I wrote this for a talk I gave at Renovatus, Eagle Rock, California, January 20, 2012
Have you ever been on a terrible trip? One you didn’t want to have to make? Or one that you thought you wanted to go on but ended up awful? Maybe you had to attend an event that you weren’t so excited about attending, or maybe you had mixed feelings because someone you weren’t very happy about traveling with a specific person?
I’ve been on many journeys in my life, but I haven’t really had a terrible trip. I’ve had some travel mishaps—such as getting stuck in New York City because of a freak storm and getting hopelessly lost in Siena, Italy, with my family. But I can’t recall a really terrible trip.
But tonight we’re going to talk about a trip that started off terribly. If you want to read along, the story is found in Luke 24, starting with verse 13.
“And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”
Many of us are familiar with this story, but maybe we haven’t talked about it for a while. So let’s get the background on this story. When the writer says, “that very day,” what day is he talking about? Right. “That very day” means the day of the empty tomb, Easter Sunday. Jesus died on Friday and was quickly put into Joseph’s tomb. By the time our story takes place, Easter morning has already happened. So our characters are excited, right? They’re running home to tell their friends and families that Jesus is alive, right? No? Why not? Because, unfortunately, the Easter story has just managed to confuse them even more.
So these two were walking and talking and thinking and musing and mourning and trying to figure stuff out. One of the disciples was named Cleopas, and we don’t even know the other person’s name. Some scholars have speculated that the other person was Cleopas’ wife, or maybe that the companion was Luke himself. In any case, what makes this story pretty great is that it starts out quite ordinary. A couple of people that we don’t know a whole lot about have suffered a tragedy and are talking together. They’re not celebrities, there’s no dramatic music on the soundtrack, there’s no wind machine blowing. It’s just a pair of companions walking along.
And in the middle of this, Jesus appears. Isn’t that how it often is? In our lives, Jesus often appears in the midst of the ordinary. Those of you who come to Renovatus regularly know that this is one of my favorite themes – finding God in the ordinary, but I think it’s one that we all too often forget. The omnipotent, omniscient, creator God doesn’t always come with thunderbolts and herald trumpets. Sometimes – often – God appears in the ordinary.
But aren’t we like that sometimes? We are so full of our own expectations that we sometimes miss the best parts of life, even the parts that we are hungry for.
Back to our story. So Jesus shows up, just starts walking along next to these guys—let’s call them guys, even though one of them might have been a woman—and doesn’t say anything for a while. If you think about it, what Jesus did right here was pretty extraordinary, because he knew the whole story. Jesus could have jumped right into that conversation. He could have said, “Wait, didn’t you guys listen to the women’s story this morning? And on top of that, didn’t you even listen to ME?” But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus walks beside the disciples and listens.
But we haven’t even gotten really deep into the story yet. Let’s go back to verse 15.
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”
I’ll have to admit that this part of the story kind-of confuses me. Because the Bible doesn’t say, “They didn’t recognize him.” Instead, it says, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” Am I the only one who thinks this is a strange choice of words? This lack of recognition is not unique to the Emmaus story. When Mary met Jesus at the tomb, she did not recognize him either. And neither did the disciples who were fishing when they saw Jesus on the beach.
So along the road to Emmaus, Jesus becomes a companion to Cleopas and his friend and he asks them why they look so sad. And then in true Jewish fashion, they tell a story. You gotta love the writer Luke. He is a real scientist. When he tells a story, he doesn’t leave anything out. So in the part of the story when you or I might say, “So Cleopas and his friend told Jesus everything that had happened over the last week,” especially since we just read everything that had happened over the last week in the previous chapters of the book, Luke retells the story. And we kind-of roll our eyes and say, “typical scientist,” but I think it’s a good reminder to us that the story of Jesus is what’s important. Luke didn’t gloss over the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection, because maybe Luke thought that it was something that should never be glossed over. Luke said, “Yeah, I know I just told you this story, but, hey, let’s tell it again. Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”
So they invited their still-unknown companion to have dinner with them. It was partly hospitality and partly their not wanting the conversation to end. Now this is the part of the story where it gets a little spooky. Up until this point, the story has been, as I mentioned before, been quite ordinary. If the book of Luke were a movie, the incident on the road to Emmaus would have been included by the filmmaker to give the audience an emotional break from the dramatic scenes of the crucifixion and resurrection. Not really advancing the plot very much, and something that could possibly end up on the cutting room floor. But then something extraordinary happens.
But when they did recognize him, it was one of those, *sigh*, why didn’t we know this earlier? Obviously! “Didn’t our hearts burn when we were on the road?” I love that phrasing. They knew because their hearts were burning with the joy of knowing who Jesus was. Their hearts recognized Jesus long before their minds did.