It seems to me that God is more likely to speak to us when we are outside, when we are digging in the dirt or going for a walk or camping or hiking. Being outside and especially doing something outside – using our bodies in some way – being physical helps to clear our minds and make sense of the world. It is good for our bodies and our spirits.
I am reading a book called, Wild. It is a memoir about a young woman who hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile long path that runs from Mexico to Canada – through hot deserts and up and down snowy mountains. After her mother died unexpectedly a month before her college graduation, Cheryl’s life unraveled – she did not graduate, she divorced her husband, she lost ties with her family and she began living a reckless life which included using heroin. She had to do something drastic. She needed to pull back – time alone to grieve her mother, time to getaway and think. She needed to get her life together. So after seeing a book about the Pacific Crest Trail in the checkout lane of a store, and without ever having hiked even once, she set out alone with a backpack half her weight for 100 days of hiking and camping in the wilderness. The trials of the journey took her full attention giving her mind a break from the trials of her life. The pain in her body, especially her feet and back were a relief from the pain of her heart. And the journey took place in the wildness of creation.
Our text today is one of my favorite stories and is about the journey of Cleopas and his fellow traveler. We do not know much about Cleopas and his fellow traveler. We know that there were “two of them,” and that it was just Passover and they were returning home from Jerusalem where thousands of Jewish people would have also been for the holiday. The travelers live in the same house as they say to Jesus, “stay with us.” The second traveler is not named and we are not told if the friend is a male or female. The story does not tell us the relationship between Cleopas and the second traveler, brothers, cousins or spouses. I imagine the fellow traveler to be the wife of Cleopas. A couple would have traveled together to worship for Passover in Jerusalem and we know that frequently women are not named in the Bible.
Cleopas and his wife probably began their journey to Jerusalem on Wednesday in order to celebrate the Passover with on Thursday evening. It was a 7 mile walk and they were carrying quite a load. Cleopas’ wife cooked some things to contribute to the Passover meal and she packed food for them to eat during the time they would be away. They had made this trip many times before and looked forward to visiting with friends and family. It was a time of great joy and celebration. They would eat a big meal, catch up on family news and honor the tradition of their faith through the Seder meal. Wednesday and Thursday were great days but then they heard that Jesus had been betrayed by Judas, that he had been arrested.
Cleopas and his wife were friends of Jesus, they were his followers, they were his disciples. They believed Jesus was a “prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” They gathered with the rest of the disciples to support each other and to support the 11 close disciples. After Jesus was crucified, they all stayed behind locked doors in fear, confusion and sadness.
On Sunday morning, some of the women went to his tomb but returned with some crazy news. They said they saw a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive. Some of the others went to see for themselves and found that the tomb was indeed empty but they did not see a vision. Everyone was very confused and scared. Had someone stolen is body? How could he be alive?
Cleopas and his wife needed to get back home. They had work to do and they had gone through all the food they brought with them. And so they said goodbye to their friends and set out to walk the 7 miles back home to Emmaus. They were very sad and confused and so they recounted to each other about all that had happened in order to process it, in order to try to make some sense of it.
As they walked, a stranger started walking with them and he asked them what they were talking about. He began to talk about the Scriptures. Starting with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted the meaning and how they all pointed to the Messiah. They were captivated by his teaching and the time passed quickly and before they knew it, they were at the turnoff to get to their home. It was getting late and they did not want their time with this man to end and so they urged him strongly to stay the night.
Cleopas set the table chatting with their new friend while his wife warmed up some food. They gathered around the table and the stranger took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them and suddenly they were back with the crowd of 5,000. He took, blessed, broke and gave and their eyes were opened and Cleopas and his wife recognized Jesus just as he vanished. They looked at each other and Cleopas said, “we have to go back and tell the others.” So they quickly did what they needed to do and even though it was now dark and the streets were not as safe, they walked back to Jerusalem. When they arrived late, the group was excited because Christ had also appeared to Simon and everyone’s fear and sadness had been turned to joy and excitement. What a journey that was.
They say life is journey full of many journeys. We never know how things will turn out, what or who we will encounter or what we will learn along the way.
When my husband and I were in the Peace Corps, we lived in the mountains of Costa Rica at about the same elevation as Denver. When you enter the Peace Corps, you go through a 3 month training period with other volunteers from all around the U.S. and during that time you can become pretty close to the other volunteers. At the end of the training period – everyone is scattered all over the country in various communities to spend the next 2 years living and working and serving. We were very close to the other volunteers in our training class and since those were the days before email and cellphones, we all agreed that every few months there would be a gathering somewhere for a few days. We set the date and place of our first gathering and said goodbye.
John-Mark and I were among the few who had our own house so we hosted two of the gatherings, one was for Derby and the other was for a backpacking trip into the cloud forest near us. It was the rainy season and so I was against the whole trip from the beginning. But a bunch of friends came excited for the trip and so we loaded up our horse with supplies and set out first thing in the morning. The sun was shining, it was warm and we were all excited. We stopped after a few hours to have some lunch and rest. As we were finished up it began to sprinkle a bit. We all pulled out our raincoats and journeyed on, the rain felt good. But soon the sprinkles turned to a downpour – the heavens opened and the rains came down in sheets. We all pulled our raincoats tight and trudged on because there was no place to stop and by this time we were more than ½ way there. But as we walked on, the walking became very difficult, the ground was soft and slippery. In places the mud was over my ankles and so I began to pay close attention to the path so that I would not trip and fall. I trudged on, thinking not very nice thoughts of my husband and wondering why I had agreed to come. In a short time we were all soaked to the core, our raingear was no match against this kind of rain. Every part of me was wet and I was knew that the dry clothes in my backpack were probably wet as well. You might say I was not a happy camper but I kept my mind on making it to the place we would camp. Even if I had to sleep in wet clothes in a wet tent, at least the hiking through mud and rain would end.
And then I heard something. — It sounded like someone was whistling. I looked up to see one of our friends coming up beside me while whistling. “He has some nerve – I thought.” I looked up at him to give him a piece of my mind when he said – “Have you ever been any place so beautiful?” And then I stopped and looked up and realized he was right. There were hundreds of shades of green. The trees towered above us. There were tropical flowers of every shape and the colors were vivid and amazing. I was with my husband who I loved very much and good friends and we were in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. And I was missing it all.
When we finally made it to the place we were to camp, we came upon a cabin. The man inside invited us to sleep on his floor, and to hang our wet things on his porch. He was cooking rice and beans and offered us some as well. The evening ended with smiles and laughter as we sat around his wood burning stove telling him about our hike.
Joel’s whistling and his words were from God that day and I will never forget the moment I realized what I was doing to myself and to those around me.
In the book Wild Cheryl had – times when she was so caught up in the pain of her body and the trials of the trip that she too missed out on the beauty and joy the moment.
Cleopas and his wife were caught up in the pain and fear of all that had happened – that is until a stranger brought Christ alive for them.
Life is full of many journeys through mountains and mud, through trees or deserts, down paved streets and up dirt roads but Christ is always with us – always calling to us –always waiting for us to invite him in – into our homes, into our meals and into our hearts.