More Surprises!

Luke 24:13-35           Dr. Ken Kovacs is a neighboring pastor at Catonsville Presbyterian.  Last fall he took a well-deserved three month sabbatical away from the church in order to walk.  But it was more than a walk.  It was a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey following in the steps of others who have walked the same path for centuries.  He walked the 500 mile Camino in northern Spain, ending in the small town of Santiago de Compostela.  The Camino is a trail that has been used for centuries by the faithful, by those who want to be faithful and by the curious who become faithful in the walking.  Camino means trail or path or road in Spanish.  Ken writes:  “Many walk for religious reasons. Some walk just for the sense of adventure.  Many are spiritual seekers, with no religious affiliation, searching for something more, something more than life in the West has to offer, with its materialism and commercialism and superficial spirituality that doesn’t speak to the soul.” He believes that being a pilgrim, on a journey with Christ, is really what being a Christian is all about.  The walk with Christ is a path full of surprises, opportunities and transformation.

The Camino is sometimes called the route of therapy, la ruta de terapia.  That would be the route of healing, of growing in ways never before considered, of transformation.  After completing the Camino, many pilgrims find that when they return home all is different in their way of looking at the world and at God, and perhaps, most important, in their way of looking at themselves.

There is something about walking long distances that brings about change.  I am talking about more than building stronger muscles and lungs and stamina.  I mean internal change.  In your mind, in your heart, in your soul.  While walking, you have time to reflect, to observe, to contemplate.  That is assuming that you are not walking and texting or checking your email.  It doesn’t really matter the path.  Even when you walk the same route it is never the same when you walk it again.  You are different each time you walk the path.  You bring new concerns, new issues, new hopes with you on any given day.  You see different things along the road.  God speaks to you anew.  You find yourself leaving one place and arriving somewhere else entirely different.

The possibilities for change multiply when you walk with someone else, sharing the discovery of what comes around the bend, being surprised together at the deer crossing the trail or the formation of the clouds seemingly wedged between the trees or the turn in your conversation that you did not expect.  I always love the words of wisdom from Ecclesiastes:  “Two are better than one because if either should fall, one can pick up the other.  But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up!  Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance.”  When two walk together, they support each other, encourage each other and accompany one another on the journey.

Perhaps you have heard before the ancient spiritual advice in a Latin phrase: “solvitur ambulando,” which means “it will be solved in the walking.”   This is true for the individual pilgrims on any road, but also true for those who walk together, who wrestle together with dashed hopes, with grief, with being at a loss as to what to do next. It will be solved in the walking. Step by step, heartbeat by heartbeat, the Spirit is working, moving, pushing, transforming. Walking is more than simple exercise. It is God at work in the walking.

The two disciples likely had walked this road between Jerusalem and Emmaus many times.  We don’t exactly know where Emmaus was.  It does not exist today by that name, but our gospel writer tells us it was seven miles from Jerusalem.  No matter where it was, it could not have been a flat road to get there.  No road leading from Jerusalem is flat.  There were ups and downs on this road.  Ups and downs felt by their legs and lungs, and ups and downs felt in their heart of hearts.  Emotionally, the walk began at a low point.  A very low point.   They were digesting the events of the weekend, including the death of Jesus and the surprise of the empty tomb.  They had to be completely wiped out.  The women had woken them up at the crack of dawn.  It had been a confusing day.  And now they were walking.  And talking.  Seven miles.  The distance from here to Patterson Park.   A 24 minute drive with the usual traffic, whatever that is. Seven miles to resolve the questions, the grief, the pain, the confusion.  Seven miles to support one another and listen to each other.

It really doesn’t matter where Emmaus was.  It could be anywhere.  It could be everywhere.   It could be Patterson Park.  It could be Patapsco Park.  For those two, it was away from the noise of the city.  A place of quiet and calm.  A place to retreat to after a tumultuous weekend.  These two disciples were not a part of the 12.  We have never heard Cleopas’ name until now.  And the other disciple is nameless.  Have you ever wondered if it could have been Cleopas’ wife?  Perhaps.  The two were among the crowd of disciples who clearly knew firsthand Jesus’ powerful deeds and words, who saw him as a prophet, who watched him sentenced to death and crucified.  They apparently were some of the “others” who were with the apostles when the women came to share the news that the tomb was empty that morning.  They were witnesses to all of this, and now they were downcast.  They had gone to Jerusalem expecting to be part of a government turnover, a coup of sorts.  They had hoped for a different outcome.  They had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel from the Roman oppression, to transform society in a way that brought freedom and life.  Their hopes had been dashed.   They were unsure what would be next.

But the encounter with Jesus changed things.  It always does.  First they get a chance to tell their story.  That always helps when you are going through a tough time, to have someone who will listen to your story.  And then it is their turn to listen.  They walked and they listened to this walking companion turned teacher.  Not yet did they know who he was.  Not yet did they have full understanding, but they were on their way.

For these two disciples, it began to be solved in the walking.  In the walking with Jesus, in the hearing the message of the scriptures, in beginning to see the connections between what they had been taught about God and what they had just experienced with Jesus, in the stirring of a new faith that would change their lives.  They were not expecting a walking companion.  He surprised them.  They were not expecting their grief to be lifted so quickly.  They were not expecting answers to their multitude of questions.  And definitely, they were not expecting Jesus.  They got surprise after surprise as they walked along the road of healing, the route of therapy.

They were on their way.  And aren’t we all?  We are always on the way.  The name of the first Christian community was The Way.  The way, as in a journey with Christ.  The way, meaning moving, not stagnant.  The way, meaning walking and watching—either physically or from your chair as you read your psalms or pray for peace or listen for God.  The way, meaning sharing the walk with others who are also on the journey with Christ.  We are always on the way.  And as we walk along, we will meet surprises, we will be transformed in ways we might never expect.  May those surprises bring you ever closer to the God who formed you, to the Christ who walks with you and the Spirit we call Holy who breathes through you.  Thanks be to God for the road that is life.   Amen.



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