(Third Sunday of Easter A Luke 24:13-35 April 6, 2008)
This time last Sunday I was not in church. That doesn’t happen to me very often! In the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, on a Carnival Cruise ship, I had a lot of choices for activities, but church was not among them. Instead I walked to the “Card Room,” where my Continuing Ed group met for a session on self-care. That it was the usual Sunday worship time for many of us, 10 a.m., was a coincidence of scheduling.
It felt strange. Some of our attendees said, “Next time, let’s have that be free time,” while others said, “If we do this again, I hope there will be worship on Sunday morning.” Well, that last one may have been me.
My generally well-regulated life, bounded by school schedules and dog mealtimes, did not matter for a few days on the ship.
One of the things I felt sure I would bring from home and continue faithfully was walking. I walk almost every day. It has been the cornerstone of an effort to change my life over the past year. Before I went to the doctor and got a sharp warning about my blood pressure, before I signed up for Weight Watchers, before I changed the kinds of foods we kept around the house and just generally became a spokes-pastor for taking better care of yourself, I started walking. Way out of shape, I took slow ambles around the neighborhood with my husband on spring evenings. Gradually those walks increased. Soon I felt like taking them first thing in the morning, or looked forward to them so much that a late meeting at church would not deter me from hitting the sidewalk with my husband when I got home. In the many months of icy sidewalks this winter, I missed the feeling of the air on my face and the sights of the neighborhood passing by.
I pictured myself walking around the decks of the ship, maintaining at least one aspect of my routine while in the strange environment of a cruise.
There were two things I did not consider. First, I discovered that a cruise ship nowadays is like a hotel on a barge, and there really aren’t any decks where you can walk all the way around! Second, I also discovered that my general vestibular inadequacy did not encourage the development of sea legs! It took a few days to get used to walking on the ship at all, and by that time, we were getting ready to leave again.
I missed walking. Walking has become the way I find out where I really am, has become the time when I figure out what I’m really thinking and feeling, has become an image of wholeness, as all parts of my physiology work together: bones and muscles and nerves and lungs and arteries, moving me from one place to another, feet on the ground, heart at the center, brain coordinating the efforts and making it all happen.
Cleopas and his companion left Jerusalem on a Sunday afternoon, and they traveled in the only way available to them, walking. Although they felt grief and shock and wonder at all the news of the previous few days, they kept their feet under them, and they walked.
They walked to Emmaus, leaving the rolling sea of Jerusalem drama, trying to find their land legs again.
They walked and walked, talking to each other about what had happened, and then a stranger joined them. Before they knew it, the stranger was explaining to THEM the meaning of all they had seen and heard. It must have been a rich conversation, full of references to their shared familiar texts, like those times you meet someone whose experience has been enough like yours that you find the common chords easily. Surely they began to feel more settled in themselves as they discovered they were not alone in caring about what had happened to Jesus.
For me, the rolling of the sea began to abate when I took a long walk with my dog, Sam, on Thursday afternoon. We left our house near the University and walked down to Deering Oaks Park. I’ve been visiting Deering Oaks for over twenty years; it’s very familiar, so it seemed like a safe place for a mildly woozy walker to traverse. On the way down Deering Avenue, headed toward the middle school all my children have attended, I marveled that the world still seemed a little out-of-kilter, though not nearly as bad as Dulles Airport did on Tuesday! Did you know Dulles Airport is actually a huge freighter? It certainly seemed to be on the ocean!
With my faithful companion I crossed the street in front of the school, walked to the far corner on my side of the park, then traveled through the park to circle the duck pond. Every now and then I patted Sam and said “Good dog,” mostly because I was glad his big, solid self seemed to be stable and solid.
About halfway around, I began to feel better, like a person whose feet are firmly on the ground when that ground is also firmly in its place!
I suspect Cleopas and his friend started to feel better long before they realized who had been walking beside them. As he helped them understand their own story, as they walked on the solid ground next to him, they became ready to know the truth.
For the next year, at least, we will be undertaking a journey together. Just to be clear, I am not in the Jesus role in the story! No, it’s my task to walk with you, to be your friend and pastor, and to witness with you the moments when Christ breaks through. We will take the time to go over your history, to identify the prophets and monarchs and treasures, and perhaps even the sacred cows, which matter in the life of this church.
And we will do it one step at a time.
When I think of Cleopas and his friend leaving Jerusalem, I don’t picture them striding down the road, not at first. I think of the kinds of walks I’ve taken when I have been ill or grieved and just found the energy to get outside and breathe the fresh air again. We begin by putting one foot in front of the other, going as far as we think we can, and then regrouping to see if we can possibly go further.
Last Sunday I celebrated Communion on the cruise ship with a group of women who are Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal and UCC. We gathered in that same funny room, where all the card tables had been pushed together to mimic a conference table, and the communion elements supplied by the purser were rather eccentric. We found a glass of wine, a glass of some kind of red juice and a plate piled with six slices of bread. Outside the glass doors to the room, people in festive clothes walked by, laughing and reveling, for it was late in the evening, after dinner. We spoke about our experiences of the trip, naming new understandings.
Finally it was time to break bread together. I stood at the head of the table and had the privilege of serving the holy meal to my friends, new and old. Our traditions are not the same, and I wondered if the brief service would seem strange to us. But in that moment, our hearts burned, and Christ was surely present among us.
The next day we all left the ship to return to our homes and families, our churches and other workplaces. But we could not quickly forget our journey, or what we had learned in the breaking of the bread, because after all that effort to develop our sea legs, we now needed to get our land legs all over again!
Doing so required patience.
I hope you and I will exercise that same patience with each other as we find our way over the coming months. I will lean on you when I cannot find my way around, and I hope you will find you can lean on me when you have a need. What now seems as uneven as the deck of a ship will eventually be the norm to which we grow accustomed; over time we will explore all the territory that this time of transition requires. We will walk together, and we will talk things over, and when we least expect it, we WILL see Jesus!! And when we know we are in the presence of Christ, we will know where to walk next. Amen.