Greetings again to Sister Johanna, who has been reading Saint Luke and letting the Word speak to her. Thank you, Johanna, for sharing with us!
The complete story of the Road to Emmaus is told only in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 24:13-32). It is a well known account of two disciples making a journey on foot from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. One of the disciples has a name. Cleopas. The other is forever unnamed. A man whom they do not recognise finds them and walks with them. Because of this man, they have an experience that changes everything, that re-orients them vocationally, humanly – on every level. I love this story. Yet, whenever I read it, I feel a strange ache inside. I feel that I am there, with Cleopas – I am the other one, the unnamed one; I am walking down that dreary, hot and dusty road.
As a Catholic, I am accustomed to hearing this story proclaimed in the liturgy during the Easter Octave; then, later in the Easter season, it comes again, this time on a Sunday. It is an important story. It is one of the stories about Jesus appearing after his death. It tells us that the Lord is Lord, and that he is risen from death. But this story has many levels, and teaches things in addition to the glorious fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It has a lot to say about what discipleship can feel like not only at Easter time, but all the time. It deserves to be revisited outside the liturgical season of Easter in order to appreciate just how many aspects of the ordinary Christian life it addresses. It is a lengthy story, but I would like to look at it a bit at a time in a series of posts.
It begins like this:
Now that very same day, the two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened (Luke 24:13).
‘Now that very same day….’ The same day as what? It’s the day that is three days after Jesus’ death on Friday – three days after a shattering Friday that no one had yet learned to call “good”. This third day is the one we now know as Easter Sunday, but in this gospel passage no one had learned to use that designation either. For Jesus’ disciples, that ‘same day’ is just the next day in a series of tragic days. Jesus, their master, their beloved rabbi, their dearest friend, had been crucified like a criminal on the Friday before. And now, he was dead. His ignominious death seemed to augur only one thing: that no one would ever take any of his teachings seriously or believe any of his claims. His kingdom would simply never be established. The disciples were confronted now with death’s finality, its apparently locked and barricaded door. There is no bargaining with death. The dead are irretrievable. The grieving have no choice but to accept the loss of the deceased person, as well as the unique world that person represents. That is what the disciples were struggling with on that day.
How often has discipleship been like that to me? How often has Jesus seemed to be, well, “dead” and lost to me? Yet, I can also say that this state, although I know it well and truly, has never been a permanent one for me. Jesus is full of surprises – as the disciples will soon re-discover.
That same day, surprising things began to happen that the disciples did not know what to make of. Tomorrow we will begin look at them.
Franciscan friends on the road to Canterbury.