THE STROLL TO EMMAUS
Two people give up hope on the first day of the working week. It sounds a familiar story to us. Except a stranger has a different idea.
Two followers of Jesus who assume he is dead are joined by the risen Messiah but are kept from recognising him until he gives thanks for broken bread in their home. The story of the stroll to Emmaus is one of the most enchanting in scripture. It reinforces all we know about God walking with us in life without us realising it until later. It encourages us to look for signs of his footprints in the journeys we make every day. But it also raises questions about these followers of Jesus that could be asked of us today.
In their conversation with Jesus, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus tell us they were present when the women returned from the tomb, breathless with hope and anticipation and also when a further sortie returned from there to confirm that the body was no longer in repose. For most people, this news would have been worth further investigation. They knew the pedigree of Jesus: to expect the unexpected. And he prepared them for his resurrection as much as for his death. There was sufficient uncertainty in an empty tomb to wait and see how the story would unfold, but not for these disciples.
In fairness we do not know why they felt the need to journey to Emmaus, but we know that when people die, ordinary routines are suspended. The prosaic duties of life wait until the appetite for living slowly reasserts itself again. And there are conventions surrounding bereavement to be attended to, especially in Judaism. This point, albeit provisionally, in one direction: the two disciples had given up and wanted out. This was no Sunday afternoon stroll. This was the first day of the working week for the Jewish population. They were returning to business as usual. As Jesus draws alongside them, he hears a diminishing echo of the good news. Theirs is a narrative of crushed hope and decline. They speak in the past tense about the greatest breaking news story in world history with no sense of its imperative. Jesus had died. How typical to raise your hopes and then see them dashed.
Jesus may be the Great Shepherd, but here he behaves more like a sheepdog, trotting round his sheep, steering them inexorably to their intended destination: the very place they had come from. It is the attention to detail that strikes you. He had just accomplished an act of cosmic significance, but rather than performing a dance of triumph on the roof of the Temple, he joins a downcast couple on a solitary ramble out of the city, affording them by some distance the most privileged Bible study in human affairs. They were mourners beginning the slow, painful steps of re-integration into normal life. They ended their day in personal possession of a story that would be told and re-told until the end of time. For this privilege they paid with a personal rebuke too, for Jesus calls them foolish for giving up hope so quickly and in the face of emerging evidence to the contrary.
There is encouragement for us that Jesus walks, unobserved, through the banal and well-worn rituals of daily life. These two had given up hope on the first day of the working week. That sounds like a familiar story to me, into which Jesus steps today. Perhaps the specific challenge to us is to resist the same downbeat narrative of decline we heard at Emmaus. We have become perhaps too blasé and indisciplined in the way we enshrine our story of faith today, tolerating pessimism and defeat because we also do not have the eyes to see we are foolishly telling these stories to the risen Jesus himself.
We have been given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is cause for joyful celebration and irrepressible hope. And in fairness to those hapless residents of Emmaus, we’ve had a lot longer than they to get used to a dead man walking again.
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