Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 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?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
In Luke 24, two of Jesus’ followers walk the road to Emmaus. They are deep in solemn conversation when a third man joins them. Having witnessed Jesus’ arrest and execution, they tell their companion about a spectacular rumor: some of Jesus’ followers have been to the tomb containing Jesus’ body and have found it empty. What this means they cannot say, but their astonishment is palpable. Is it possible, they are wondering, that Jesus might be alive?
Their pondering is, of course, laden with a surprise the reader already suspects. Luke reveals that their companion is none other than Jesus himself, clearly in the form of a man, but somehow not fully recognizable. The strangeness of this situation is evident. What does Jesus look like, we wonder, such that they cannot tell it is him? How can Jesus be both transformed and also himself? The Emmaus story functions as a bridge. Jesus, fully human, can walk beside his followers as he has done so many times — on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, in the dusty streets to Jerusalem — but he is also somehow changed. The resurrection event has transformed reality. Nothing, not even death, is quite as it seems.
What is interesting about this passage, though, is that Jesus doesn’t simply tell his followers the rumors are true. Luke says that Jesus “came near and went with them.” In other words, Jesus walks and converses beside them. He is with them, even in their time of bewilderment and doubt. The important part of the story is not the miraculous, almost unreal quality of the event. The takeaway is that Jesus shows up and continues to be beside those he loves — those he came to die for.
For us today, this is still true. Jesus is alive. In this Easter season, this means that he continues to walk beside each of us — like an old friend — even when we are not sure that we can see or feel him. Even when we have forgotten what he looks like, forgotten who he is. Despite our un-seeing, God is there — walking on the road to Emmaus and with us on our own pilgrimage paths. He is standing there beside us, telling us afresh the gospel news, and, in the midst of our unknowing, he is revealing himself.
Sara Kay Mooney poetically walks us through the Gospel passage, including the moment at Emmaus, over at Earth & Altar.
James Tissot’s The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road at the Brooklyn Museum captures a captivating conversation:
Kathleen Graber finds a picture of Christ at Emmaus at a rummage sale and takes the poem from there.
The work of The Emmaus House in Harlem empowers those in need.
A folk song: “On the Journey to Emmaus.”
This Sunday at 10am, join Discovery for Lamentations in the Bible with the Rev. Beth Blunt, Director of Congregational Life & Liturgy, and the Rev. Yein Kim, Congregational Life & Liturgy.
On May 5–7 at Trinity Retreat Center, you can join Dr. Lisa Bowens, Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, for a retreat on African American Readings of St. Paul, an opportunity to journey through the centuries by engaging select portions of works by Black authors who lived from the 18th to the 20th century.