Lukeâ€™s walk to Emmaus is a favorite of mine.
It simultaneously feels believable, magical, realistic, eerie, down-to-earth, and spirit-filled. As Snapple ads promote, the twenty-two verses contain some of the â€œbest stuff.â€
The 3rd Sunday after Easter â€“ for May 8, 2011
â€œWere not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the roadâ€¦â€ (Luke 24:32)
The story feels gritty, possessing a you-are-there realism. Two guys, Cleopas and an unnamed fellow, tramp toward a village seven miles from Jerusalem. Itâ€™s been an awful and awesome weekend. Jesus was killed. Jesusâ€™ resurrection was reported. Did the two need to â€œget out of Dodgeâ€ because of turmoil over the events? Or were they clearing their heads and their zip code to discern feelings? Thus, they scurried for Emmaus, a well-known and safe spot on the map. Then again, perhaps theyâ€™re Emmaus-bound because itâ€™s an unfamiliar village, and its newness will help them build a future. Regardless of why they departed Jerusalem or chose Emmaus, I easily picture them.
Cleopas and Unnamed Fellow are so dull-witted. I relate to their stunning ignorance about who joined their Emmaus sojourn. They walk and talk . . . and donâ€™t recognize Jesus. They share â€œtodayâ€™sâ€ news and engage in scriptural discussion . . . and donâ€™t recognize Jesus. How often do I search for my cell phone or the book Iâ€™m currently reading and not find it? Too often! And how often will my wife calmly point to the table where the â€œlostâ€ object brazenly rests? It can be worse with friends and family, as I overlook anotherâ€™s expressed fears or hopes. Cleopas, Unknown Fellow, and I should register for a â€œBe Here Nowâ€ workshop.
I like these verses because it takes a long time to get to the ah-ha! revelation. Is that because itâ€™s mostly a fictional story and the writer of Luke does a great job plotting delayed gratification for the reader? Au contraire mon fraire! Perhaps itâ€™s because, in this factual rendering of events, Luke helps all readers/believers experience exactly what Cleopas and Unknown Fellow did. Either way, it doesnâ€™t matter for my faith. Whether the Emmaus stroll is made-up mythology or you-are-there history, I appreciate that it slowly unfolds.
Call it a journey story. Call it a story with relatable, faithful characters. Call it a glimpse of Jesusâ€™ followers starting to form an extraordinary community after his life and death and life again.
But when and why did it become a â€œfavoriteâ€ for me?
I know. I donâ€™t know.
I know because of who first shared the meaning and importance of Emmaus with me. Unlike Cleopasâ€™ companion, itâ€™s not an Unknown Fellow. One of my favorite seminary professors was Jack Coogan.
Though I attended church every Sunday as a kid, and had endlessly heard about the Bible, from Adam and Eveâ€™s poor snacking habits to Jesus hoisting children onto his lap, I never grasped the depth and breadth of the Bible for my faith until seminary. Sure, some classes were boring. Some professors seemed as dull-witted as Cleopas. But enough of the time, like the comics, a â€œlight bulbâ€ snapped on above my noggin. And, to be Methodist about it, I had several precious moments where my heart was â€œstrangely warmed.â€
Jack Coogan liked Emmaus as a believer and as a scholar. It helped him understand the resurrection and the churchâ€™s contemporary mission. But I can only mention his views in generalities. You see, I canâ€™t remember a specific thing he related to me or to a class.
And yet . . . I remember something else very clearly. During seminary I got divorced. My world collapsed. I went from knowing how my life would play out to barely crawling out from under the sheets in the morning. I went from having a place to live to having no idea where Iâ€™d lay my head for a restless night of guilt and self-pity.
Jack invited me to live with him. For a few critical months in the aftermath of my divorce, I slept in a narrow bed shoved behind the television in the corner of his living room. One day I took something from the refrigeratorâ€”maybe a jar of mayonnaise, maybe a pitcher of lemonadeâ€”and it slipped from my grip and tumbled to the floor. Shattered. It symbolized my life then; I was a shattered, splattered mess. Jack murmured kind words and then cleaned up the floor (his floor) with me. I spilled lots of things in those months. Jack murmured many kind words.
I couldnâ€™t tell you why Jack the professor thought Emmaus a theologically essential Gospel account. I just remember him liking it because of how much he helped me in a terrifying time of life.
In a time of life when . . . everything went wrong for me…I saw myself as a failure…I had no future . . . a friend invited me to sit and stay awhile, to share a few meals. In a gesture of compassion, a friend helped me reclaim Godâ€™s love.
Why is Emmaus important to me? I know what itâ€™s like to have my eyes opened by a Christ-like gesture.