Harrowing Of Hell
April 26, 2020

The Wholeness and Intentionality of the Emmaus Walk

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Good morning.  Nice to see you fiber optically. 

Worshiping at home is different than worshiping at church. We travel to church, usually, bringing with us our best selves, and sometimes (maybe often) leaving our less than best self at home. That is true for me, maybe that is not true for you, but if it is, I invite you today to let your whole self show up to worship God.  

That is what I want to talk about today; the fullness of our being and how, when we own the fullness of our self, we move with intentionality in the world.

I know, it is a buzzword – intentionality, but it so perfectly fits what Jesus does with the bread and the wine at the end of our Gospel story today, that it warrants some attention. I think of intentionality as the premeditated “why” that precedes an action. I think of intentionality as articulating the motivation behind an action before it takes place. Intentionality is like always having a friend around who asks you: “Why are you going to do that?” before you do something. That is intentionality, and it allows us to move with grace and honesty through the world, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty.  

So, my hope for us is that by owning the complexity of ourselves, by owning the fullness and wholeness of who you are; and by owning the intentionality of how we meet and move through the world, we enhance our capacity to live particularly with grace and honesty in this time of COVID-19.

Now all of this comes to mind because of a walk I took last Sunday with my 20-year-old daughter Margaret. We met up at Nathan Hale Highschool, which is near where she is living. She said it is a good place to walk, so, I went up there and we just wandered around, locked in deep conversation about life, about her life and our life and the life of the world. 

It was one of those sweet times of Fatherhood… full of grace and honesty. There was laughter, consternation, confrontation, revelation, satisfaction, and there was love. We brought the wholeness of ourselves, intentionally, to that place, wandering around Nathan Hale Highschool.

At one point, Margaret looked out over the landscape and then back at me and said: “People probably don’t think we are adequately social-distancing. Little do they know that you are my dad.” No one would pick me out of a crowd as Margaret’s dad. In my case the title is one I have been blessed to earn these past 21 years. We brought Margaret home two days after her birth from Canton, Ohio; born to a bright young woman, not yet ready to be a mother.

Margaret’s observation gave me cause to reflect on the judginess of these corona days. I hear so many judging the wisdom of Government for the shut-down; judging the actions of people not adequately abiding by health protocols; judging the media for the quality, and frankly, quantity of the coverage; even judging masks – fit, form, function, and aesthetic appeal.

With all of this time on our hands, and this constant barrage of conversation about corona, it is pretty easy, at least for me, to work up an inventory of judginess, that I am all too happy to freely distribute to the world when I go out.

We are complicated creatures, aren’t we? Judginess, at least to my mind, when reflected upon, serves to shed light on our own inconsistencies. If we intentionally explore our impulse to judge, it may reveal our judginess to really be about something else: fear of death; or our sense of fairness; or our need for control; or about a wrong done long, long ago. Intentionality helps locate an actions source, and own its impulse, and controls its outcome…

Which leads me to today’s Gospel. We meet two people on the Road to Emmaus. One is Cleopas and the other an unknown person. They are followers of Jesus, and they have left Jerusalem and are going to Emmaus…which is sort of a mysterious city, incidentally, as those of you who have travelled to Israel with me know. There are a couple of Emmauses, and no one is really sure which is the real Emmaus; though anyone living in an Emmaus will tell you theirs is the real Emmaus. Archeologists aren’t so certain. I like to think of Emmaus as being the destination for whatever place we find ourselves headed towards.

These two people are walking, and they are talking about the things that have taken place in Jerusalem; about the actions of the high priest and Pontius Pilate, about the crucifixion, and the story of the women when they returned from the tomb. And they were anxious and afraid, disheartened and full of anxiety; when suddenly a stranger appears near them.

As hospitality would dictate, they welcome the stranger and engage in conversation even though, I am sure, they were in no mood to do so. He asks what they are talking about with such intensity. They stop and stand akimbo, looking at the stranger, they ask: “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened there?” In their tone, at least the way I tell it, there is judginess…though they know nothing of the stranger, his context or complexity.

His response is curiosity and engagement. He meets them where they are in the conversation with intentionality and asks to hear more. Then he surprises them, as he begins to explain the Messiah in his fullness of being as spelled out by Holy Scripture. And as this story unfolds in the minds of Cleopas and his friend the full narrative of Jesus comes to life; and their eyes are opened, and their hearts leap with joy; and simultaneously, they come to love the storyteller as well.

Now this conversation could have gone a different way. Often when people are under pressure or afraid, they defend what they believe they know, irrespective of new facts, or context, or an appreciation of their own complexity. We see this frequently in this time of COVID 19.

It is what Margaret imagined could have happened there at Nathan Hale….a person approaching us in righteous indignation, saying: “You know there’s something called COVID-19, and our Governor has given specific directions about social distancing; and it seems to me that you are not abiding; not that I care about your health, and you may not care about your life but your actions may hurt somebody else.”

Or maybe someone walks over to Margaret and me and says something similar, but this time they say it in full blown anger. Or worse still, maybe they swallow their words and bind them to their hearts without saying anything to us, and like a grudge, it gets stoked over time, and becomes rants to friends, or a raging internal dialogue that escapes in disturbing and destructive ways.

This could have happened on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and his friend start with judginess, but were met with intentionality, and they reciprocate, and open themselves to hearing the story of Jesus…and their hearts leapt within them.

Here is a truth that I have found in today’s Gospel that I want to call to your attention.  It is a truth that matches my experience; that when you know the whole story of a person’s life, and I mean any person’s life, your response is inevitably, I’d even say certainly… WOW! People are amazing in their complexity and this makes them infinitely interesting and remarkably beautiful. Every person is a WOW! And WOW! washes away judginess.

And since every person is a WOW! we live knowing that, even if we never hear the story of the other person, we know they have a story that is full and complex and beautiful. It exists whether we know it or not. But, if we did hear it, we would definitely say WOW! and experience a glorious, full affection for them, I am sure. WOW! washes away judginess.

Now the Emmaus story goes on. When they arrive in Emmaus they’re hungry so, they invite the stranger to join them for something to eat. He agrees and Cleopas and his friend start preparing the meal, I imagine, with intentionality. They lay the table with care. They cook the meal with care. They don’t just slap it together; they are careful and take their time to make a meal worthy of this WOW! person right in front of them.

And here is a gift to us from this story: Cleopas and his friend though they are mourning and heartbroken and depleted and anxious, their teacher and friend dead–they set aside their feelings, their impulses, and honor, with grace, this WOW! person right in front of them. We are called to be like them in this time of corona.

And then Jesus does something very intentional as well. He takes the bread in front of them and he breaks it. And he takes the wine, and he serves it. And in the intentionality of his actions, the breaking of the bread and the giving of the cup, he tells of how the bread is his body and the wine is his blood; naming the bread as his presence in the world, right here right now; and the wine as the vitality and the charism of the Kingdom of God.

And Cleopas and his friend take these things in, this bread and this wine; and suddenly they see through his eyes, through his intentions, the world of WOW! all around them; and they know the presence of Jesus, the vitality of Jesus, intentionality revealed through the bread broken and the wine poured; in the eating and the drinking they see Jesus.

Here is the Good News: the life of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, our Savior, is longer than Jesus’s temporal life; his wholeness reaches right into our living rooms to touch our complex selves, intentionally, with love.

And so, I invite you to consider the wholeness of yourself sitting there at home, your judgy side, and your angry side, your passive aggressive side, and your restless side; and also, your grace-filled side, your patient side, and your loving side, and that side of you that trusts in God.

And when you’re out there in the world at Safeway or Nathan Hale Highschool, or just walking down the street, and you see someone doing something that sparks your righteous indignation think about the wholeness of their being, and the bigness of their story, even if you don’t know it, nor will ever know it, remember, they are a WOW! and that they are intentionally made and are wildly loved by God…and so are you.