I would guess many of you are doing special projects, taking up hobbies, or just “spring cleaning” – part of life under “safer-at-home” protocols. The other day I was starting to “spring clean” my room in the parish office. The problem with such endeavors is that you open something, get fascinated by the contents, show the object to someone else, begin to tell stories, and the next thing you know a whole lot of time has passed by. Hopefully, it was not the first box you opened as it might completely derail the larger cleaning project. In my case, it was not the first box, but it was the second. And look what was inside!
It is a sextant used on ships at sea for hundreds of years before the advent of GPS. Basically, the sextant measures the angle between an astronomical object and the horizon for the purposes of celestial navigation – called taking a “sighting.” The angle, and the time when it was measured, can be used to calculate a position line on a nautical chart — for example, sighting the sun at noon or Polaris at night (Northern Hemisphere) to estimate latitude. A relic from the days of iron men and wooden ships.
There are lots of different ways to navigate, get your bearings, or take a sighting on this journey of life. Our gospel on this Third Sunday of Easter is St. Luke’s telling of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is a story about being “lost at sea” – or in this case, lost is the disappointment that the one they thought was the Messiah, was brutally crucified and died. And so they set out on their journey to Emmaus.
It is a story about a journey of faith even as it is a journey to faith. The thing about journeys is that you often do not realize that you are on one, or if you do, may not recognize that the nature of the journey has changed. The two disciples had journeyed to Jerusalem with one set of hopes and expectations. They were following Jesus, were in Jerusalem for the events of Holy Week, and saw one journey seemingly end at Golgotha.
But on the third day, when the reports began to filter into the community of believers, what journey did they begin? Or did they recognize that the original journey was simply becoming clearer? It is the same day that the women discovered the empty tomb, were told Jesus had risen by two dazzling angels, and ran to tell the other disciples. How is it that, instead of a journey of joy, the walk to Emmaus scene is more like a trudge of disappointment? Had the journey of faith been derailed? Had the road zigged when they zagged?
Everyone is on a journey, but we are not always able to recognize it, describe it, or give it meaning. I can tell you from experience that you can transit the entire Pacific Ocean in a submarine and never experience motion or turbulence. It is more the monastic enclosure than the cruise liner. But interestingly, we all arrive at the same destination. But there are lots of things that can happen out in the broad expanse of the Pacific, just as things befall us in life. There are lots of things that can befall us in “safer at home” – a monastic enclosure for some. All the while, life happens.
A rogue wave in the shape of the unexpected telephone call in the middle of the night. A storm surge disguised as a biopsy report. The unexpected passing of a loved one too early in life that leaves you rudderless and without headway – adrift. The world travelers whose age now limits them to trips to the clinic and the front yard. The missioner who did not expect service in the name of God would entail such suffering, humiliation, and death. The parishioner who never expected to be secluded at home in a time of pandemic. Everyone is on a journey. Every journey changes. The waves lift you high and take you low. The trade winds speed the journey along; the gale force winds make you batten the sails.
One of the things that I love about our gospel story, known as the “Road to Emmaus,” is that Jesus meets them on the way. He doesn’t come and stop them in Jerusalem. He doesn’t wait for them at home. He doesn’t bid them to make some holy pilgrimage or undertake some pious feat. Rather, he meets them where they are on the road when they are in the trough of the waves plowing into a headwind.
These two disciples are as exhausted as they are discouraged as they trudge the seven miles from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus. We don’t know why they have forsaken the company of their fellow disciples, only that their journey is taking them home. Perhaps it’s all they could think to do. And then right smack in the middle of all the pain, frustration, and despondency that threatens to overwhelm them, Jesus is with them – even though they don’t recognize him at first.
They need to get their bearings. Scripture gives them a line of sight and the breaking of the bread makes the meaning and destination clear. And with that they set sail in a new direction, with new purpose and vigor – the journey renewed. The promise of Christ is that we will never be alone on the journey. We might be lost, adrift, or stuck in one place. But never alone. Sometimes we just need to get our bearings.
The ancient mariners looked to the heavens. It helped them get their bearings. The two disciples looked to Scripture and the Breaking of the Bread. Where do you look?