screen is from James Tissot and is title, “The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road.”
And for those who cannot see it, there are two pilgrims talking with Jesus, although we know from our Scripture that they do not know it is him yet. The moment captured in the painting is of Jesus telling them everything about the law and the prophets and about himself. What is intriguing to me is the consternation on the faces of these travelers, these disciples of Jesus, these people on the road to Emmaus as they process what they have just experienced, are visibly still thinking about the prophecy told to them. Only again to have this traveler tell them about Moses, the prophets, and Jesus.
It Must Be Jesus
What made me think about this in connection with the Road to Emmaus Gospel we have for ourselves today is the idea that these disciples, people who had been in the presence of Jesus, had walked with Jesus before, had travelled many roads as part of Jesus’ chosen ones; these disciples were so caught up in thinking about what had just happened and so concerned about what was to come, that they could not even slow down enough to recognize their hearts burning inside of them and they could not hear that it was Jesus unveiling the Scriptures to them. If these two disciples who had physically walked with Jesus perhaps even touched Jesus when he was alive could not recognize and slow down and listen and realize that they were once again in the presence of their Savior…then what chance do we have!
What are we missing out on right now…right now as we hurry through our days with nowhere to go. Right now as we worry through our days with anxiety and fear. Right now as we come together and worship and yet are already thinking about what we are going to do today, tomorrow, this week. Right now as we are journeying with Jesus through life and yet cannot recognize our hearts burning at the sound of His Scripture, at the presence of His being, at the table we are about to share.
It Must Be Jesus
We live in the 21st Century with all our modern gadgets and gizmos, to be able to do church via the internet, telephone, television, etc. and yet we still imagine our church being a confined space limited to walls and a roof. We have the ability to be the church through a telephone call, through the power of prayer, through the presence of sending a card or letter; and yet, we still think we must be able to physically be next to someone in order for them to know how much we care.
Do not get me wrong, I am as social a being as anyone; I miss seeing you all on Sundays in person, shaking your hands, sharing a moment of fellowship over coffee or water or juice. But what Jesus is reminding us as we journey along our road with Him is that physical presence is less about physically being next to one another than what we do with that space. In other words, what good is it to be next to one another if we are also not the church when we are apart!
Sure there are things we are limited in doing. We cannot be open to groups or meetings or events or things of those nature. But our hearts are burning in other ways. For instance, there are more people coming to our services now than we have averaged in a long, long time. This means that more people are connecting to church now that we are closed than when we were open! People are checking in on each other much more frequently than ever before, and not just others that would be considered “friends,” but people in our Church community who might not ever have spoken with one another are reaching out and connecting. We are becoming the church that Jesus longs for us to be all the time, not just on Sundays!
I understand this pandemic is wearing on us all. Trust me, I know how daunting this seems when I think about all the stresses and difficulties that come from being closed for another month. But also trust me that if we only focus on the negatives, we miss out on all the wonderful positives that we are currently experiencing as a congregation; all the ways we are being called to slow down and feel our hearts burning inside of us!
It Must Be Jesus
The reason I keep hammering on about all of the ways we are being the church outside of meeting within our building is because there will come a time when we can meet again, when we can be physically together once again, when we will be walking side-by-side with each other along our journey once more. And when we come to that time, we must not forget the lessons we learned while we were apart. We must not forget that our care for one another is not limited to physical space, but to the vast realm of the Spirit, where we can pray for one another, care for one another, and send love to one another in even more powerful ways than hugs, handshakes, or fist-pounds.
We must not forget when we can come back together to slow down and be present with one another, to take the time to listen and care for each other by truly seeking to understand and love one another. We must not forget that when we return to a time of ease, and our physically close selves feel fulfilled by attending Sunday worship in our church once more, that we are called by Jesus to be the church every day of the week. That our Christianity is not limited to the presence of Jesus Christ with us, or our presence with each other, but is eternal, everywhere, and unlimited; that wherever we go, whoever we are with, we are the hands and feet of Jesus.
And if this all sounds exhausting, if this sounds like a dream which is too daunting, if all we can feel now is grief or sadness, then we must also experience those emotions and take those to God as well. For the loss we feel right now is true grief. The inability to extend a caring hand of love or an embrace of tenderness is difficult. The road we are on is not easy and the walk we are amidst is troubling and filled with unknown, fear, and doubt.
But remember, this is where Jesus met these pilgrims too. They had just experienced the physical, extremely physical, departing of Jesus from their lives through His sacrifice upon the Cross. They had just lost the physical representation of their rabbi, friend, and brother. And yet at the same time had heard news that Jesus was resurrected. They were processing all the cynicism and optimism all at the same time; and the grief they must have felt is almost unimaginable.
But in this grief, this place of confusion, they did something at the end of our Gospel for today which is remarkable. They knew the road was dangerous and that this traveler must not travel through the dark. And so they invited him in to share a meal, spend the night, and be safe until he could travel during the day. And in that moment, although they had not yet realized this was Jesus, they were the church beyond their rabbi, they were the church beyond their closed rooms, they were the church by extending care and concern for a stranger, and showing compassion even if they did not know if was their Savior. And in the breaking of bread and sharing of cup at that table along the road to Emmaus, all suddenly became known to them, in the burst of a moment, in an epiphany of light.
We are all pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. We are weary travelers worn down by the journey. We are struggling with grief, the knowledge of prophets, the unknown of the future, the experiences of our fellow travelers. And Jesus meets us where we are to be with us through bread, cup, and time on the road to remind us that we are so much more than we could ever imagine. Listen, slow down, pay attention to your heart afire…for you are Jesus to those around you in more ways than you know. And when in doubt, when you are not sure; trust that within you, It Must be Jesus, Amen