You may listen to Mother Takacs's sermon here.
There are a few things that the rector enjoys teasing me about. He teases me that my cassock is too short, which he sees as some sort of low-church shortcoming of my education at the Protestant Episcopal Seminary of Virginia. He teases me because when the temperature dips below 65 degrees I start showing up to work in sweaters. Most recently, he teases me because a few months ago I converted to a standing desk in my office. Some of you have seen this – I have my computer monitor and keyboard up on a shelf so that I can stand while I work at my computer. This is actually a pretty hip trend in office ergonomics – the human body, experts tell us, is not designed to sit in a desk chair all day long week after week. Standing up, even if standing still, is better for you.
I enjoy my standing desk. It’s been much better for my back, for sure, and it helps me to feel a little more engaged, more active, even if what I’m doing are mostly mental exercises. The rector thinks that I am insane. But what he doesn’t know is that if I had my druthers, I would replace the anti-fatigue mat that I stand on with a small, low-speed treadmill. Because those same experts that tell us that standing is better than sitting also tell us that walking is better than standing, not only better for your body but better for your brain. Walking, even very, very slowly, increases blood flow, feeds your brain with delicious oxygen, thereby stimulating creative thinking, aiding your ability to make connections and reach conclusions, and helping with problem solving. If you’re stuck, experts tell us, go for a walk. It doesn’t just clear your head; it actually fills it up.
Jesus must have known this. He was always walking and doing something else at the same time – walking and talking, walking and teaching, walking and telling stories or posing questions or making prophecies. As they were going along the way, we read again and again in scripture, Jesus said, or Jesus asked them, or Jesus began to teach them. Sure we have the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, but there are also dozens of little sermons on the road.
Today’s Gospel is a prime example of this. These two followers of Jesus leave Jerusalem on Easter morning and decide to go for a walk. They head off to Emmaus with no apparent purpose in mind except to get moving and to get out of Dodge. And while they are walking and talking, the resurrected Christ comes up beside them and begins to walk along with them. Now, as we know, this resurrected Christ is not exactly like the Jesus they followed before. He seems to have the ability to transcend the laws of natural physics; he shows up out of nowhere and disappears again just as quickly. And there is something about him that makes it difficult for people to know him when they see him, something about his body that makes it difficult to recognize – perhaps, most obviously, that it is miraculously, surprisingly, not dead.
So if Jesus could show up anywhere at any time, he could have chosen to show up once these two travelers had gotten to where they were going. He could have taken the afternoon off, spent some more time with the Marys, put his feet up and enjoyed the sunny Sunday, and then popped up in Emmaus later. He could have knocked on the door, said, Hail, Cleopas, and…other guy, I am a poor wayfaring stranger, who suspects that you might be about to eat dinner. He could have talked to them about the events in Jerusalem, offered his refresher course on Moses and the prophets, all while they were setting an extra place at the table and still had plenty of time to take, bless, break, and hand over the bread. He still could have accomplished his purpose – to reveal himself to these two disciples in the act of breaking bread and send them scurrying along their way back to Jerusalem.
But Jesus doesn’t do this. Instead, he chooses to go out for a walk. He shows up along the road and uses the walk to teach, to ask questions, to begin the process of helping these two followers to see the truth of that wild Easter morning. For Jesus knows the power of walking. He knows the power of getting out there and moving. He knows that these disciples will do better with all of this if they’re walking, that they’ll make stronger connections, see the truth more clearly, love him more dearly. He knows that their hearts and minds will be more open, more alive, more energized if they’re walking. When they stop and stand still, looking sad, as they tell him of their lost best hope, Jesus gets them moving again, asking them questions, offering them new possibilities. He knows the power of walking, a power so great that it doesn’t apparently even matter where you’re going. The disciples are headed to Emmaus, and Jesus walks right along with them, even though he knows that they are going to end up running right back in the opposite direction and that all of this is essentially a fourteen mile round trip out of the way. But that’s okay. Because they’re walking, and the walking makes all the difference.
The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We know this to be true – the moment when Jesus reenacts the Last Supper for these two disciples is the moment when their eyes are opened, when they see that he is the Lord, the risen one, Jesus new and in the flesh. And we know that we, too, pray for our eyes to be opened to see Jesus in this way. It is the prayer that we pray in the sacristy before Mass every day – “Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great high priest, as you were present with the disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.” It is a good prayer, a reminder of the importance of kneeling here at this altar and knowing that Christ is present here and that what is put into your hands and into your mouths is, as one of my teachers used to say, the miraculous condensation of that presence, made real, touchable and tasteable for you and for me. This morning and again this afternoon at Benediction we are powerfully reminded of the gift that is this bread broken for us, a holy food, worthy of not only our gratitude but also our humble adoration.
But we know we cannot stay on our knees forever. At some point we must rise up and walk, especially during those times when you and I can get a little stuck. We get stuck in our faith, in our discipleship. We get a kind of followers block. So what is the best thing to do? Go for a walk. And I don’t just mean go for a walk to church, although that’s always a good idea. I mean just get out and go for a walk.
You can walk with a particular destination in mind – walk to the store to buy ingredients so you can make soup for the soup bowl, walk to choir practice so that you can offer your voice in praise, walk to see a holy person or a holy place, walk to the St. James School to mentor a student or to a neighbor’s house to check in on them after their surgery. You can walk with a particular motivation in mind – walk to raise money to support breast cancer research or to raise awareness about hunger or domestic violence or sex trafficking. You can walk in protest, like those who demand action about the horrible kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, or the assurance of a reasonable wage for all employees in this country, or the fair treatment and respect for all of those who are incarcerated.
Or you can just walk, without aim or direction but with mindfulness and intent. You can walk the streets of Philadelphia without your iPod-induced soundscape* and talk with Jesus about what you see there. What can I do for those who suffer from addictions? How can I help those who experience homelessness? How can I pray for those who rush by me looking stressed and overworked and anxious? How can I care for Creation here in this place? How can I share my joy, my smile, my eyes, my story? How can I tell those I see all around me that my heart is burning within me, that Christ is risen?
It doesn’t really matter where we’re going when we do this kind of walking, and we may end up somewhere we completely did not expect. We may even end up backtracking and ending up in the place where we started, perhaps, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “to know the place for the first time.”** So come and know Christ revealed here in this broken bread, but then rise up and walk. Go find your faith with your feet. And don’t be surprised to see Jesus, who is himself the way, fall in beside you along the road, happy, as ever to share in your walk.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
4 May 2014
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia
*This suggestion taken from an article on the BBC website about the UK's National Month of Walking.
**From Eliot's "Little Gidding."