During Lent, we asked the question, “What keeps you up at night and why does this worry you?” A couple of you responded that you don’t worry—Jesus is with you and you sleep soundly. That is a wonderful gift and one I pray all of us might have. Others of us, myself included, are not always sounds sleepers.
• Some are up at night worrying about finances and if they will have enough to pay the bills
• Some of us are worried about our children
• Others are concerned about our adult children—about their faith, about not participating in a church, and praying they would become active in the faith in which they were raised.
• Some are worried about our health or a family member’s health
• A few of us have anxiety about getting everything done and being prepared for work
• Still others carry the burden of the violence and hatred in the world
• Some among us are worried about the security of their housing, about loneliness and staying connected to others
• A few are even worried about their faith—that they don’t understand the whole picture or that they shouldn’t question it.
Do any of these worry you?
The disciples were filled with their own worries as they traveled along the Emmaus road—they were filled with anxiety, and disappointment about the future. A stranger joined them on the road and they repeated the recent events—the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the testimony of the women about the angel visitation saying that Jesus had risen. But these two were not buying any of that because disappointment and anxiety hung around them. “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.”
That’s one of the most melancholy statements in Scripture—"we had hoped he would be the one…We had hoped….” We know how that feels, don’t we? We had hoped our finances worked out differently. We had hoped our health was better. We had hoped our kids would go to church. We had hoped there would be no more war by now. We had hoped we would stop wondering about our faith by this age.
It’s funny how worry and anxiety and disappointment can blind us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes. When the mind doesn’t believe something possible, it is hard for the senses to receive the information. Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus were so anxious, and so certain that Jesus was still dead, that the risen Lord appeared to them, walked along beside them, taught them all about the Hebrew scriptures and how Jesus was the fulfillment of that—and they still did not see him. The light of the world was right beside them, but to their eyes, the risen Lord just looked like a fellow traveler on the way to Emmaus.
But Jesus met the disciples where they were at—walking away from Jerusalem, not believing the testimony of the empty tomb, and full of disappointment and anxiety. That’s exactly where Jesus shows up in our lives, too. It is so easy to believe that fears, worries, doubts, anxieties separate us from God, drive God away from us, disappoint Jesus and mean that we are somehow outside the family of God and circle of faith—but that is precisely where Jesus meets us, walks with us, engages us, loves us.
And Jesus is not looking for an instant transformation—do you see in this story that building a relationship with Jesus is a process—a journey?! First, Jesus engages in conversation, and he listens to their worries. Second, Jesus teaches them and helps them to understand the whole Biblical story; in this resurrection story, bible study matters! Third, Jesus spent enough time with them for Cleopas and his friend to start letting go of their anxiety and start having a new experience—their hearts burned with them. Their hearts burned with a deep knowing, peace, and an experience of God’s love in that moment, in the story of Scripture, on that journey with the “stranger.”
While they were on the road, their melancholy and disappointment, anxiety and worry began to dissipate as they were reminded of God’s power—and they still didn’t know it was Jesus who was with them! With their anxiety and worry reduced, it was the disciples who made the next move. It was getting late—time to stop and eat. Their new friend was going to be on his way, but out of gratitude for his companionship and teaching, Cleopas and the other disciple offered Jesus hospitality—"stay with us and eat,” they invited.
I wonder what would have happened had the disciples not offered Jesus this hospitality, first? It reminds us of the passage from Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares” or Jesus, in this case! Without knowing it, they set the stage—or the table if you will—for Jesus to reveal himself to them.
Finally, that is what Jesus does. As he broke the bread, Cleopas and his friend finally recognized Jesus and, like their romp through Scripture earlier that day, they looked back on their time with this stranger and suddenly it all made sense—the teachings, their burning heart, their release from worry and anxiety. Their response was to stop walking away from Jerusalem and the other disciples, and turn around, and head right back.
Like these disciples on the road to Emmaus, the risen Lord meets us in our anxiety, melancholy or worry—and he journeys with us, building a relationship over time. As the old hymn says, “he walks with us and he talks, and he tells us we are his own.” He stays with us so that our hearts burn with peace, until we can experience the love of his presence, until we can open our heart and arms to him, until we see him at the table, and recognize him in our midst.
So, bring your questions, bring your doubts, bring your anxieties, and fears, and worries. For Jesus meets us at this table. Even though we have set it and invited him, Jesus is the host and we are his guests. Jesus meets us where we are in our journey, embracing all of who we are and covering us in the love and peace and presence of God who is victorious even over death itself. Let Jesus nourish you, hold you, and carry away worries, so that you might rest peacefully.
A friend of mine had a plaque in her kitchen that said, “Before you go to bed at night, give your worries to God, he’ll be up all night anyway!” Rev. Ralph Abernathy during the Civil rights movement once said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.” Lay your worries at the altar, for the Risen One who reveals himself in the breaking of the bread, holds the night, and our future secure.
Image by George Rouault, 1871-1958