Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon! Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Luke 24:13-35 (Road to Emmaus)
Outside of the name Cleopas, we don’t really know much about these two people walking to Emmaus. There’s a tradition that they’re husband and wife, but the text doesn’t really say that. All we can imagine is that they were part of the larger group of disciples that had followed him, considered him a prophet, and had pinned their hopes on Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. And now, walking dejectedly back home towards Emmaus, they were rehashing the events of the past week, and wondering how they could have been so very wrong. How had they come to pin their hopes on a man crucified as a common criminal, and how could they make sense out of an empty tomb? Disappointment, dejection, self-doubt, hopelessness and shattered dreams – all this and more must have weighed upon them in one heavy step after another.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? In that place of deep sorrow, betrayal, or dejection when all that we had planned or hoped for fell apart in one fell swoop … maybe it was the promotion we really wanted but didn’t get; the child we longed for but were never able to conceive; the marriage that ended before it really got started; the inheritance we were expecting that got left to someone else; the illness that struck without warning and changed our lives overnight. Hopes and dreams are often what keep us going, and the sad but inevitable truth is that for most if not all of us, there often comes a day when hope fails and dreams become nightmares. And so it was for the two on the road to Emmaus. Hope had turned into a pill too bitter to swallow; and dreams had flown away like dried leaves in a brisk fall wind.
It’s an intriguing fact that the actual site of the town of Emmaus has never been located by archaeologists – and that mysterious little tidbit just adds more colour and depth to the story – because if Emmaus in fact never existed, then these two in the gospel account are on the proverbial road to nowhere. And how many of us, when in the depths of despair, wouldn’t say that we too are travelling that road? When hopes and dreams desert us, it can feel like we lose our spiritual compass as well, and nowhere seems to be our only likely destination.
Ah, but what look what happens. Our travelling pair suddenly has a companion, and in answer to his questions, they find themselves sharing the whole sad story, admitting to the death of their hope. And suddenly the strange companion clarifies a few things for them. “You were expecting the Christ to win the power struggle with the authorities? Don’t be silly – he wasn’t supposed to win that struggle – he was supposed to lose it. Look into Isaiah and you’ll understand – the Christ didn’t come to be the undefeated champion – he’s the broken one, the suffering servant, with wounds there for all to see. We recognize him not by his strength, but by his scars. Gradually light dawns – and they realize – maybe they aren’t losers after all; maybe there is reason to resurrect their crucified hope. Intrigued, and wanting more, when they reach their destination they say to the stranger, AStay with us. And then an unusual thing happens – gathered around their table, he does something they have seen him do before – he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them – something they have seen him do before on a hillside with 5 loaves and 2 fish, something they have seen him do in an upper room with unleavened bread and Passover wine. And as he holds the torn pieces out to them, they understand. Their eyes are opened, and the recognition is complete.
And I guess the question for me is ‘Why?’ Why would a story be saved for the ages about two obscure people who couldn’t recognize Jesus even if they tripped over him? And I guess the answer is that their proverbial blindness isn’t a handicap – just because they’re unable to recognize him doesn’t stop Christ from coming to them. His post-resurrection appearances aren’t limited to those who have complete faith, complete vision, or complete confidence. Instead, he comes to the grieving, to the doubtful, and to the hopeless…. to those who don=t know their scriptures, and those who don’t recognize him even when he’s right there beside them. He comes to those who have given up; he comes to those who think that they’re on the road to nowhere. But he comes – in fact, he’s there when we least expect or anticipate it – whether we recognize him or not.
Here in the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus lies the formula around which the church has lived and thrived for ages upon ages. The elements of the story tell it all – first there’s the closeness of the two disciples on the road, sharing their journey of life and faith; then their reaching out to a stranger and including him in their walk; then there’s the way the words of Scripture find new life and meaning in their hearts; and then there’s how they know him in the breaking of the bread. We know these four cornerstones as fellowship, hospitality, word, and sacrament – all of them ways that Christ has promised to be present with us…. and they are the everyday activities of the people of God who attend to one another, to strangers, to God’s word, and to the sacraments as a way of life…..offering our own brokenness to a broken world, sustained by the One who himself was broken for us.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Amen.
The Venerable Nancy Adams