Monday, April 24, 2006

A Chaplain's Sermon: The Road to Emmaus

Every hospital has one corridor that, at 2:00 a. m. seems seven miles long. That's something I've learned in all my years as a chaplain. Things like: hospitals do not all look alike, and yet they all look like hospitals; and every hospital has one corridor that, at 2:00 a. m. seems seven miles long.

It doesn't really matter how long that corridor actually is. It doesn't matter that in daylight, in the hustle and bustle of patients and families and staff it's nowhere near that long. At 2:00 a. m. it seems to stretch out forever - at least seven miles.

We know that hallway well. We've seen it in those empty hours. We know just how long it is. We know it's longest when we walk it with a grieving family. We walk with them as make that long journey, leaving in shock and bewilderment, leaving someone they love behind.

The road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is seven miles. Cleopas and his companion walk that long road, walking in shock and bewilderment. Trying to make sense of it all, they are talking of the past few days, of loss and hope and mystery and confusion. They walk and talk, and realize they are not alone. Someone is with them, someone who at first seems clueless, and then seems to know more than they do about their subject. Once he is on their topic he explains to them the context for what has happened - how scripture predicted it, how prophets foretold it, how the love of God required it. He speaks and carries them with him, and suddenly the road is not so long. He stops with them when they ask. He sits at table, he breaks bread, he is Jesus - Jesus whom they know, Jesus whom they love, Jesus whom they mourn - and then he is gone. He is gone, but his presence continues to lift them up, and they run - they run as if their feet had wings - all that long road back to Jerusalem; and they remember that while he was with them their poor, sad hearts were not cold anymore.

Every hospital has a corridor that, at 2:00 a.m., seems seven miles long, and longest when we walk it with a grieving family. And as we walk with them, at first we seem clueless – we are clueless. But as we walk with them by God’s grace we can reflect to them the presence of Christ. We may not break bread with most of them. We may not even share the same scriptures. But we can reflect that presence. We can provide a context, because we know what the Scriptures promised, what prophets foretold, what God’s love has accomplished.

Every hospital has a corridor that, at 2:00 a.m., seems seven miles long, and longest when we walk it with a grieving family. But we can walk with them, as Christ walked to Emmaus. We can share the love of Christ, made visible in us; and by God’s grace their walk can seem shorter; their feet can feel lighter, and their poor, sad hearts can feel less cold.

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
Preached at the Eucharist at the Annual Meeting of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains
April 10, 2005

2 comments:

Bill said...

You know from my last post that this sermon really speaks to me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am deeply greatful for this reflection on the "walk." I seem to get stuck on the question of why they did not recognize Christ and never move on to the despair, the opening of the word and ultimately the power of breaking bread.

Your words are part of my new understanding as I study this year.

deacongates