The Walk to Emmaus
Sing a few lines. Oh, what a joyful song! How wonderful! We proclaim it on Easter morn and throughout the Easter Season. We sing delightedly at the shared memory of women in mourning, going to the tomb after the Sabbath to keep their Jewish traditions around death but finding it empty. We sing, inviting everyone to come and see what we see! The tomb is empty! Sing Alleluia!
The disciples were not singing.
Now, two our disciples are walking to a town called Emmaus. They may have even been running away, escaping from all that was happening in Jerusalem. It was The Easter Sunday, though we know this with 2000+ years of hindsight. The disciples are mourning, terrified, overwhelmed with grief, astounded at the news from some women that hung out with them that THE TOMB IS EMPTY. This is not a thing that should be happening. They were not singing; they were crying.
A man walking the same way joins them and asks what they were talking about. Our friends are taken aback that the man had no idea, and they tell him about their friend, their prophet Jesus, whom they thought was their savior and their everything and who was going to fix all that is wrong with the world…but turns out now he isn’t even in the tomb where they buried him, and WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN ANYWAY?!
Now we know that this man is Jesus, and Jesus knows what’s going on, of course. As he approached the disciples, Jesus had clouded their eyes so they wouldn’t recognize him. This gives Jesus a chance to see what the disciples thought of everything that has happened and talk to them about it.
Disguised Jesus begins to explain the scriptures, drawing the parallels between the Scripture and what happened with the disciples’ friend Jesus. He chides them for not recognizing it on their own, and he answers their questions and amazes the disciples with his knowledge of a man they lived with for three years but did not understand.
When Disguised Jesus acts like he is going to continue on, the disciples realize how much they like this stranger, and they want to spend more time with him. They ask him to stay and have dinner with them and rest the night before continuing on in the morning.
They sit down to dinner. Disguised Jesus picks up bread. He says a blessing. Disguised Jesus breaks the bread, and he is no longer disguised. The disciples recognize their friend instantly, and then Jesus is gone.
This is what I had a hard time understanding for a long time. Why Disguised Jesus? Why would Jesus wait so long to allow them to recognize him? Why wouldn’t he just appear as himself and explain to the disciples what was happening?
The disciples wouldn’t have been able to handle it. They weren’t ready. It took that long walk to another town, time to share what happened with a ‘stranger’, time to hear what the scripture meant, time to rekindle that longing for more—to learn more, to know more, to hear more, to see more, to feel more—to prepare them to find out who Jesus was. The disciples had more immediate needs that had to be met before they would be ready for all they were to hear. Disguising himself gives Jesus a chance to see what the disciples thought of everything that has happened and talk to them about it.
When they are ready, they recognize Jesus through broken bread. They see their friend for who he truly is, not just the prophet they’ve followed for years, but the Messiah. They say, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us? Were not our hearts burning inside? How did we not recognize him? How did we not know what we were seeing, to whom we were talking?’
Each of us is on the journey to Emmaus. Every day, we struggle to understand what is happening and why. We want to know why it can’t all be fixed, why everyone can’t just get along. We do not understand. Our sisters and brothers in this world are on a similar journey. The trauma and pain they are working through is not the same as ours, but it is similar.
When things are going poorly, we often say things like, I just want it better. I just want my hip fixed…yesterday. I just want to be finished with school and be able to move on to the next part of my life. I just want to it to be the weekend. I just want my kid not to be in the Terrible Twos (or Threes or Thirteens). We know it’s going to take a lot of work to get there, and we don’t want to have to go through it. We just want the Good Parts Version, without all the mucking about in hyperspace suffering or hard work to get there.
But so much comes from the journey that without it, we wouldn’t be ready. Or we would miss out on so much that happens in the meantime that we wouldn’t be the same person on the other side. One thing I remind myself of pretty regularly is that I wouldn’t be who I am and doing what I do if I hadn’t gone through the things I have. My walk to Emmaus has brought me from place to place, life event to life event, job to job, stressor to comfort, depression to joy, fear to contentment. Each step prepares us for the next, and when we are ready, the cloudiness over our eyes and over our understanding lifts and allows us to see what we have been waiting for.
Our challenge today as Christians in this crazy-scary world is to join with others as we Walk to Emmaus. We meet people where they are, from where we are. We are challenged to take the time to look at our neighbors and remember their journey is full of uneven ground and potholes and detours and sometimes even collapsing retaining walls. We are called to recognize the stranger among us as a friend, as a person whom we need and who needs us. We are called to recognize that burning inside us as our souls recognizing the divine in the soul of another, the Divine in me recognizing the Divine in you, seeking the Christ in one another. We walk together on the Road to Emmaus, waiting in anticipation for what is to come.