Luke 24: 13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[f] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.[g] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[h] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[i] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[j] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us[k] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
The meeting on the Emmaus Road is one of my favourite episodes in the gospels. I feel drawn in, imagining what it might have been like, walking the road, in companionship with Jesus as he explains patterns of meaning, in the same way that I imagine the meeting between the Father and his Prodigal Son, embracing on the farm track.
It’s the afternoon of the resurrection. These two men, Cleopas and one not named, were followers of Jesus, part of that wider group of disciples, men and women of varied ages, who seem to melt into the background once the gospels are codified around the twelve. The group is disbanding, so they are leaving Jerusalem. Their minds are full of everything that has happened, they were even present that morning when the women burst in to tell of the empty tomb and the angels, but like the others, they did not believe.
As they walked, they talked. This is what you did in 1st century Palestine, travelling on foot, talking along the way. This journey was short, only 7 miles, three hours at most, but they had walked together for the past 3 years, around the Sea of Galilee and then the 70 miles down to Jerusalem. I imagine much of Jesus’ teaching during those years took place on the road.
Two stories are told on that journey. The first by the two men, as they explain what has happened to their new and weirdly ill-informed companion. They know the facts, and they are clear as to what it all means and its meaning is failure.
The movement building around Jesus has been crushed with his execution. To their shame as Jews, it is their own who surrendered him up to the authorities. And so all their hopes have been replaced by despair and emptiness. The atmosphere is one of futility, apathy, weariness.
The second story is told by Jesus. He disputes none of their facts. There is nothing which has been hidden from these two. The violence, the tragedy of death is all there. And yet the meaning of what has happened is completely re-arranged. In this version of the story the women’s claim is true, Jesus’ death is a beginning, a path to resurrection life. And it was always intended to be so, he shows how the accumulated wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures points to this.
At this stage their eyes have not been opened as to who their companion is – that will only happen later, in the sharing of the bread and wine, symbolic of the Eucharist. And yet, as they later recall, their despairing hearts are rekindled and burn within them.
Two stories: one an ending, the other a beginning. One in weary despair, the other burning with hope.
There are parallels it seems to me with our current situation. There are those we know who have been struck by tragedy, cruelly compounded by isolation, not being allowed to touch.
For the rest, as we complete week 5 of lock-down, I sense a quietly accumulating weariness in isolation. We make the best of it, but in the lows, I feel this is a narrow, dry existence. The future is particularly stark for the young, as they look back at the hopes they had, what their older relatives were able to enjoy. A time of endings, of what might have been but can no longer be.
So how do we find the story of hope in all of this? For there are beginnings in here. A new baby, a couple getting engaged, the springtime.
But not just here and there. For what we learn in the Easter story is a pattern written through every part of creation, that each ending is the germ of new beginning, the seed which falls and becomes new life. Life is at the same time both ending and new beginning, death and resurrection. But in saying this, death loses its finality, its existential fear. It becomes part of the strange, painful but beautiful pattern of life, in which hope in the love of God is everywhere present, drawing us forward, with him and towards him.
In thinking about this hope, I recalled a young man in the documentary film, “Human” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. You may remember I showed a clip from the film once, of people building a human tower. I will ask Andy to put a link to the clip of this young man on the website with today’s service leaflet. In it, he talks about his grandfather, and a conversation very soon after his grandmother’s death. His grandfather talks about the delight of getting a bus pass for the whole city for only 4 dollars. And the grandson says to him, “Grandpa, you always help me see the glass is half full!” And his grandfather looks at him and replies, “It’s a beautiful glass.”