“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 recognizing him.” Luke 24:13-16
They did not recognize Him. How on earth could you not? No matter how we interpret the account to Emmaus or cut the disciples some slack, we think if we had been there, we would have at least recognized Him. All sorts of explanations are given to as to the lack of recognition, but the story itself makes a larger point. If we had seen Him, would we not recognize Him? Perhaps, but that is a question that exist in the past tense and discipleship is not about the past tense.
The important thing here is that the disciples met Jesus. And they met Him in two places and this is what is telling. In one place it was obvious and in the other it was not.
We are disciples and we find ourselves in the same place as the first disciples. Like them we are quick to see the LORD in one place, but perhaps not the other. We find ourselves in our sanctuaries, places that really are little rooms as compared to the vast great earth. Here we are quick to see Jesus. We find ourselves also in His presence as we kneel at the rail to take bread in our hands, a meal that is small next to the indulgence of a family dinner or even the meeting of friends at a coffee house. Here too, with sacred food, we are quick to see our Savior. We are disciples and like good disciples our eyes fly open in sacred space and in the breaking of bread.
However….there is that other place too. The disciples were not so quick on the take there. “How foolish you are” (verse 25.) Jesus tells them. They had the prophets and Moses and this meant nothing. They had the writings, stories, history, and struggle, but they could not find Jesus there. How could they not? Well perhaps it is not a question we so much ask ourselves, because here we can understand them, because we are like them.
On a road that connected a small town to the noise and bustle of Jerusalem, it was a sad and lonely evening. The excitement of the day was to be found in the words of those silly women who were prone to hope against hope and who dared to believe in the words of the prophets. The disciples couldn’t blame them. They were also sad and though they did not have modern psychology to explain what the women felt, they knew denial was a part of death. Their world had also been kicked out from underneath them. Their friend, the most meaningful person they ever met, was gone. We know the feeling. In the absence of company, it is best to let that catharsis kick in and not think too much about it. It is best to go back into the world a little sadder and a whole lot harder. What could the teachings, laughter, callings, meals, miracles, and final slow agonizing hours mean now? In time perhaps some memories, but for now the story was over.
Enter the Risen Christ….
No one counts on the Resurrection. It has to be plainly shown to them. For the disciples it was in the breaking of bread as certainly as it is for us in the life of the Church. It is easier here. It is wonderful and celebratory and every sacred morsel lets us tell death it has lost. How wonderful are the palpable moments of grace. At those times we can believe, even if we are fools.
But then the Resurrection….
He came back and not first to a meal and a small room. It is true that He was there and is there and we can always be certain of grace at those times. But before He was there, He was in the world. He was on a dirty path linking Emmaus to Jerusalem. But here, they did not know Him. It makes you wonder how much they saw Him in all those grand and humble moments that led to Good Friday. But who can blame them? We are like them.
He is still here in grand and humble moments. He is found in those grace-filled times when we have felt….fill in the blank…. or when someone has said….fill in the blank…..or when we have gone to, well the list goes on. But our eyes are closed and who can blame us? We are always on the road to Emmaus.
God wants us to know Him in the sacramental life and the life of faith, but God is not content to be only in the obvious places. There are far too many everyday miracles and beautiful conversations and we are foolish when we do not see Christ there. He still speaks and “our hearts still burn within us.” Like the first disciples we will continue to be foolish, but perhaps it is enough to long or even to hope against hope, if at times we are afforded grace.
We will still have the breaking of bread and the sacrament to sustain us. That is the great gift of His presence. But very soon we will also hear, “go into the world.” There will in the weeks to come much to be said of this, but rest assured, it will be a beautiful and messy thing and Emmaus will be recreated everyday we are out there.