Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on Luke 24.
We are looking at the story of the Road to Emmaus, told in Luke’s gospel. Yesterday we began looking at the story’s context. It might be good to scroll back to it if you weren’t here yesterday.
The story starts out with the words, ‘That same day….’ What happened that day? First, early in the morning of the day the two disciples decide to go to Emmaus, Jesus’ tomb had been found empty by the women who went to it intending to anoint the body of Jesus (Luke. 24:3). Well, not quite empty. Two beings ‘in brilliant clothes’ were in the tomb, and they gave astonishing news to the women: ‘He is risen’, they said (Luke 24:7). But, secondly, the Eleven don’t believe the story when the women return and tell it. Then, thirdly, only Peter seems willing to suspend judgement. He visits the tomb himself (Luke 24:12), but from Luke’s account, it is hard to know what Peter is thinking, or whether this takes him any further forward. “That very same day” surprising things are happening, but still, the day can only be described as a day of deepest grief, perplexity, and fear for the Eleven.
I am there. I am Peter. Like him, I see, but do not know what to think. I am still attached to my plans – my plans, all seemingly based on a valid interpretation of God’s will for me, and which have all been rubbished by circumstances beyond my control. And a new understanding of his will is found neither easily nor immediately.
But, oh the relief that can come of talking about my perplexity and pain with someone who understands! That same day, two disciples are walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles away from Jerusalem, and are taking comfort in the emotional release of talking: ‘…and they were talking together about all that had happened’ (Luke.24:13).
Their walk is a long one, probably taking several hours, and giving them plenty of time to talk. I see them walking and talking, rehearsing, probably somewhat compulsively, what had happened to Jesus, to them, to their friends over the previous few days. I see them revisiting their feelings about those who decided that Jesus would be crucified. They are talking, probably, about his mother, the other disciples, about the story told by the women who went to the tomb. They are talking about Jesus himself, and about the hopes they had had. They are trying to work out why it all happened, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense to them at all. This talking and talking and talking seems to help on one level. Each time a new insight surfaces, the hope arises briefly that maybe from this angle they will somehow be able to make sense of the whole shattering thing. So the entire experience is gone through again, with this new idea in place. But, no. Nothing really helps. No insight makes the mess of their experience turn into something coherent and meaningful. They trudge onward down the road. They can barely hold their heads up. They are depressed, ‘downcast’, as the gospel tells us.
Readers familiar with this story know that the situation will soon improve for the disciples. But, for the moment, let’s not anticipate that. Let’s remember that these two disciples are like us: they don’t see into the future. They are wrestling with an intense sense of failure on many levels: their failure in courage, their failure to understand, the apparent failure of Jesus, whom they trusted. Like these two, I can sometimes feel that my discipleship has been a waste of time, a big mistake, and all I can do is to trudge on down whatever path I have taken.