Luke tells us Jesus was known to his disciples in the breaking of bread. Sounds like holy communion. Could also be the communion of other things. Communion: community is where Luke is always headed, from the beginning of his gospel to its end: from bread shared with the Risen Lord toward the kindred hope of feeding the world, sharing life with people right next to us and people we’ve never met.
Strangers, we call them.
The Emmaus story happens on the holy ground of meeting a stranger. Or someone who looks like a stranger. As stories go, it means to reminds us how profoundly we need other people and how profoundly they need us. And how that need and that meeting are where we meet Jesus, himself a stranger made known in the breaking of bread and sharing of life.
If you’ll notice at the outset today, Luke lets us in on a little secret. He tells us the stranger is really Jesus only the disciples don’t know it yet. All they know is how gone Jesus is, no longer with them the way he used to be. So they share the story of how he came to go missing with the stranger who happens to be Jesus already there, like a fugitive Christ hidden away in plain view if only we had the eyes to see him.
Often we experience God as a kind of fugitive presence : hidden from view till glimpsed suddenly in unexpected meetings with strangers or strange things. Or in meetings with people we’ve known for years who suddenly seem strange to us. Different than we’d always thought. Holy, somehow. Like we’re seeing some fugitive grace we overlooked.
A friend recently shared how one day, while she was working with people suffering from memory loss, she saw a man who used to be on top of his game in the business world yet now had lost the capacity to remember much of his life. For him the world was less familiar than it once was. One morning my friend saw him sitting on the front row with other people lost in the same struggle. He was singing Fairest Lord Jesus, word for word at the top of his lungs, his face lit up with joy. She’d always known him to be a strong man, but that day she beheld him as a holy man sharing something there all along, made known to him in a hymn, made known to my friend in his face. There it was: the beauty of Jesus.
When you think about it, Luke’s gospel is full of meetings like that. Think of the Virgin Mary meeting the Angel Gabriel. Fear not, fear not. Or of Mary herself meeting up with her cousin Elizabeth, both of them pregnant (Mary with Jesus, Elizabeth with John the Baptist), the Lord and the Prophet not yet born, for the moment hidden away in their mothers like a pair of fugitive strangers who’ll meet up one day ahead. Or think of Joseph and Mary coming to the Temple with their newborn son, meeting Simeon and Anna, a pair of strangers who know them on sight.
By Luke’s telling, meetings have life-changing potential. We come upon them from one direction while others head toward them — toward us! — from another direction. They’re loaded with potential favor and peril. They’re what stories are made of, and are so essential to how we live, every culture has its own way of negotiating how they should happen: what words to use and gestures to make when we meet somebody for the first time.
Back home I have a silver chatelaine, essentially a little book of ivory dance cards no bigger than a matchbook. It’s the sort of thing a woman would have worn over a hundred years ago in a ballroom full of potential dance partners. On the cover is a monogram: the letter M.
M for Mary or Madeline, maybe Margaret. She’s a stranger to me. No relation at all. I bought her dance card years ago, and have no idea how it came into my alien hands for sale. Why I remember her today is this: on one of the ivory pages, she wrote in pencil, May 20. Beset by a love that will last till death do us part. It’s a line tells you one day she met a stranger who changed her life. Strangers can do that to us.
I think the Emmaus Road calls us to the transfiguring work of meeting strangers with every hope that Christ is mysteriously there, waiting for us to see him. Know him. Love him.
This isn’t only true in stories that unfold on dance floors. It’s true in ordinary encounters we have every day, in sudden moments when we meet Jesus in another person. God lives in any and all people, is made known to us in holy encounters with other people.
Flannery O’Conner, Savannah’s great literary star, prayed often to the Archangel Raphael. Angels are the messengers of God. And so she prayed: O Raphael, lead us [toward] those we are waiting for, [toward] those who are waiting for us! Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead us by the hand [toward] those we are looking for! May all our movements [and] all their movements, be guided by your Light and transfigured by your Joy
This day we meet at the Altar and raise our hands to receive the presence of Christ. It’s a happy meeting that nourishes us for happy meetings, for seeing Christ hidden away in each of us. Every stranger, every friend, every person.
 Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013), 21.
 Flannery O’Connor, Collected Works, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., Library of America, 1988) 984, 1214.