To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 2:14, 22-23; 1 Pt1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35
Doubt and disillusionment, discouragement and despair, dread and fear are emotions that are common to all of us at some point or other in our lives. When we are confronted with the death of a loved one or loss of a job, or a life-threatening illness, we are thrown into a tailspin and our hearts can be filled with anxiety and fear. We think that things will never be right again.
Especially in the middle of the night, things seem at their very worst. We find it hard to hope, and all that we have learned about God’s saving grace is nowhere to be found. If ever we knew how to call upon God, it is now only a distant memory from a better and happier time; and even when we need God the most, we turn our backs on God and walk away.
The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is a story which addresses precisely these negative emotions. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful of the Resurrection appearance stories in the New Testament. The text states that the village is about 60 stadia from Jerusalem, which is about seven miles or a little more than eleven kilometers. Though Luke does not tell us why the two disciples are going there, it seems very likely they are going away from the mission which was to begin in Jerusalem. They had experienced the death of Jesus in Jerusalem and with no hope of the resurrection they were on the verge of giving up and giving in. They are sad and gloomy. They had hoped but now their hopes are dashed. They are puzzled by the resurrection appearance reports. So they started out, the two of them, talking as they went, and going over and over the same ground, as if saying it one more time would change everything. Don’t we all do that? If we have lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough; the lost item will miraculously appear?
Emmaus therefore represents defeat. It is a place to which many of us go in order to escape from the harsh realities of the world. So, apart from a geographical location, Emmaus can also mean a state of mind, a way of proceeding or even an attitude. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that reality is too difficult for us to handle. It is the tendency to run away, because nothing seems to be going the way we expect it to go. We can do this by using defense mechanisms like denial, displacement, regression or repression or sometimes external stimulants like alcohol and drugs. However, as the two disciples experienced, this is where Jesus meets us. He comes to us at those moments when we least expect him. Even in the midst of our despair and negativity, he continues to walk with us and show us the right path.
He does this in two ways. First he opens their minds to understand the scriptures which were fulfilled in their totality not only in the death of Jesus but also and more importantly in his resurrection and ascension, Second, he makes as if to carry on his journey because he does not want to impose himself on them – something which the Lord will never do with anyone (Rev 3:20). But they invite him to stay and eat with them. Though it seems at first glance that they want Jesus to stay with them because “it is toward evening and the day is now far spent”, the real reason for the invitation is the impact of his concern and conversation. He accepts their invitation. Even as he takes bread, blesses and breaks it and gives it to them, they come to knowledge from ignorance, to insight from blindness and to recognition from a blurred vision.
Once this happens, however, Jesus disappears from their sight, since his presence is no longer required. They have understood, they have believed, they are willing to move from despair to hope. This is why immediately they set off to return to Jerusalem and to hope. We too can meet the risen Lord through the Scriptures as read and explained in the celebration of the reality (and not just the ritual) of the Eucharist.
One of the most wonderful things to come out of the resurrection is that we learn this about Jesus: no matter how bad things become for us, no matter where we go to hide ourselves from the bitter reality, even if we lose our faith for a time, he will come to be with us. He will not ask us for explanations. He will simply meet us as we walk, each of us along our own road to Emmaus.
The wonderful truth of this story is that God uses everybody to proclaim his kingdom. Just as he made himself known to the two disciples and then used them to make his resurrection known to the world, so he does with us.