Out and Back

Message for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year C (4/24/2022)

Luke 24:13-49 (texts for Easter Evening)


Next weekend, I’m running a half-marathon. Pray for me, will you? Fortunately, I won’t need to rely entirely on your prayers because I’ve been training in March and April, going for long runs once a week to prepare my body for the strain of a thirteen-mile course. My preferred training ground is the Foothills Trail, which starts in East Puyallup and runs roughly along State Route 162 south and eventually east to Buckley. I’ve never gone any farther than Orting, however. Since my runs have all been out and back, and my longest training run is ten miles, I always turn around before 150th Street, a half-mile past the McMillin Trailhead.

If I’m going to look at the same scenery every week, it might as well be the scenery along the Foothills Trail. Weather permitting, I get a full view of the mountain as I make my way through the farmland along the highway. The crest of South Hill is to my right, blanketed in evergreens, and the neighborhood along Sky Island Drive in Bonney Lake is to my left. And, if I’m going farther than eight miles in total, I get to cross over the Puyallup River at the McMillin Bridge. Of course, the views are reversed on the return trip.

Two weeks ago, I struggled against a slight headwind all along the first half of my run, which added a little extra dread to the already drizzly conditions. Mercifully, that headwind became a tailwind when I turned around, and what’s more, the sun came out. So, the second half of my run was more inspired, and I was more confident that I would finish. Isn’t that the rhythm of an out-and-back trip? It’s a tale of two halves; when you turn around at the midpoint, it can mean a change in both your circumstances and your outlook.

That’s what happens in the beloved Easter story in our Gospel from Luke today. The walk to Emmaus is also an out-and-back journey, albeit an unplanned one. Maybe it’s all my training, but I noticed this past week that the round trip is about the same distance as a half-marathon: seven miles in each direction. It’s not a race, however, and the two disciples who set out together from Jerusalem don’t intend to make a return trip that same day. But, on account of the life-changing revelation along the way and the new hope that springs up as a result, that’s precisely what they do.

Devastated by the trauma of cross, Cleopas and his companion leave Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, suddenly uncertain of the future. “We had hoped that [Jesus of Nazareth] was the one to redeem Israel,” one of them confesses sadly to a stranger who joins them on the road. The disciples mourn not only the death of their teacher, but also the death of his dream for the world, a dream they had come to believe might actually come true. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, they lament, we had hoped for something else.

Consumed by Good Friday, they aren’t yet ready to incorporate the news of Easter. Nevertheless, Easter sneaks in beside them. The risen Jesus, whose identity is still hidden from them, listens attentively as the disciples voice their grief and confusion. Then he reinterprets the scriptures to them, insisting on the hope at the heart of the sacred story: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

Upon their arrival at Emmaus, the disciples invite the stranger to join them for dinner, and he accepts. And once they’re seated at the table, the mysterious guest becomes the host. Blessing and breaking the bread, Jesus is suddenly familiar, made known to them in their meal fellowship. But, then he vanishes as quickly as he appeared. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” Cleopas and his friend excitedly agree, and that very hour they get up and return to Jerusalem to find the rest of Jesus’ followers.

In the end, the walk to Emmaus is not a one-way, but an out-and-back trip. What the two disciples thought was their destination was, in fact, the turning point in their journey, the place where everything changes. It’s a tale of two halves: leaving Jerusalem with shattered hopes, they return with burning hearts; lumbering away under the burden of loss, they rush back with the joy of communion.

In this way, the walk to Emmaus is a story about the hope of Easter in every time – the hope that the risen Jesus will continue to reveal himself in the age-old promises of God and in our shared walk and in our hospitality. It’s a story about being surprised by resurrection when you least expect it, and with new insight, learning to start over and tell the whole story of your life in a new way. In short, it’s a story about how to come back.

I’m reminded of the wisdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must accept finite disappointment,” he once said, “but never lose infinite hope.” If the outbound journey is the path of disappointment, friends, and the way back is our return to infinite hope, then the turning point is the love of God, the love that death can’t kill, made known to us again and again.

So, what is it that revives your Easter hope? Is it the closeness of a companion who will stand by you at your lowest and walk with you wherever you need to go? Is it a shared meal with good company, and bread and wine to strengthen your heart? Is it the promise that your disappointments are finite, that God can redeem even the worst case scenario and make a new way?

Whatever your turning point, beloved people of God, whatever helps you believe that you can come back, may God grant that your hearts burn with resurrection hope again today as you make your way to the places life leads next. Alleluia, Christ is risen!


1 See Shannon Michael Pater, in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, 418.
2 See Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 849.
3 See David J. Lose, http://www.davidlose.net/2017/04/easter-3-a-dashed-hopes-and-surprising-grace/.
4 Kris Rocke, Preaching Peace Tacoma Table, 4/19/22.
5 Psalm 104:15.

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