Luke 24:13-27 (MSG)
On August 9, 2010, Ed Stafford plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil to cool off, pop open some champagne and celebrate. Other sunbathing tourists on the beach might have seen him as just another crazy Brit who soaked up a little too much South American sun. Stafford would say he was, indeed, a little bit crazy but not in the "frat boy" sense of the word - more in the "Indiana Jones/intrepid explorer/boldly-going-where-no-one-has-gone-before" sense of it.
That's because when Stafford's toes hit the surf that morning, he officially became the first man to ever walk the entire length of the Amazon River. His two-year, 4,200-mile trek took him through some of the most dangerous terrain on earth. Stafford and his companion, Peruvian forestry worker Gadiel "Cho" Sanchez Rivera, braved deadly snakes, 18-foot crocodiles, exotic tropical diseases, hostile natives, and the daily potential of disaster to complete the trek entirely by walking through the rain forest and not using boats, as other expeditions had done.
Stafford started his trek on April 2, 2008, on the southern coast of Peru. He survived on beans and rice and on the piranhas he caught in the river. He also brought an electronic companion. Unlike the intrepid explorers of old, Stafford still had contact with the outside world via an Internet satellite phone that he carried with him and that enabled him to pass the nights by downloading TV shows such as The Office.
Such an arduous, dangerous trek mad news in 2010 not only because it was quite a feat but because we're generally not used to walking very far. We now launch media campaigns to get people in our sedentary culture to walk farther than the distance from the couch to the refrigerator for the good of their own health. People in the ancient world likely would still have seen Stafford's trek as impressive because of the danger quotient, but not all that unusual in terms of the distance walked. Jesus was himself an epic walker, according to the gospels. Cari Haus, who writes for the Web site ILuvWalking.com, says Jesus traveled distances on foot that are mind-boggling to those of us who are used to moving while seated. Think about this:
* If we take Matthew's narrative at face value, Jesus, as a young boy, would have walked about 400 miles with his parents during their return from Egypt to Nazareth.
* Every devout male in Galilee would travel to Jerusalem three times a year for religious festivals, which meant a 240-mile round trip from Nazareth. If Jesus followed this pattern every year between the ages of 5 and 30, he would have walked 18,000 miles in trips to Jerusalem alone.
* Based on the gospel accounts, Jesus traveled 3,125 miles in his three-year public ministry. His disciples would have walked many of those miles with him.
* That means a conservative estimate of the distance Jesus walked during his lifetime was 21,525 miles. That's a lot of sandals!
Stafford's long walk allowed him to see and experience things that most people fly over and forget. Jesus' lifetime of long walks allowed him the opportunity to see faces, hear stories, experience the hospitality of strangers and feel the connection between the land and its people. Jesus led his disciples on a journey that gave them the best kind of laboratory for learning what God was doing in Jesus' own ministry and their part in it. We might call it "ministry by walking around."
All this is a prelude to what happens in our text for today. The seven-mile stretch from Jerusalem to Emmaus was one of the most significant parts of the journey, according to Luke. Two disciples of Jesus, one named Cleopas and an unnamed other, are walking away from the disaster of Good Friday and the puzzlement of Easter. Luke doesn't tell us why Emmaus is their destination. Are they fleeing to a hiding place? Do they have relatives there? Is it simply a place to hole up and think about what just happened? Most of the other disciples had decided to hunker down and stay put in Jerusalem, but these two keep walking, and the risen Jesus, who is still walking, joins them on the road.
As the stranger walks with them on this road to nowhere, he begins to tell them about a longer journey they'd all been on. Starting with the journey of God's people from liberation in Egypt under Moses to the time of the prophets and through all the signs along the way, Jesus walked them through God's plan for his people and his own death and resurrection as both a destination and a new beginning.
The two disciples invite this stranger to stay with them and, when sitting at table together, they suddenly recognize it's the risen Jesus they've been walking with all along. Jesus disappears, but they start walking back to Jerusalem and into a new future. Emmaus wasn't their finish line after all, just another stop on the journey of following the Lord.
If there's anything the Emmaus Road story teaches us, it's that the disciples of Jesus are at their best when they keep walking with him. Discipleship is never a drive-by or fly-by process, in which we can look for instant results and ignore the people and places we whiz by every day. Disciples of Jesus recognize that their lives are a journey of following Jesus and learning from him but also looking for him in the faces of strangers who join them on the way. Disciples are willing to follow Jesus despite the dangers and potential pitfalls, and they offer hospitality to others who may not yet recognize him. Disciples also know that they can't walk the journey alone. Intrepid explorer Stafford needed Cho at his side to finish. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and it was two who traveled together on the road that day. Discipleship is a long-haul process, and we need each other along the way.
No matter where we live and move in the world, God calls us to remember that it's Jesus who leads us, provides for us and walks beside us.
Rev. Lisa Drysdale,
April 23, 2023