Joe Neville

Luke 24: 13-35



Broken Bread, Eyes Opened

One of the primary ways in which the language of faith has changed over the past twenty-five years has been through the influence of the concept of "Journey." Many of us were raised with the belief that religion was living a well-mapped life of earnest behavior based on obedience and good intentions. We were expected to attend church once a week, for an hour, and spend the rest of the week living good, clean, decent, moral and well-behaved lives. Everything about God was known and revealed through scripture, church and good behavior. It was all neatly packaged and life was all about having faith in a God who most likely would not let us down if only we had faith in that God making everything turn out right.

How things have changed! Now, many of us would describe our lives as a spiritual quest or a sacred journey. Rather than embracing obedience and faithfulness, many of us are unafraid to express doubt and ask hard questions. We believe that life is an adventure; sometimes painful, mostly powerful and, for the most part, uncharted, unknown and even out of our control. Our spiritual life centers on discovering the holy in ordinary moments, asking existential questions and seeking profane experience.  We search for evidence of the sacred in the midst of our everyday living.  Some of us would even say we are carrying on a mystical search for the presence of the ineffable in our common everyday lives. Most of us would describe our spiritual life by saying we are on a "journey of faith" or "following a spiritual path.  "We have become spiritual seekers after truth rather than defining ourselves exclusively as "religious" or singularly "Christian."

Those of us on the spiritual quest may see ourselves on the road in this morning's text.  It is a journey text.  Luke's Jesus is one who journeys through life. The phrase "on the road" or the Greek "on the way" is used ten different times in the Gospel and he also refers to it frequently in this second volume, the Acts of the Apostles.

The spiritual journey can be likened to the story of the two on the road to Emmaus.  The quest for many of us begins with a fall into some sort of spiritual black hole in which everything we once believed in suddenly or quietly vaporizes. For the two walkers, it was the death of a friend. For us, it may be the death of a loved one, or an experience of disillusionment, a betrayal, loss or failure.  It is the time in our lives when our certainties vanish and all the usual comforts and assurances we have held on to fail; old authorities are questioned and the path or pattern we once held as sacred disappears.

We can set out at that moment, on a new path, which is the quest for the meaning, the deep meaning, of our life.  Life at that moment becomes experimental rather than fixed in a position; we could use the images of a long walk without a map, a trip to a town not yet known, a journey to a country whose boundaries have not been set. Those who find themselves on this journey may at first feel a little like those two on the road to Emmaus.

We don't know what to expect as we find ourselves on the road in the realm of the Spirit. But if we would walk on that road, it is almost a guarantee that we will encounter pleasure and pain, love and loneliness.  Walkers of this road will discover the discipline which comes from doubt, the slender light in darkness, the exquisite demand of unknowing and the adventure of living that emerges from the profundity of loss.

If we have eyes to see, in our encounters with the holy, there is a promise. As the two walked the long walk to Emmaus, they encountered a stranger who began walking and talking with them.  They were lifted out of their despair, for a brief moment, to feel some comfort and the spirit of compassion -- some someone who tugs at their despair and lifts them beyond their tragedy.  Perhaps, then, the lesson on the road of the realm of the Spirit is that the tragedy of loss, although real, is not ultimate; perhaps our alienation, our sense of sin, the brokenness at the heart of the human condition, can be healed.  As we walk with the holy we begin to remember the ancient promise of comfort, harmony, mercy and trust for those who embraced the deep life of the Spirit.

Remember, it was while walking through the valley of the shadow of death, that the Psalmist could write that marvelous faith statement -- "The Lord is my Shepherd." It was looking straight into the eyes of evil and the threat of rage-filled bigots that Martin Luther King could declare, "I'm not fearing any man, my eyes have seen the glory." It is in the most difficult moments of dread and despair that the gift of courage comes so that we can continue walking with the spirit of grace and hope.

"Stay with us," the disciples say as they draw near to the village. Jesus stayed and they broke bread together. He took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke it and gave it to his friends. "And their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread."

Our eyes will be opened if we are willing and able to embrace the mystery contained in this life. I believe that there is no knowledge of the mystery of God or the journey of the Spirit without knowing something of the experience of human emptiness and loneliness.  We can't want to be fulfilled unless we realize that we are hungry.

The hunger of our spirits is part of being human and unless we come to that place within us, we cannot recognize God in the breaking of the bread.  All those deep, empty, hungry spaces in our hearts are exactly the places where we begin to know God's love even as God's body and life is being poured out and broken among us.

In our empty and broken places along the road, God becomes real. Grace comes to us if we are willing to open our eyes and see.

The book, Letters and Papers from Prison is the story of the life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian imprisoned for a death plot against Hitler in World War II. Bonhoeffer was placed in solitary confinement to await his death.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer's family wasn’t allowed to see him, but they were allowed to visit the prison and leave some things of home for him.  He received a woolen vest, a blanket, some biscuits which by the time he received them had become dry and tasteless.  But he describes breaking the bread in his letter home:

"First of all, thank you for the things you have brought me…you can't imagine what it means to be told…your mother and sister and brother were here…and left something for you.  The mere fact that you have been near me, the tangible evidence that you are thinking of me and caring about me, is enough to keep me happy for the rest of the day. When I break this bread you are with me.  Thank you very much for everything."

I believe that Annie and Lloyd would say this, if they haven’t already.  I believe that we could say this to Annie and Lloyd.  “The mere fact that you have been near us; the tangible evidence that you are thinking of us and caring about us is enough to keep us happy for the rest of the day.”

We recognize the Christ in the breaking of bread whenever the hollowness and the hunger of living is overwhelmed and redeemed by our instinct for love and grace and forgiveness.

It's quite a morning for us at The Congregational Church of Brookfield.  Much is happening for us as we participate in the life of the Spirit in this congregation.  I think of us as a people on a journey, disciples walking along the road to life.  Today there is coming and going, grieving and celebrating, joy and sorrow, tangible evidence that this community of seekers is engaged in the wonder of a spiritual quest in the covenant of community.

At the 10:45 service we will celebrate our refugee family and the community of people whose eyes were opened to the refugee and seized the opportunity of informing themselves about and ministering to the refugee of our age.

Annie and Lloyd are beginning a new life in the country.  Annie will travel to Minnesota, while Lloyd remains in our fellowship.  Both of you (THEM) touched us, changed us, and opened our eyes.  That we could know and love you (THEM), gives us deep comfort.  Your (THEIR) spirits have been etched into the very fiber of our community.  In addition, we celebrate our hope for the future with a New Members class this evening, and another one next week even as we begin to feel and live into the reality that our previous ministerial staff has and is moving on their Emmaus roads.

For me, the blessings and challenges of living in community as I walk the road to life are what make my life strangely and excitingly whole.

The road to Emmaus was a road which led to revelation through breaking of bread, the opening of spiritual eyes and the burning hearts of truth. This road is not for the faint of heart or for those who want a standard set of rules for faith and religion.  Those who decide to walk this road take big risks.

The risk we take is learning to live without a set pattern for faith, but becoming open to the spiritual journey of life.

The risk we take is learning.  Amen.