[Isaiah 35:5-8; 2 Timothy 4:5-18; Luke 10:1-9]
He sent them out two by two. Sort of like the Ark in reverse. They go out bringing the good news of the Kingdom that has dawned already in the flesh of their Jesus – God has visited His people in mercy. And it is also a mercy that they go out two by two – not one alone. The Christian faith is not meant to be lived by anyone alone. Atheism can send you off alone to meet your fate, but not Christianity. For the entire time we live and walk the highway of holiness, that Isaiah spoke of, we walk that road in company with others – as the prophet would say towards the end of that chapter, singing together as we come home to Zion.
Paul mentioned some of his dear companions: Luke who stuck with him; his wish to see John Mark again; his friend Tychicus dispatched to Ephesus. Family members, brothers united by a bond stronger than earthly kinship – united together in the waters of baptism and given to each other for eternity. Children of the age to come walking together toward the glorious renewal of this creation that would come about when their Brother, their Lord, their Master returns.
But sometimes in our walking the way of the Lord there is a lonely stretch or two. Paul tasted it: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” All? Even St. Luke?
The Lord gives you companions on this way, but they are sinners. Frail men and women of faith. And sometimes they will let you down. Sometimes one that you thought was a rock you could lean on for sure, will also fail.
Does that mean you then are called to walk the way alone? No! Paul found that out too. In that horrid moment when all his fellow pilgrims swerved from his side, THE faithful Pilgrim remained: “but the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”
Even in the darkest moments of the journey, when you ache for a human companion to be with you, you will find that that is exactly what you have: a good Shepherd who walks with you fearlessly into the valley of the shadow of death. He knows the way in and He knows the way out. He walked it already. And He’s made a path for you to walk with Him.
And you can know then that His companionship is actually everything. In companionship with the One who prayed forgiveness for his tormenters, Paul also prays forgiveness for those who lacked the courage to stand with him at the trial. “May it not be charged against them!”
Ah, this is the way of walking the path in companionship with Jesus. When our human companions fall flat on their faces, when they disappoint us and let us down – then in the companionship of Him who knew the loneliness of Gethsemane and the abandonment of Golgotha, we pray with Him: “Lord, forgive them.”
But when so-called companions turn against the message and no longer walk in the way of our Lord Jesus, in the path of repentance and faith, then the prayer is of another sort – such as Alexander the Coppersmith received: “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds.”
Today we celebrate St. Luke. He may not have stood with Paul at that first defense, but according to the church’s unanimous tradition, he actually did go on to give a defense of the faith himself. Maybe all alone as far as visible companions went, but like Paul, there was One who stood by him, strengthened him, and gave him words of power and grace. Thanks be to God, though, that before that happened, St. Luke did his research, wrote down his Gospel, recording for us so many wondrous things we’d have never known otherwise. Like the two on the road to Emmaus. Two and two again. Only it wasn’t just two. There was Another. Another who came to cheer them along their road of sorrow and chase the anguish from their hearts with the gift of His preaching and presence – the bread broken upon the table and then they knew.
So you too, friends, as you walk this way – you have each other. Each other will let you down over and over again as we stumble along in the way. But there is One who walks with you and will never let you down. He will break the bread for you anew today and you will know that He who is the Forgiveness of all Sins walks with you, gives you His own body and blood. He gives Himself to be your travelling companion all the way - until the bright lights of home shine upon the path and you enter with Him to find the party. Angels and archangels, yes, plus all the company of heaven. St. Luke there, St. Paul there, St. Tychicus and St. Titus and St. Mark and all the saints. The stumbling, bumbling ones along the Lord’s road who found that in their faithful Companion they had the one friend who would never leave them, and who gave them the strength to go on, to whom be glory with His Father and His Holy Spirit, now and to the ages of ages.