The Road to Emmaus
(The Third Sunday after Easter)
The Emmaus road experience is a well-known story. This is such a gripping story because it is in many ways our own story when we loose hope and the desire to move on because our dreams have been crushed. This story highlights the living hope that we have in the Resurrection of Jesus. But on that first Easter day that living hope was all but snuffed out for the two disciples on their way back home to Emmaus. They had left the demoralized and confused group of disciples with the events of Good Friday fresh in their memories. We can understand their confusion, can’t we? The Master they had loved and followed had been horribly put to death on a Roman cross. Only a week before, on Palm Sunday the hopes of the disciples had risen to fever pitch when the excited crowds had hailed their Master as the longed for deliverer from the tyranny of Roman occupation, but now he lay dead in a sealed tomb.
Their hopes were dashed, the dream was over. The followers of Jesus were without a leader and they were falling apart. These two were already on their way home. Peter and his fishing partners had returned to their former life as fishermen. What else was there left to do? Life goes on, life must go on.
The reports that Christ’s tomb was empty had only confused the disciples more. Their entire world had fallen apart. The two downhearted disciples summed up the situation when they said, "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."
Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers it’s difficult to revive. Have you ever experienced such total hopelessness? There was no way out no matter what you tried, there was nothing you could do to change the situation.
That is the look of total helplessness in the eyes of people who have given up. “There is nothing they can do for me – the cancer has spread too far.” “My husband has left me for another partner.” I am sure we have all heard these or similar words. Then perhaps we have a bit of an idea just what the Emmaus two were grappling with. Hopelessness is desperately hard to cure. When despair sets in, it almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery, you even become afraid to hope because you don’t know if you can cope with another letdown. And so, in our heart-break, like the Emmaus disciples, we put up a wall of hopelessness around us and we become trapped in our misery "We had hoped.” What they were saying was "We don’t expect it now, we know it’s not going to happen, we did once, but the hope we once had has gone.” But, this isn’t the full story.
As the travellers made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger fell in alongside them. It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks in history! We know, of course, that it was the risen Jesus, but somehow they didn’t recognize him. In fact Luke tells us "they were kept from recognizing him." Maybe they were too preoccupied to look him in the eye. Maybe they didn’t care. What difference did it make who was walking with them? They were grieving a great loss in their lives. And along comes a chatty stranger who hasn’t got a clue about the things that happened in Jerusalem, or so it seems. The stranger asked them, "What’s going on, chaps?" And he listened as they poured out their hearts. Jesus doesn’t put them down but rather, in his infinite consideration for their brokenness, and their bewildered minds he joins them on their journey. He walks with them, and he listens, and then he fills their hearts with the promises from God’s Word, and ultimately with hope and understanding.
Jesus knew that downtrodden people don’t need someone to tell them, “You should have paid attention.” They need companionship. They need a listening ear before a stream of good advice. The last thing they need is a "cheering up" talk or being told to "snap out of it”. Jesus enters their pain, and allows them to share their story of disappointment. And as they tell the stranger what they thought the man of Galilee was all about Jesus unpacks for them the full mystery of God’s plan of salvation. He fills their broken hearts with faith and hope, telling told them about God’s plan of salvation in the Old Testament, God’s activity in the lives of His people, Abraham, the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah, And then he said, "Did not the Christ have to suffer these things?”
They could not conceive of the idea of a Messiah who would suffer and die on a Roman cross. And maybe today Jesus says to us what he said to the disciples, “How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken."
Their two-hour journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus must have seemed like just a few minutes. They were so wrapped up in this conversation with Jesus who they had not yet recognized.
Luke tells us that, “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he was going further." And they invited him to come in, because the evening had come and it was dangerous to travel alone after dark. They didn’t have to ask him in; he was ready to move on. But their hearts had been strangely warmed during the course of the conversation. So, they set the table for three. There was bread on the table and the stranger took the bread and gave thanks, and in the act of breaking bread they recognized him. They suddenly realized that Christ was risen from the dead.
And that is why the Communion service is so important to us. Because none of us understand what is happening in Communion. We might know the theories, but none of us really understand the miracle of Communion. But we don’t need to understand it – we need to believe it and feel it. Because, in Communion, Christ comes to us and all we need to do is receive him.
At this Easter time, we are reminded that Christ comes to us. He walks with us on our road, in the ordinariness of our lives. The presence of Christ with us is not dependent on our understanding, or how we feel. The presence of Christ with us is dependent solely on the fact that he chooses to be present with us. It is dependent solely on his love for us.
Back to the story: they lost no time in going back to Jerusalem to share the Good News. I am sure that the two-hour journey back to Jerusalem took no time at all; they were on a Mission.
As we journey along and as we experience defeat, despair and disappointment in our daily life, let us welcome the stranger that joins us on our journey. May our hearts also be warmed by His company and may our lives be ignited with passion to share that we have seen the risen Lord!