During the first half of the twentieth century, an epidemic spread throughout the United States that struck fear in the hearts of many Americans. Numerous outbreaks of this particular disease surged during the heat of the summer months. People were afraid to go on vacation or to travel far from their homes. At the peak of the epidemic, somewhere between 10 and 20 million people had been infected and over 250,000 were left paralyzed for the rest of their lives. This disease, of course, was polio. And this disease that caused widespread panic over several decades until finally, on this date, April 26, 1954, field testing for a vaccine began in northern Virginia and within one year the vaccine was proven to be effective. Up until that moment in history, exactly 66 years ago today, this disease caused fear and confusion and uncertainty – until there was a breakthrough, until there was a moment when everything shifted, a moment when suddenly, there was hopeand renewal and a sense of promise for the future.
In many ways, we are all searching for breakthrough moments in our lives! A breakthrough is a moment of discovery. It’s a moment of clarity. It’s a moment of revelation. A breakthrough is when you and I seesomething that has been there all along, but now our eyes have been opened to see it. The Bible is full of breakthrough moments, and one of those moments just happens to be described in our gospel reading today.
In our reading from the gospel of Luke, it is still Easter day. The women have only just discovered the empty tomb. The news of resurrection is still sketchy and somewhat scary. And so, two disciples of Jesus, one of whom is named Cleopas, decide that they have had enough. It’s time to skip town. It’s time to move on with their lives. So, they make their way down a dusty road to a small village named Emmaus. But, you know, what is significant about their journey is not so much the fact that they are heading toward Emmaus, but the fact that they are walking away from Jerusalem.
You see, Jerusalem was the place where they thought Jesus was going to accomplish a great victory. Jerusalem was the place where they thought all their hopes would be fulfilled. Instead, Jerusalem ended up being the place where Jesus was crucified. And so, they are walking away from that pain and hurt, they are walking away from the fear and uncertainty, they were walking away from unmet expectations and unfulfilled dreams. They are walking away from Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was the place where they had experienced a profound sense of hopelessness and despair.
And yet, if we glance ahead, we see that at the end of the story, Cleopas and his companion make a dramatic turn back toward Jerusalem. At the end of the story, they suddenly get up from their seats, go back by the same road that they just traveled, and return to Jerusalem. These two disciples were moving in one direction and all of a sudden, everything changes. All of a sudden, they turn 180 degrees and begin moving in the other direction. Why? Because they have a breakthrough moment!
Cleopas and his companion are making their way down this dusty road away from Jerusalem and toward to Emmaus. They’re tired. They’re afraid. They’re confused. They’re going over the events of the past few days, trying to make sense of everything that has happened, when Jesus shows up and joins them on their journey. Now you and I know that this stranger is Jesus, but Cleopas and his friend have no clue! They have no idea that this is Jesus who is now walking with them down this road. Because their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And so, they just their story. They share their pain. They unload their disappointment and pain. The stranger begins to teach these two disciples about the Word of God, about the promises and faithfulness of God. But they still don’t recognize who it is that is speaking to them.
Until that night, when Cleopas and his companion invite the stranger to stay for dinner. And while they are sharing the evening meal, the stranger takes bread, he blesses the bread, he breaks the bread, and then he gives its to Cleopas and his friend. And in that moment when the bread is broken and given to them, and as they partake of that bread, their eyes are opened and they see the presence of the risen Christ in their midst.And all of a sudden, every makes sense.
This is their breakthrough moment.
This is their moment of discovery.
This is their moment of clarity, their moment of revelation.
This is the moment when they see the One who has been with them the whole time because now their eyes have been opened!
And in this breakthrough moment. Everything is changed! Where there was once fear, confusion, and uncertainty, there is now hope and renewal and promise for the future. Where there was once pain and disappointment, there is now joy and passion and determination. And this breakthrough moment happens in the breaking of the bread. Normally when I read this story, I immediately connect the breaking of the bread with the celebration of Holy Communion. I immediately make this a story about the sacrament that we partake of around this altar. And I don’t think that’s wrong.
But this year, when I read this story, I saw something different. It occurred to me that this breakthrough moment didn’t happen in a church around an altar. It happened in a home around a table. It didn’t happen during a formal liturgical celebration. It happened during an ordinary evening meal. Isn’t it interesting that during this time when most of us are stuck in our homes, we keep reading stories about God showing up in people’s homes. We keep reading stories about Jesus revealing himself in the midst of the ordinariness of daily life. That seems to be the way God works!
Now, of course, we are all praying for a scientific breakthrough when it comes to the pandemic that has stuck our nation and the world in which we live. But I believe that in the midst of these unprecedented times, there are spiritual breakthrough moments happening. Moments of discovery. Moments of clarity. Moments when we see something we have never seen before because suddenly our eyes are open!
And like with Cleopas and his companion, these breakthrough moments are happening in our homes; they are happening in the ordinary stuff of life. So, may that be our prayer this morning. Lord, open my eyes. Open my eyes to see your presence in my life. In the breaking of bread. In the sharing of a meal. In the song of a bird. In the laughter of a child. In the clatter of a thunderstorm. In the stillness of the morning. Lord, open my eyes.
My friends, Jesus is with you. The risen Christ is with you. The peace of his presence is with you. And because he is with you, the ordinariness of each moment comes with the possibility of breakthrough. And when that breakthrough happens, your life and my life will never be the same again.