The length of time we have been apart has now surpassed the length of Lent. Forty-plus days in the desert. Life stripped to its bare essentials. Many of us are grateful for things we never thought much about before – toilet paper for one, the way flour, water, and yeast can be coaxed into delicious fresh bread, and even the simple pleasure of a walk. Our family has walked a lot during Corona Time. I suspect if you added up the miles we all have logged by foot or by scooter that we each have surpassed a hundred miles of walking – which means over 500 miles as a family. Walking is so invigorating. Our bodies move and take pleasure in the motion. Our eyes pick out the various animals that come into view – woodpeckers, squirrels, rabbits, and even an early season caterpillar bravely crossing the road. Most of all we use these walks for talking. It’s strange. If I’m just sitting on my couch, I don’t feel much like having an extended conversation, but if I’m on a walk, I can talk and talk and talk. I’m guessing many of you who are walking more in this season are experiencing something similar. Our walks and talks get us focused on the many subjects that are occupying our minds in this season. We talk about our family. How are the kids doing? How are we doing? We talk about the future. Will we be able to visit our parents in Chicago or Pennsylvania this summer? Will anything we planned for the summer actually happen? And, of course, we have been armchair quarterbacking what needs to happen to control the spread of this virus while having some semblance of normalcy return to our lives. (Like many, we too have become virologists and public health experts!) Because we all feel like much of this is outside of our control, our talking about the possibilities and realities is one way of regaining some of what we’ve lost. At their root, these walks allow us to reflect on the vastly different world we are now occupying and to make some sense of what we are supposed to do with our lives. The story of the road to Emmaus aligns so nicely with all of these walks we find ourselves taking. The walk taken by Cleopas and the other disciple is a chance for them to reflect on the vastly different world they now occupy and to make some sense of what they are now supposed to do with their lives. The final chapter of Luke’s gospel is full of stories of what happened on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Luke is the author of the Book of Acts, so there is plenty more he has to say about what is to come, but he concludes his gospel with these challenging stories about the hours following the resurrection of Jesus. Let me be frank: People do not rise from the grave. It is not normal. When I am at graveside, I am not anticipating something out of the ordinary happening. Yet Jesus has been raised from the dead, and now people are left to figure out what in the world this means for them. So, after recounting the empty tomb stories with the angel speaking to the women who had encountered the angel, the scene shifts away from the tomb. Two disciples of Jesus – Cleopas and one who is unnamed and entirely unknown – are walking away from Jerusalem to a town around seven miles outside of the big city. This is a story of so much uncertainty. We don’t know if they lived in Emmaus. We don’t know if the unnamed disciple is a man or a woman. Maybe they’re husband and wife. We just don’t know. But I think the unknown here is to our advantage. It provides the chance for us to get into their shoes and walk those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perhaps each of us can be the unnamed disciple in this story. Let’s take just a few moments to walk this story together. You’ve reached the highest highs and the lowest lows in the course of the last week. You were there when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with cloaks and palm branches strewn on the ground. People were excited to see him. Jerusalem was simply humming with excitement. Jesus has arrived. It’s Passover, so pilgrims from all over the world have come to celebrate. Rome has upped the military presence to make sure there are no disturbances with all these religious people gathered in one place. You’re there when Jesus draws negative attention to himself at the Temple, when he forms a whip and chases out the money changers. You hear him make stunning statements about the destruction of this very Temple. You hear the urgency in his voice grow over the coming days, as he talks about what he has to do. You’re there when he tells Judas about the betrayal and then you hear that Jesus has been arrested. Within hours you see him carrying his cross beam, bleeding and weakened from the whips of the Roman soldiers. You see him hung on a cross, forgiving the bandits crucified with him. He cries out in pain, and you see the sky darken as Jesus breathes his last. You witness the soldiers pull his body down from the cross, giving him to Joseph of Arimathea to place him in his nearby tomb. On Saturday you sit in silence, occasionally weeping at losing Jesus. You and the other disciples comfort each other and wonder what’s next. Will they come for you too? Should you return to your homes and previous lives? On Sunday morning, you and Cleopas decide it’s time to leave Jerusalem. Some women have come to you with a strange story about the body of Jesus being gone and about an angel who showed up and talked to them, but your experience has never been as wild as that story. Angel visitations happen to others, not you. There’s nothing left for you to do there. And so you walk, and you talk. You review all that has just happened. Could you have done something to prevent this? Could you have been brave and saved Jesus? What’s the meaning of life in a cruel world that could kill someone as lovely as Jesus? A man approaches. He’s looking for companionship, and he’s going the same way. “It looks like you’re having a deep conversation,” he observes. “What is on your mind?” You and Cleopas stop dead in your tracks. You are hurting so much that you can’t even look him in the eye. How could he possibly not know what has just happened? You give him your report. There was a man from Nazareth named Jesus. He was a prophet. You saw the mighty things he did, but he wasn’t powerful enough to stand up to the religious and political powers. He was crucified. Dead. Gone. Cleopas then takes the lead in telling the story of Jesus. “But we had hoped…” he chokes out, “We had hoped…that he was the one to redeem Israel.” What’s more, his body is gone from the tomb, and there are strange things happening. Women we trust have seen angels who claimed that Jesus is alive. Some others went and saw the empty tomb, but they didn’t see Jesus. It’s too much to bear. Don’t they realize that the dead stay dead? The stranger listens to your story. As you fall to silence, he pauses for a moment on the road. “Hmmm,” he says. He strokes his beard for a moment or two, giving off a knowing look like he was Albus Dumbledore – another one of those people who seem to understand the bigger picture better than anyone else. “You really don’t know what’s happened, do you? It’s all been there for you to see, but you can’t see it.” So, the stranger starts walking with you again and lays out the case from the Scriptures about how all of this makes sense, that Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death. You’re blown away by his knowledge. You have encountered few people in your life who knew the Scriptures so well, and the one who knew them best was gone. Still, this stranger has fanned the flame of hope within you. If this man knows this much, perhaps there’s more to what he’s thinking. You are getting close to Emmaus, and you want to know more, so you invite him to dinner. Your conversation continues over your meal. The seven-mile walk has made you hungry, so you dive in. As if in slow motion, the stranger reaches for the bread and breaks off a piece for you. As you take the bread the truth hits you between the eyes. This is Jesus. Alive. With you. The same, yet different. Not revived. Resurrected. You and Cleopas stare at him for a few moments, as tears start streaming from your eyes, but as you stand to embrace him, he vanishes from sight. There but not there. You turn to Cleopas and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Without another word, the two of you get up from the table and run the seven miles – uphill – back to Jerusalem to share this good, but strange news. You know it has happened, but you really still don’t have the words for this new reality. It’s going to take a while to come to grips with it. It’s going to take the support of a loving community. It’s going to take a strength that goes far beyond your own – strength that comes from the promised Holy Spirit. Let me bring us back to our present reality. What do we learn from this story? Particularly as we try to live as well as we can in the midst of a pandemic, how might this story guide us? Allow me to offer three insights. First, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection mean everything to us, and yet they are perplexing even to Jesus’ closest disciples. This is one of the most interesting things about how Luke tells the story. “Luke is openly acknowledging to his readers that he is relating extraordinary, unparalleled and unexpected events. There is no hiding the strangeness of mystery. But he hopes, by relaying how the doubts and confusion of the disciples were turned to new conviction, to move his readers too along the same path.” In these post-resurrection days, we may be struggling to find our footing, particularly as we are in a time like none other than we have had to deal with. Luke tells these stories to us not because they are reasonable but because they are true! Of course, the dead don’t rise, but Jesus did. The entirety of following Jesus rests on that historical fact. Jesus is the “first fruit” of resurrection, a glimpse into what will be true for us in the fullness of God’s time. So, we live today – yes, even in a pandemic – as a people who know that Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death. We treat death as a broken power. We bring life into the world. In his wonderful book on the resurrection, N. T. Wright puts it this way, “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.” Even now in the midst of this hard time, we are a people who bring hope by building God’s kingdom, even as we may struggle to understand what that reality looks like in this moment. Second, this story affirms how important the Scriptures are. Jesus uses them to point out how God was up to this plan from the beginning. These Scriptures are a piece of the disciples coming to understand the mysterious work of God. Psalm 116, which you heard the Ransfords share this morning, is one of those words that can give us hope in this season. The whole poem is thanksgiving to the Lord for healing. “The Lord turned his ear to me,” it says. Does that mean everything became perfect for the psalmist? Not at all, but it does mean that calling on God in our distress – the very trouble we all have – falls on the ears of God, who loves us and who works beautiful things in his time. God hears. But, third and finally, this story from Luke pushes beyond an intellectual understanding of the Scriptures. These disciples had a seven-mile-long lesson from Jesus teaching from Scripture, but that didn’t do it for them. What moved them to understanding was the experience of Jesus breaking the bread. Do not underestimate the ways God speaks into our lives in unexpected ways. It might be a meal – like communion. It might be a still small voice as you wait in prayer. It might be words from a friend. Who knows? But God is speaking to us even now, even when things are hard. Andy Stanley says, “One of the exciting things about being a believer is watching God unveil his plan for our lives.” I would add this to Stanley’s statement, “God is working his plan in your life even now. Be on the lookout for it.” The story of Jesus is not past history. It is a present reality. So, my friends, take your walks. Use the time – for we all have it – to discern what is best. Christ is risen from the dead, and we all have a calling to live even now in ways that bear that truth out in a world gripped by fear.