According to the Gospels Jesus was an epic walker.
Cari Haus, who writes for the Web site ILuvWalking.com, says Jesus traveled distances on foot that are mind-boggling to those of us who are used to moving while seated.
Haus says that if we take the Gospels at face value we can see just how far he journeyed. For instance, Jesus, as a young boy, would have walked about 400 miles with his parents during their return from Egypt to Nazareth.
As a devout Jew in Galilee, every male would travel to Jerusalem three times a year for religious festivals, which meant a 240-mile round trip from Nazareth. If Jesus followed this pattern every year between the ages of 5 and 30, he would have walked 18,000 miles in trips to Jerusalem alone (3 x 240 x 25).
Based on the Gospel accounts, Jesus traveled 3,125 miles in his three-year public ministry. That means a conservative estimate of the distance Jesus walked during his lifetime was 21,525 miles. That’s a lot of sandals!
Jesus’ lifetime of long walks allowed him the opportunity to see faces, hear stories, experience the hospitality of strangers and even their inhospitality, and feel the connection between the land and its people.
Jesus led his disciples on a journey that gave them the best kind of laboratory for learning what God was doing in Jesus’ ministry and throughout the world—all while they got to explore and experience their role with it all.
What it all shows, is that walking with Jesus throughout life will lead you to some incredible places—not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. That is the journey all of us put ourselves on when we made the life changing decision to walk with Jesus.
And today, two from our church family, Elise and Kaedyn, are starting, “officially” as Kaedyn said to me the other day— their walk with Jesus today.
While all the walking that Jesus did was important, perhaps one of his most important walks happened on the seven-mile stretch from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Two disciples of Jesus, one named Cleopas and an unnamed other, are walking away from the disaster of Good Friday and the puzzling miracle of Easter.
Luke doesn’t tell us why Emmaus is their destination. Are they fleeing to a hiding place? Do they have relatives there? Is it simply a place to hole up and think about what just happened? Most of the other disciples had decided to hunker down and stay put in Jerusalem, but these two keep walking, and the risen Jesus, who is still walking, joins them on the road.
Jesus comes to them as a stranger who joins them on the way, and gets in on the idle conversation. He asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
Cleopas wonders if their fellow traveler has been living in a cave for the last several days and goes on to tell him the story of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth— from their hope about him as “the one to redeem Israel”, to his tragic crucifixion and the bewilderment of the empty tomb.
These two followers of Jesus had walked with him on at least some of those 3,125 miles, and all that time they thought they were moving toward a promised destination. Now they seemed to be just walking, with no real purpose in mind. But as the stranger walks with them on this road to nowhere, he begins to tell them about a longer journey they had been on all along.
Starting with the journey of God’s people and liberation in Egypt under Moses, to the time of the prophets and through all the signs along the way, Jesus walked them through God’s plan for God’s people that led to his own death and resurrection—all of it as both a destination and a new beginning.
Upon arriving in Emmaus, the two disciples invite this stranger to stay with them, and then, when sitting at table together, they suddenly recognize it’s the risen Jesus they’ve been walking with all along. But then Jesus disappears, which prompted them to start walking back to Jerusalem and into a new future. Emmaus wasn’t their finish line after all.
Going back to Jerusalem that night to tell the disciples what happened was not their destination either. Both were just more stops on the journey of walking with Jesus, because the truth about walking with Jesus is that the walk never ends.
If there’s anything the Emmaus Road story teaches us, it’s that the disciples of Jesus are at their best when they keep walking with him.
Discipleship is never a drive-by or fly-by process, in which we can look for instant results and ignore the people and places we whiz by every day. Disciples of Jesus recognize that their lives are a journey of following Jesus and learning from him, but also looking for him in the faces of strangers who join them on the way. Disciples of Jesus are willing to follow him despite the inhospitable people encountered along the way, and they offer hospitality to others who may not yet recognize him. Disciples also know that they can’t walk the journey alone. Earlier in Luke we see Jesus sending his disciples out two by two. Later, in our text for today, it was two who traveled together on the road to Emmaus who show us this, even imploring the unknown Jesus to stay with them for the night and not to go on alone.
Discipleship is a long-haul process, one where we are called to see all faces as children of God, to hear all stories as part of the Creation story, to experience hospitality and extend hospitality, to love everyone, even our enemies, as we are loved by God through Jesus.
That is our role as those who walk with Jesus.
We begin our walk with Jesus when we confess with our lips that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of the living God. We begin our walk with Jesus when we’re dipped in the waters of baptism.
No doubt we need nourishment along the way, which is given to us in the bread of life and the cup of salvation, that comes through Christ’s gracious sacrifice.
No matter where we live and move in the world, we are to remember that it’s Jesus who leads us, provides for us and walks beside us.
It is a great and glorious walk that all of us are on, a walk that will one day continue on into eternity.
And what a great and glorious time it is, to see two from our church family, begin, “Officially”, their walk with Jesus.
So may we all celebrate today for Elise and Kaedyn.
For today, like all of us did one day before, they have arrived at a destination that is the day of their confessions of faith, their baptisms, and their first communion.
But this is also a day of a new beginning—a new beginning within the body of Christ, and as those who walk with Jesus. Amen.