Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.
In this bible reading from Luke’s gospel, we hear of a journey. A journey from one place to another, a journey of changing emotions, a journey of developing understanding, a journey which leads to an encounter with the risen Christ.
Imagine you're out on your daily exercise, walking and talking with yourself or a companion about coronavirus. And someone walks alongside you (keeping 2 metres away of course!) and asks what you're talking about, as if they had no knowledge of the events of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact. That's what happens in this story from Luke's gospel.
It’s a couple of days after the execution of Jesus. One of Jesus’ followers, called Cleopas, and a companion are walking home from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus, probably going home. They are talking about all that had happened to Jesus. Actually, one translation reads that they were 'discussing and arguing with one another'. In their sadness, as they tried to make sense of it all, perhaps they also had some disagreements, as they each try to deal with the impact of Jesus’ death, the tragedy, the injustice, the shattered hopes? Not only that but Jesus’ body has disappeared too! And then there’s the women's mysterious encounter with angels at the empty tomb and talking about Jesus being alive… perhaps these two companions disagreed about that too? (The men hadn’t believed the women, it seemed like nonsense (Luke 24:11), for they had still not actually seen the risen Jesus.) What questions might you have about Jesus' life, death and resurrection? What questions might you have about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact?
So, a stranger comes alongside this pair as they walk. They don’t recognise that it is Jesus, perhaps because they are just not expecting to see him, or perhaps because he looks a little different, or has a scarf over his head to protect him from the sun? The stranger asks an open question, “what are you talking about?” and then he listens as they pour out their hearts, their emotions, their disappointment, their confusion.
It’s good to talk, it’s good for our mental health and well-being. So during lockdown, lets be honest with ourselves, acknowledging our feelings and our questions and bringing them to God in prayer. Lets take the risk of being honest with one another when asked 'how are you?' as we walk the journey through lockdown. And lets listen well to one another. Not jumping in too quickly with an answer. But listening first, seeking to understand and empathise with the other. What a gift that can be?
Only after giving them a ‘good listening to’ does the stranger on the road respond. And after being heard, Cleopas and his companion are ready to hear a different perspective. Jesus explains from the Old Testament scriptures why the Messiah had to suffer and die and then be raised from the dead. Tom Wright, in Luke for Everyone, comments that Jesus is inviting them to 'live inside Gods story', to see events from a different perspective. So, we too can listen to the story of the Bible and the teaching of Jesus and live within it, seeing current events from God’s perspective. We can choose to live inside that story of faith, hope and love rather than a story of anxiety, fear, or despair. For the Bible’s story is centred around Jesus and it’s a story of redemption through his sacrificial death and a story of victory over sin and death through his resurrection. "Dont you see?" says Jesus to the travellers. Do we see our lives and our world from within God’s story?
Back to Luke chapter 24, and as the evening draws in, and the journey comes to an end, Cleopas invites Jesus to stay for a meal and to stay the night. In fact he 'strongly urges' Jesus to stay. And around a table, in the breaking of the bread, their eyes are opened, and they do see clearly that it is Jesus who has been with them as they travelled, as they talked, as they listened.
Lets invite the risen Jesus into our lives and into our homes and to look for Christ in the world around us. Pray for eyes to see him in our ordinary everyday routines, in the preparing and sharing of a meal, in the clearing up, in the childcare, in the DIY or the gardening, in the unhurried conversations we have, in the people we meet and serve, and in our hearts to feel his presence. Looking back at the end of each day, we can ask 'where have I seen signs of the risen Christ today, where have I experienced the presence of God's Spirit, when did my heart burn within me?'
For as with Cleopas and his companion, an encounter with the Spirit of the risen Christ can gently change our perspective, can transform how we feel and fill us with hope, and can radically alter the direction of our life's journey!
A Prayer (from Common Worship: Times and Seasons, The Archbishops Council, 2006)
We praise you and we bless you, our risen Lord Jesus, King of glory, for you are with us, even when our eyes are closed to your companionship. Please continue to walk alongside the disconsolate and the despairing, open our eyes to your gentle illumination, and let their hearts burn within them at your invisible presence. To you, Lord Jesus, walking by our side, be honour and glory, now and forever.
Questions to wonder about or discuss with others:
Why do you think Jesus’ death was so devastating for the followers of Jesus? Do you identify in any way with the sense of sadness, disappointment and confusion expressed at the start of the journey?
What do you think prevented them from recognising the risen Jesus? What prevents people from recognising the Spirit of Jesus in their lives today?
If someone asked you to summarise the story of the Bible in 60 seconds, what would you say?
How does ‘living inside God’s story’ change the way you see your life and current events in the world around you?
Can you recall moments when you have encountered and recognised Jesus in some way? How did you know it was Jesus? What difference did it make to your direction in life?
You may like to listen to our Podcast which accompanies this blog. Click here.