Luke 24:13-35 – The 3rd Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 4, 2014
“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” (Luke 24:31)
I stumbled through seminary in the midst of the 20th century, probably passing subjects like Ancient Greek and Old Testament Theology because of a professor’s pity on those of us brave enough or naïve enough (or both) to consider ministry. In seminary, I often (desperately) flipped through a book’s pages until discovering a quote to satisfy the low bar of my needs for a paper on the beatitudes or Paul’s notion of justification by faith. Alas, the 21st century of googling has elevated me into the depths of being a slacker. I’m a copy-and-paste dude, a cherry-pick-the-Bible-verse guy and a search-for-the-selective-facts fella that quickly (desperately) seeks something—anything, please—to bolster and boost my opinion.
Have I lowered your opinion of me enough?
Even so, please join me on the road to Emmaus.
You know Emmaus, don’t you?
Of course you do. I assume many my blog’s treasured readers are primarily churchy, faithy and Christiany ministers. And those equally treasured readers that don’t professionally marry, bury and baptize are at least interested in the Bible. In religion. In God. In Jesus.
So I’m preaching to the proverbial choir when I ask if you know Emmaus. Luke’s author said the village was seven miles from Jerusalem, or—to hew closer to the ancient languages I (tried to) study in seminary—Emmaus was 60 or so stadia from the City of David. In Greek measurements, a stadion is 600 feet. 60 stadia would be equivalent to 6.8 miles and modern Biblical translations round that up to seven miles.
How long does it take you to walk seven miles?
Once, as a strapping youth, I’d hike into the wilderness with fifty pounds on my shoulders and kept a steady two miles per hour pace, slowly trucking up and down the mountains all day long. Today, less strapping and much older, I can maintain a four miles per hour pace on my suburban strolls if I don’t hoist any extra weight.
Since you know Emmaus, you know that the resurrected Jesus joined two disciples, one named Cleopas and the other nameless, on the road. On the walked. On they talked. On they swapped pleasantries and discussed theology. Did they trudge or keep a brisk pace? Did they lug the first century equivalent of a backpack, or were they unfettered by extra weight?
At a plodding two-miles-an-hour, the Emmaus trip could’ve taken 3½ hours. At a four-mile clip, they’d be on the road for less than two dusty hours. And all along, up the hills or down the hills, those disciples of Jesus didn’t know it was Jesus by their side.
Maybe Luke the writer, Luke the spinner of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal son parables, made up the Emmaus story. After all (and you faithy readers know this already), no one is 100% sure there was a town called Emmaus. And who was this follower of Jesus named Cleopas? He’s only mentioned once in Luke’s Gospel . . . on the road to Emmaus! And Cleopas’ unnamed friend? Well, he’s . . . unnamed!
Even a copy-and-paste, cherry-pick-the-verses believer like me would be suspicious of this after-the-tomb tale. There are cardboard characters on a road trip to somewhere that might be nowhere and nobody figures out they’re with Jesus until they break bread at an Emmaus greasy spoon. And then Jesus vanishes. Poof!
Hard to believe this two to four hour stroll ever happened; hard to swallow a story with such a shallow and convenient structure.
And yet Emmaus is the post-resurrection story that matters most to me.
First, please read the first paragraph. (Oh, you’re lazy and you don’t want to scroll way back there? Fine, then I’ll sum up my opening for you: I can often be lazier than you about faith.)
I plod along most of the roads of my life. My to-do lists are never done. Like Cleopas, I’m happy to prattle on about the past and be remarkably oblivious to the present. Like the unnamed disciple, I’d rather not be noticed. Like the village of Emmaus, most of my destinations aren’t on a map.
But these three, the unrecognized Jesus and the dimwitted Cleopas and Mr. Anonymous Disciple, do the simplest of things: they share a meal. Suddenly, our two chumps—Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Ricky and Lucy, R2D2 and C3PO, Laurel and Hardy, Gracie and George—recognize that it’s-it’s-it’s . . .
And then he’s gone.
For hours Tweedledum and Tweedledee had a chance to learn everything, to ask Jesus anything and everything they might wish. (Wasn’t it their version of seminary?) And while their fellow sojourner taught them much on those two to four hours, and while they were far better people because of that time on the road to Emmaus, they missed a golden opportunity.
Were they that blind? That grief-stricken? That dim-witted?
What did they know?
In Easter’s echo, we debate or celebrate empty tombs, Jesus’ divinity and/or humanity, the veracity of the myriad resurrection tales (including Emmaus), but there’s something singularly appealing for me to contemplate in the moment two disciples eyes were opened.
In the humdrum events, Christ appears. Then. Now. Annie Dillard wrote in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek about stumbling upon a tree—just a “backyard cedar”—in the Blue Ridge Mountains that seemed to be a source of light, to be afire . . . “It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.” The humdrum became holy.
I believe the blind, grief-stricken and dimwitted Lucy-and-Ricky disciples were seen. They glimpsed themselves through Christ-like eyes, and knew—they knew—how completely loved they were.
The Christ-light way of seeing and being seen remains. Please, I beg, keep my eyes open to the world around me. Please, I pray, help me look at others and myself through eyes ablaze in Christ-love.