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Rediscovering Hope: Emmaus Road Encounters

Fred Thompson


Luke 24: 13-35

Emmaus Road Encounters with Jesus and his disciples walking on a dusty road, the sun setting behind them, the disciples looking confused and disheartened while Jesus comforts them, a peaceful and serene atmosphere with rolling hills and fields in the background, Painting, watercolor on paper, capturing the vibrant colors of the sky and the landscape

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

We find ourselves in the middle of this Easter season,

now on the third Sunday after the Resurrection,

and we have a beautiful narrative of

how new life breaks into the midst of shattered hopes.

Today, we are transported back to Easter evening –

“that same day” when

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary,

and the other women discover the empty tomb

and Peter confirms their news.

“That same day,”

we meet two of Jesus’ disciples on

the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus.

The two—one is named Cleopas, we’re told—

are discussing all that has happened:

- how Jesus had taught and healed;

- how that same Jesus was betrayed, flogged,

and made a spectacle of shame;

- and how that same Jesus had breathed his last and

was laid in a sealed tomb.

Add to all this… the report that Jesus’ body

was apparently now missing and

listen to the confusion swirl and the questions fly.

- How could this have happened?

- Had he been taken?

- What are we to do now?

- Where do we go from here?

The two disciples have a while—seven miles—

to roll these details over,

to ruminate on this loss and wonder at

these strange occurrences,

as they trudge on to Emmaus.

The “really’s?” and “what if’s” animate their footsteps

amidst exhaustion and abandonment.

“But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”

It’s a statement

saturated with honesty and pain—

a confession of sorts.

- This was the One who was to restore Israel,

to lift up the lowly and

fill the hungry with good things.

- This was the One for whom generations had longed for,

hope built upon hope

for centuries.

- And this One finally had a face.

Now, even after his death, that face was gone,

vanished from view.

- Imagine the weight of grief.

- Imagine the intensity of loss.

- Imagine all that compounded by utter confusion.

It might not be all that hard to imagine, honestly.

The Emmaus road is one …likely familiar to many of us,

this side of heaven.

It’s a well-worn path,

dotted with defeat and disappointment,

marked by sinking diagnosis,

inevitable questions,

and disbelief.

Life seasons and circumstances

often determine how steep or

winding or rocky this road is,

…but many of us have probably trod it,

whether in the past or

in the present.

The beauty we experience

week in and week out in the scriptures

is that the living God meets us on this road.

The living God comes alongside us unexpectedly

in moments of loss and difficulty.

The living God walks with us

in times that tempt despair and despondency,

whether we realize it or not.

And this is precisely what Cleopas and

his friend experience on the Emmaus Road,

as they encounter a stranger mid-step.

“What are you discussing with each other

while you walk along?” he asks.

He must have been hiding under a rock, they think.

Otherwise, why on earth

would he ask about the strange things

which had transpired?

Little do the disciples know

that this is the One whom

they have been mourning.

- Maybe its grief obscuring their vision.

- Maybe hypotheticals have dulled their senses.

- Or maybe the disciples are

too entangled in the weeds of dashed hopes.

Whatever it is, they fail to recognize the One in their midst.

But Jesus is there still and hears them out.

Jesus listens to their stories of disappointment,

at the core of which is his absence.

- He hears of how he was handed over,

condemned, crucified, and buried along

with the hopes of Israel.

- He hears of how his body is missing.

- He walks stride-in-stride with his dejected followers,

listening intently.

Even if the news isn’t breaking,

the disciples’ hearts …and dreams are,

spilled out before this stranger.

The women, the disciples tell this stranger,

went to the tomb,

but they did not find him.

The irony is surely not lost:

though Jesus is in front of their eyes,

the disciples fail to see him.

“Have you not heard the prophets?

Have their words not sunk in?” Jesus asks.

- Remember Moses and your forebears in the faith.

- Remember the prophets.

- Remember the scriptures, dripping with promise.

The disciples’ hearts begin to burn,

as they wonder after the identity of this stranger.

But there is still some distance,

some doubt,

that clouds their vision and obscures their eventual

recognition of who is walking and talking with them.

If we read around in the gospels, though,

this is typical of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

It takes time or some sort of personal revelation

for this otherworldly visitation to register.

Remember that well-known story of Mary Magdalene

confusing the risen Christ for a gardener.

Remember too that startling scene—

immediately after the Emmaus Road episode—

when we read that it takes some time for the disciples’ eyes

to recognize what appears like a ghost

as the risen Christ himself.

In that startling scene, food plays a critical role.

Jesus eats broiled fish, something no ghost can claim.

Such sustenance strengthens the muscles of the risen Messiah.

Today too,

Jesus is known in the blessing, breaking, and giving of bread,

again showing that the savior resurrects humanity

carbohydrate by carbohydrate,

from the most basic stuff of life.

It seems near impossible for those disciples

not to have connected this supper with the last supper,

when Jesus said he would not eat with them again

until the Passover had been fulfilled.

There seems to be too strong a connection with the two meals not

to see a common bread, a common host.

In this simple action of blessing, breaking, and giving of bread,

we’re told, something dramatic happens.

As Jesus tears apart that simple loaf,

crumbs of disbelief and hopelessness fall to the ground.

The disciples’ eyes, once clouded with tears,

become open to the realities of the resurrection and

the provisional character of death.

If the Emmaus Road narrative teaches us anything,

it is that God has a preferential option for brokenness,

which we see repeatedly in the life, death, and ministry of Jesus.

Jesus seems to gravitate toward those whose lives are split open,

either by sickness or loss or disappointment.

It is in the cracks of our humanity

that divine, resurrected life… shines brightest.

With the sun setting on their hopes for Israel’s redemption,

Cleopas and his companion are forced to

acknowledge their lives broken open;

their dreams scattered on that dusty highway.

But it is precisely in that moment that

Jesus comes alongside them, opens the scriptures again,

and reminds them of the very foundations of their hope.

The disciples hear the great narrative of

God’s history-altering love… from the lips of love himself.

And when all the scriptures have been unpacked and interpreted,

when all the loose ends have been tied up,

a meal reinforces the point:

that the Lord is risen indeed.



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