(May 4, 2014)
(Acts 2:14a-36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 11-18; 1 Peter 1:13-25; Luke 24:13-35)
An ancient folktale tells of the arrival of an old tramp in a small town one winter day. He was hungry, cold, and tired.
The villagers were not welcoming. They offered neither food nor accommodation. Indeed they were reluctant to even acknowledge his existence.
But though the tramp was poor, he was not unwise. He quietly set up a large pot in the middle of the marketplace, kindled a fire, and began to prepare a meal.
As the water boiled he produced from his pocket an old, bent nail. With both drama and flair he placed the nail in his hand, held it over the steaming pot, dropped it into the water, and began to stir.
Very soon a young man came up and asked, ‘What are you making Old man?’
‘Nail Soup’, the stranger replied. ‘It is delightful to taste and will sustain like the heartiest of meals. The trouble is I’ve used this nail for the past week. This batch will be a little thin. If only I could find some carrots’
The young man was very impressed having never heard of ‘Nail Soup’. He quickly ran to his home, and returned a few minutes later with three fresh carrots. Gratefully, the visitor, with a similar sense of occasion, dropped the carrots in the pot.
Soon a young woman also found the courage to approach. She too asked, ‘What are you making old man?’
‘Nail Soup’, he answered. ‘It is delightful to taste and will sustain like the heartiest of meals. The trouble is I’ve used this nail for the past week. This batch will be a little thin. If only I could find some potatoes.’
The young woman was also impressed. She ran to her pantry and a few minutes later returned with her gift: five large potatoes. They too were ceremonially added to the pot.
By now many of the villagers were coming to hear, and smell, the delights of ‘Nail Soup’. To each the traveller spoke of all its benefits and hinted at other additions that would improve the now eagerly anticipated meal: salt, onions, a mixture of fresh herbs, a portion of beef, and an aged wine to sip alongside. He even remembered aloud the delights of eating ‘Nail Soup’ to live music and the dancing that followed.
And for each suggestion there was found a curious and willing soul keen to contribute.
Soon the rich broth was ready and the entire village gathered to taste the wonders of ‘Nail Soup’. It was more full, hearty, and life-giving than any dared anticipate. All, including the tramp, ate more than enough. Indeed, the music and dancing extended into the morning hours.
The next morning the tramp thanked the villagers for a memorable night and left. But just before he did he presented the old bent nail to his new-found friends.
I wonder what this story might say to us. Perhaps it talks of the call for the church to prompt question and curiosity as we heard in our Acts reading. Perhaps it hints at the call to offer grace even when it is unlikely to be returned. Perhaps it speaks of the process of learning to love.
Maybe, like our Gospel account, it speaks of to us of the value and process of community formation. The disciples in our reading gather around an unpromising and unexpected hope. From their perspective the death of Jesus is surely – even with these rumours of an empty tomb – as uninviting as a bent nail.
We know little of Cleopas and his companion except that they are described as followers of Jesus who ‘…hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’
But now this hope is all but dashed. Their journey away from Jerusalem and their fellow disciples embodies their resignation. With Jesus gone they see no reason to stay.
Perhaps your faith has taken a similar a knock. Maybe you too find yourself moving in a faithless direction simply because they way you once trusted seems so irrevocably blocked.
Early in this journey, however, the two are joined by a third. Luke, helpfully, informs us that this is Jesus. But the disciples have no such insight. They must listen to, and travel with, Jesus for some time before they discover that he was always there.
Perhaps this slow revelation of how close God is rings true to your experience. Living through the unexpected can feel like God’s abandonment until we look back and see God’s embrace.
This new companion does not, however, initially inspire trust. Three days out from his execution Jesus remains so widely considered they are surprised to encounter one so monumentally uninformed: ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
But it is soon apparent that their companion knows more. We may be frustrated by Luke’s lack of detail, but this traveller interprets these last few days using the writings of ‘Moses and all the prophets.’ It must have been a theological feast.
The hidden Jesus is persuading them of the merit in his question: ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’
Toward the end of their journey our account reads as though Jesus is angling for an invite. He acts as if he intends to go further. Its effect is to empower them to express, perhaps even to discover, their deepening desire for more.
God is ever desiring, inviting, waiting, indeed fishing, for your hospitality.
And as a direct result of their inviting Jesus in, he is revealed. In the blessing and braking of the bread they see more than they ever imagined: ‘…their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…’
Maybe you too have encountered Jesus unexpectedly. Sometimes the Spirit of Jesus appears when and in whom we least expect. Often this reveals, to our surprise, how close the one we accuse of abandoning us really is.
And then after all this Jesus vanishes. It suggests his purpose is accomplished. He visited that these two might – in both the scriptures and his bread-breaking – see him in ‘his glory’. Jesus has restored lost hope.
And their response to all this? ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ They feel they should have identified him earlier. These burning hearts have been aflame before.
For Cleopas and his friend it is enough to ‘immediately’ get them back on the road. They are now heading, not from, but to, Jerusalem and their fellow disciples.
It is a turn-around moment, the essence of a conversion that calls us to love God and others.
It is only as they arrive, however, that they find their journey replicated in Jesus’ closest disciples. They are aflame with their own discovery: ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’
Isn’t it all just like our journey of faith? We think God is doing something in us we will never be able to explain only to discover that God is working similarly in a wider circle than we ever imagined.
Somehow, our story is not ancient history. Mysteriously, the road to Emmaus rings true to many followers today. The same risen Jesus continues to be ‘made known’ in our gathering, our conversing, our sharing, our proclaiming, and our re-telling.
The more I consider this account the more I am convinced that the experience of these early disciples embodies exactly who the church is called to be: a community gathered by and around the risen Christ.
Better even, I would suggest, than ‘Nail Soup’