The Road to Emmaus
Reflection from Rev’d Julia Porter-Pryce
Sunday 26 April 2020
Emmaus was an ancient town about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. The Hebrew name for the place meant warm spring. One of the oldest versions of the Gospel of Luke reads Oulammaus instead of Emmaus. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament scriptures, Oulammaus was the place where Jacob was visited by God in his dream, while sleeping on a rock. But Oulammaus was not a real place name at all. It was created by a mistake in translation. The original name in Hebrew was Luz. This mistake was still there at the time when the Gospel was written around 100 AD. Some bible scholars say that the story in Luke’s Gospel was merely symbolic, wanting to draw a parallel between Jacob being visited by God and the disciples being visited by Jesus.
In Luke’s telling of the story we are told that on the same day two of them were on the road to Emmaus. One of them is named Cleopas. He may have been a brother of Joseph, Jesus’ uncle. It is strange that the other is not named. Perhaps the writer intended the listener to place themselves in the role of the unnamed disciple. As we dig deeper into the story of the companions of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, notice how you it draws you in.
I wonder if they were intending to reach Emmaus. It is unlikely that the close companions of Jesus would have been walking anywhere in the days following his execution. We hear elsewhere in the gospels how the disciples were huddled together behind closed doors for fear of being hunted down as collaborators. Perhaps these two, not so well-known, were able to move freely and just needed somewhere to walk– it could have been in any direction.
As they walked, they struggled to piece together the events of the past three days. None of it made any sense. Jesus, the great and mighty prophet, who they had hoped would bring Israel back to God, had been handed over by their own chief priests and leaders to the Roman authorities to be condemned to death and crucified. And now his body was gone from the tomb.
The disciples struggle to make sense of the events of the past days. And as they question their faith together, Jesus came alongside them and opened the scriptures for them. It is only when we struggle to make sense of scripture and the events of our lives that the risen Jesus breaks through. Every time each of us shares with another something of our questioning, our deepest concerns about life and faith, Jesus is present, if we pay attention, even, as it was for the disciples on the road, our eyes are kept from seeing him.
On the road to Emmaus the travellers were not conscious that this journey was calling them to a new reality. In our living we often miss the hints of possibilities around us.
On the road to Emmaus the travellers were not conscious that this journey was calling them to a new reality. In our living we often miss the hints of possibilities that are around us. We close ourselves off from new understandings. We are not always attuned to these hints. We are busy, overwhelmed by the events of our life, the stresses of our reality. It is hard to hear the hints for wholeness.
The familiar ways of affirming faith do not work for the companions on the road. So they keep moving until the evening is almost on them. They stop, and they invite the stranger to stay with them and share food. It is in the welcome of the stranger that they begin to leave behind their loss and fear. And then, in the breaking of bread, and the sharing of the table their eyes are opened.
On the road to Emmaus the stranger asked the travellers to let go of the past. They cannot hold on to the Jesus they knew. Notice that as soon as they recognize him, he vanishes from their sight. It is in the nature of mystical experiences to come and go. Moments of assurance are fleeting. Inspiration is transitory. Health is temporary. But God is in each detail, filling it with holiness and then moving on and inviting us to follow.
In our stories of Easter we see things transformed by movement. God’s Easter Spirit is found most significantly in process, rather than stability. To experience God’s inspiration more fully, we have to be on the move, because God is on the move!
O God whose greeting we miss
And whose departure we delay,
Make our hearts burn with insight
On our ordinary road;
That, as we grasp you in the broken bread
We may also let you go,
And return to speak your word of life
In the name of Christ.