The late Terry Wogan once said in his lilting Irish accent that he found continual talk of life being rather like a journey a bit tiresome. Why don’t people think of some other way of describing it he complained? I don’t recall him offering another analogy though. The idea that life is like a journey is overworked but on the other hand it is a helpful analogy otherwise people would not use it so often.
This brings us to the journey on the road to Emmaus which Luke alone recounts as a further resurrection appearance of Jesus. (Luke 24. 13-35) We are told that the distance is about seven miles, around two hours of brisk walking although some manuscripts record a greater distance. There are a number of settlements which have been identified as ‘Emmaus’ over the years. Clearly though this story is not about the walk itself. It is rather about the journey of discovery made by the disciples.
Luke has already made reference to the apostles earlier in the chapter and now describes how two of them are going to a village called Emmaus. Only later in the account does he record the name of one of the travellers: Cleopas. He was not one of the original twelve, but was clearly a member of the wider circle of disciples, possibly Judean rather than Galilean. It is suggested that Cleopas lived in Emmaus and was returning there after the tumultuous events of the weekend on the Sunday afternoon, not breaking the Sabbath by journeying on the Saturday. It is further suggested that the unnamed companion with him was his wife as the Greek language does not predicate the gender of the other person. However, if that were the case, it would seem odd that Luke of all the writers who takes delight in telling us about the women who supported Jesus’ ministry chooses to maintain the anonymity of the second person on the road. Is it possible that he would like us, his readers, to place ourselves in the position of the second traveller?
Where does the journey begin? Jerusalem we assume. Actually it begins with the initial conversations shared between the companions and subsequently the unrecognised Christ when he joins them. The discussions are about the ‘things that had happened.’ (verse 14) As Jesus draws alongside them as another walker on the road, he asks about this discussion and they stop still and look sad. They have been profoundly affected by the things which have happened and chide ‘the stranger’ for not knowing about them. How could he not know about these things as they have been the talk of the city? They tell Jesus everything that has happened unaware of the irony that they are talking to the principal player in the whole drama! They confide that they had thought that Jesus of Nazareth was the one to redeem Israel. (verse21) They were sad because he had been crucified. They considered themselves fools because Jesus had not delivered the redemption of Israel and they were further unnerved by the reports from the women that he might be alive.
Jesus’ reaction is one of amazement. ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!’ (verse 25) The disciples on the road are not in the right place. Their despondency is not merited. They have not understood the events in which they have been involved or the writings of the prophets. They need to journey to a new place of understanding. As they walk further along the road, Jesus explains to them how they were not mistaken about Jesus of Nazareth being the Messiah because they had seen him crucified. Rather, it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then enter into his glory. (verse 26) He then goes on to lead them in a bible study about himself in the scriptures.
Emmaus is reached and as the travellers come to their destination, possibly their home, the stranger Jesus carries on walking making it clear he has further to travel. As daylight is starting to fade, they urge him to stay the night. This would be a typical courtesy at the time. At supper, it is Jesus who takes the role of host in breaking the bread and in giving the customary blessing. It is in this action that the penny drops; that the stranger who had made their hearts burn on the road as he explained the scriptures was indeed Jesus. Perhaps it was in this familiar daily routine for devout Jews, something they had often seen Jesus do, that sparked that recognition. However, Luke records that ‘their eyes were opened.’ (verse 31) This suggests that the moment of recognition was not simply a work of the human brain, but a touch of the divine. What is clear is just how far these disciples have come. Yes, it may have been just seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but in their life journey, their journey of faith, they had journeyed all the way from sadness and grief to profound joy; from a life devoid of meaning and hope to one filled with purpose and expectation. No longer are they standing still, but that very hour, they get up and return to Jerusalem. Even though it is now dark, not really safe to travel and they are tired from walking seven miles in one direction, they return to meet up with the eleven apostles and others to share the good news. My guess is that the return journey was far quicker than the outbound one!
As we think about those disciples and the journey they made that first Easter Sunday afternoon, we do well to reflect on our own journey in life and journeys of faith. When were you first aware of the story of the bible, the person of Jesus and the events surrounding his death and resurrection? Who told you of these things? When did they first begin to make sense? When did your heart ‘burn’ as you heard the gospel explained to you? When was the time that you recognised Jesus as a living person? When did you first speak to him in prayer? For some, the answers to these questions are easy because they may have grown up knowing little of the bible’s message and the appeal of the living Jesus to their hearts but they can recall the occasion when they encountered him for the first time. For others, it is what we grew up with…but there is still the need for it to be our personal faith and not just that held by our families, teachers in school or Sunday School.
There are three markers, miles stones on the life journey made by the travellers on the Emmaus road. Firstly, they are helped to understand the meaning of their experiences and the scriptures that is the bible. This is an action of the mind, the brain. Secondly, they recognise Jesus; there is an encounter with him which pulls at their emotions and thirdly, seemingly to make all this happen, their eyes are opened: there is a supernatural touch of God, of his Spirit embracing their spirits.
I hope this journey of faith helps us to understand our experiences of the risen Jesus or if we have not encountered him, to begin that journey for ourselves. I hope also that it will help you to understand the processes involved and encourage you to support others on the journey too. I end with the words of the chorus of hymn that you may know:
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart
Easter 3 30.04.2017