Walking is the way to life…
A couple of years ago, the health insurance company for the United Methodist Church started encouraging pastors and families to start wearing pedometers—a device that measures the number of steps you take in a day. The goal is to get people to get out and walk on a daily basis, and they even pay us for it. If consistently walk 10,000 steps a day you can earn reward points that will pay you about $300 at the end of the year—money being as motivating to clergy as it is for anyone else!
My problem is that I keep losing or breaking the pedometers (actually stepped on it once, which was really ironic) and, quite frankly, they don’t work very well at the gym wher I work out 4 times a week (pushups and burpees don’t count as steps). Still, I think it’s a good idea because it gets a lot of us out walking, which health experts say is one of the keys to lowering stress, which is a problem for people who lead churches.
Of course, walking as exercise would have been a curious concept to the people of Jesus’ day. Nobody had vehicles and horses were incredibly expensive. People walked everywhere because they had to. I saw a study once that calculated how many miles Jesus would have walked in his ministry. Listen to this:
– 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 (3 x 240 x 25).
– Based on the gospel accounts, Jesus traveled 3,125 miles in his three-year public ministry.
– That means a conservative estimate of the distance Jesus walked during his lifetime was 21,125 miles. If the average person’s stride is 2.5 feet long, and a mile is about 2,000 steps, that means Jesus took 42,250,000 steps over the course of his lifetime. Talk about racking up the pedometer points!
Jesus’ disciples would have walked a lot of those miles, too—at least the 3,125 that Jesus walked during his public ministry. Many of those miles would have been memorable, to be sure, but none of those long walks was amazing as the two of them took on that Sunday afternoon on the way to Emmaus.
Scholars disagree on where Emmaus actually was—most settle on Luke’s statement that it was about seven miles from Jerusalem (about 15,000 steps). Two disciples of Jesus—one named Cleopas and the other unnamed (let’s call him “Steve”) take that walk after the events of that morning, which we read about at the beginning of the service today. Surely, there was some stress that motivated their walking away from Jerusalem—maybe out of fear of the authorities, maybe just a way to get some space. Whatever the reason, they are walking and talking along that seven-mile stretch, walking off the strange questions they had after some of their friends had discovered Jesus’ tomb to be empty.
The Walk to Emmaus
A stranger joins them—we know it’s Jesus but for some reason they don’t recognize him. Clearly, he didn’t look like the male model Jesus we have been seeing on The Bible miniseries (who, apparently, was the best looking guy in all of Israel)! But I digress. We can’t blame these two disciples for not recognizing him. After all who would’ve expected a crucified Jesus to be on the road that day or any day? But Luke lets us in on the secret and the stranger Jesus begins chatting with Cleopas and Steve. “What are you talking about?”
What are we talking about? they answer. Have you been in a cave for the last several days? (Actually, he had been). And they tell him about Jesus, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” who got wrongly accused and tried and crucified. They had followed him around for many of those 3,125 miles, hearing Jesus preach and seeing the miracles he had performed. You can almost hear the disappointment in their voices: “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” We bet it all on him. And now there are these strange reports from some women in their group (notoriously unreliable witnesses) who told us they had seen angels and an empty tomb. Well, we found the tomb empty, but we have no idea what that means. So we’re out walking. It’s a lot to handle.
The mysterious stranger, Jesus, of course, had walked every step of the story they were describing—the steps up Mount Zion to his trial at the house of the High Priest (those steps are still there); the steps from Pilate to Herod and back again; the steps along the road outside of the city walls and up the hill of the skull to the cross. He would have calculated those steps in pain and stress, knowing where they led.
But the journey that took Jesus to the cross was actually a much longer walk. Cleopas and Steve are just thinking about the journey of the past three days as they walk to Emmaus. Jesus understood the events of Friday as the culmination of a journey that started more than 3,000 years before that. “Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared,” the secret stranger tells his friends. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then, Luke tells us that, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.” It’s by understanding the story of all the Scriptures that we understand what happened on Easter.
The Bible is the story of a long walk.
The story of the Bible, at its most basic level, is a walking story. It begins in a garden, where God walks in the midst of the world he created with humans whom he has made in his image. Genesis 3 gives us the impression that God loved taking an evening stroll through the garden—maybe that was a regular date that God had with Adam and Eve. But then comes the day when God walks through the garden and looks for them, but they are hiding, covering their nakedness. Their “eyes were opened” because they because they had tried to take a shortcut, choosing to walk away from God by listening to a snake in the grass instead of continuing their steps with the God who walked with them in the cool of the day. The consequences would send them walking out of the garden, with sin and death shadowing their every step and the steps of every human who has come into the world since.
But God didn’t give up on the humans he created. Indeed, God launches a grand rescue plan—the beginning of the journey of redemption of humanity and the world. God decided to try walking with them again, this time with a man named Abraham—a sheepherder who is minding his own business in Mesopotamia when God comes to him with an offer. “Start walking to the place I will show you. There your family will become a great nation, and through them the whole world will be blessed.” This really didn’t make a lot of sense, of course. After all, Abraham was—as Paul put it in the New Testament—so old as to be “as good as dead” and his wife, Sarah, was just as old and barren to boot. But Abraham picked up with staff and his pack and started walking, taking the first steps of a great journey of being the father of God’s people.
Abraham’s descendants have a rough time staying on the path. His miracle son, Isaac, has two twin sons who are a different as night and day. Jacob tricks his brother and has to flee on a long journey to save his life. Jacob wanders, has dreams, wrestles with God and gets a new name: Israel: one who strives with God. Israel has twelve sons, one of whom gets crosswise with his brothers because he has dreams. His conniving brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt but becomes a powerful man in the Egyptian empire. Joseph will reconcile with his brothers and demonstrate a powerful truth: whatever humanity means for evil, God can turn into good. God is going to be with this people for the long walk.
Israel’s family becomes a nation, enslaved by the Egyptians. Moses will lead them to freedom on a long walk of 40 years in the desert where they continue to strive with God. God gives them laws to show them how to be blessed and be a blessing to the world, as Abraham was promised, but they cannot keep up with it for very long. They enter the land God promised them, set up a government with kings at the head.
The greatest of these kings, David, a man after God’s own heart, struggles to stay on the right track. God promises him that one of his descendants will reign on the throne forever, that God will dwell with his people, symbolized by the temple, but despite those promises David, his royal descendants, and his people fail again and again to walk with God. They follow false gods, the oppress the poor, they seek their own way—things don’t change much from those days in the garden.
The result is another long walk. The family of Israel is invaded by foreign powers, the temple, the sign of God’s presence, is destroyed. The people will journey 500 miles to exile in Babylon, far from home and, at least it felt like, far from God. They are in exile for 70 years, after which some of them return. They rebuild the temple, but it’s not the same. They are still under foreign occupation by the great empires of the ancient world: The Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, Seleucids, and eventually the Romans. They are still slaves, still unable to fully be at home.
God sends prophets before and during the exile to point the people back to God. They will point to hope in the midst of despair and tell the people that God had not abandoned them but, in fact, God was offering them the hope of a new creation, where sin and death no longer reigned. But that new creation would not come easy and would require more of God’s people than they could offer themselves. Israel wasn’t up to the task of walking with God, of being a blessing to the world—then again, none of us would be, either. They would need someone to do it for them, to lead them back to God; indeed, they’ll need someone to carry them, represent them. The prophets point to this someone as the Messiah, the one who will restore Israel and her mission, the one who will do for Israel what she cannot do for herself. He will be the one who demonstrates faithful obedience to God and lead others to do the same. He will be the one who leads them on a journey back home to God once and for all.
But the prophets also tell the people that this Messiah will not do his work with the power of military might, like every other world empire. Nor will his enemy be Rome or the empires of the world. His enemy will be evil and death itself. In a strange twist, this Messiah will come as one who suffers—one who takes on the burden of Israel’s sin and, by extension, the sin of the whole world. He will challenge the powers of sin and death and be crushed by them, and yet somehow this will be a victory. This is how true freedom will come—through sacrifice. Redeeming the world, confronting the powers, will cost God everything.
Everyone expected the Messiah to be a human being blessed by God. Over the centuries, however, people began to layer their expectations on the Messiah. Some wanted him to be a military hero, some wanted him to demonstrate perfect obedience to the law, others wanted him to be a political leader, much like the kings of Israel. Indeed, the Messiah was to come from the line of David in answer to that old covenant promise.
No one expected, however, that the Messiah would be God himself. No one thought that God would be the one to do for his people what they could not do for himself. And yet, this is where the story of Israel brings us to the story of Jesus. God’s son, God’s self, will come and walk among humanity again, in person. He comes in person to save the world from sin and death and he will do it in a way no one expected.
Jesus walked with a purpose.
He is born as a traveler, coming to the world through traveling parents who do not even have a hotel room. He spent most of his life walking the 21,125 miles as a common building contractor, until that one day when he met his cousin John at the river and was baptized. Luke tells us that after a time of preparation in the desert, fighting off the temptation to be the kind of Messiah that everyone expected, he came home to Nazareth and instead of picking up his tools he picked up the scroll in the synagogue—the scroll of the law and the prophets, and he unrolled to the place where the prophet Isaiah said: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll and sat down, saying, “This Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
His hometown folks didn’t want to hear this version of the Messiah, especially from one who looked and sounded so ordinary and un-messiah-like. So they took him out to throw him off a cliff. Instead, Jesus walked through them and started walking those 3,125 miles in the service of God the Father, teaching, healing, eating at table with people whom the rest of the world rejected. Every mile, every touch, every meal, was part of his mission—a proclamation that God had come again to be with his people, to heal them, to forgive their sins, to bring them out of death and into life, to give them a sign of the new creation, the new kingdom of God that was coming. He was living it out right in front of them.
But that didn’t meet the expectations of people who wanted a messiah on their own terms. So they made him walk to the cross. In doing so, they were fulfilling the Scriptures about the messiah’s suffering mission. The innocent one suffers for the sins of his people. He walks with their sin on his back. As Paul put it in our New Testament lesson this morning: “Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.” He took on all the evil and sin the world had been slogging through since the beginning and he defeated it—the innocent man takes on the shame of the world, the powers of evil, the fear of death, and he bears it on his own shoulders. The messiah—Abraham’s descendant, David’s descendant—blesses the whole world through his suffering.
On Sunday morning, however, the tomb was empty—the tomb surrounded by a garden (don’t miss the connection!). Jesus had risen and walked out the door, the finality of the curse of death from that first garden broken by the resurrection power. It was the first day of the week—an unmistakable sign that something new was happening: the new creation begun. By going through death and out the other side, Jesus demonstrates God’s power over sin and death, for once you defeat death, the enslaving power of sin goes away along with it. Paul will say that Jesus’ resurrection “according to the Scriptures” was the fulfillment of an ancient promise—the reverse of the curse of death. He is the new Adam, the one through whom life and not death comes into the world. Paul will call the empty tomb the “first fruits”—the prototype of that great day to come when we, too, shall be raised to new life and death will be no more—that day when the new creation becomes a reality for all of us. This is the future in which we are called to walk in the present—to recognize God’s new creation breaking in around us, to not fear the power of death because we know it will be broken, to not be slaves to sin because we know it will have no power over us. Easter invites us to walk into a new future!
Cleopas and Steve saw the stranger walk ahead of them as if he were going to keep on walking. But they invited him to stay—it was evening, after all. Jesus may have smiled at that—evening must’ve been a good time for the risen Son of God to be walking around on this first day of the new creation.
He went into the house to stay with them and they sat down at the table where, suddenly, the guest became the host. He took the bread and he blessed it and broke it and in that simple action, Luke says, “their eyes were opened.” Not like in Genesis where human eyes were opened to shame, sin, and death. There at the table, the disciples’ eyes were opened to a new creation, a new life made possible by God taking a walk out of the tomb.
Jesus disappeared at that point—there were others to see, other walks to make that night. Cleopas and Steve started walking back to Jerusalem, back to their friends, back those 14,000 steps to tell them what they had seen, their hearts “burning” from the realization that the long walk of humanity, the story told in the Scriptures, actually had a better destination than any of them could have imagined.
Easter invites us to walk toward a new creation.
Today, the Word and the table still speak to us. Through them, Jesus invites us to walk with him into a new future: a new creation. We can begin to live that life right now—to see our sins forgiven, our lives given new purpose, our stress and fear of death broken by the power of resurrection. We are invited to walk this story.
Come to think of it, that might be the reason that Luke doesn’t name the other disciple. We have playfully called him Steve but he could be Bob, Lynne, Mary, Ted…anyone here. I think that’s the point Luke is trying to make. Easter is when all of us gather to listen and let our hearts burn when the Scriptures are opened to us (the book is better than the movie, by the way). All of us can meet Jesus at the table, all of us are called to go walking and tell others what we’ve seen and heard about our encounter with Jesus. All of us can live in the present with the future hope of new creation in mind and adjust our steps to fall in sync with what God is up to in our neighborhoods, our communities, and our world.
After the disciples saw Jesus, they then took their own long walks around the world sharing the good news that is the climax of this bigger story—the story of the Bible, the story of God and the story of us. It wasn’t just something they believed—it was their vocation. Being a Christian is a vocation, not a status. To follow Christ means that we embark on a journey to do the transforming work of the new creation—we look around us and walk toward those places where people are broken, hungry, hurting, or oppressed. We remember and work at Jesus’ mission: good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim God’s favor! That’s how the new creation breaks in—we do the work of Jesus until he returns and takes over as the world’s true king, defeating death and reigning over the powers of this world. The resurrection is the sign of that promise—God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, and changing everything.
Cleopas and his friend felt their hearts burning that day. Actually, a burning heart is the sign of a good Methodist. John Wesley said at his conversion that he had felt his heart “strangely warmed.” Easter is a time for warm hearts and changed lives. If you are feeling a strange warmness in your heart on this Easter day, go and tell someone the good news. Go and share in Jesus’ work in those places where the evil and injustice of this world still seem to hold on. Go with the good news on your lips: “The Lord has risen indeed!”
Or maybe you still wonder about all of this and still don’t know where you fit in the story? Then I encourage you to do what those disciples did on the road to Emmaus: listen to the story again and again, and then come to the table and know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Those first disciples didn’t know what it all meant, but they kept walking and Jesus met them there. He will meet you, too. He will offer you himself—his love, his grace, his forgiveness, a new life. All you have to do is take the first step and say, “Jesus, make yourself known. I want to be part of your story. I want to walk with you.”
They say walking lowers stress and prolongs our lives. Walking the way of Jesus is the only way to beat death in the end. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!