Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Well, you couldn’t really blame them for walking away, could you? To be sure, their leaving Jerusalem, the place where it all went horribly wrong, was an act of resignation, a sort of giving up and facing facts. But make no mistake, dear people, this sort of resignation is an act of courage, as well. For in their leaving of Jerusalem, there was no place any longer to hide from the pain and the guilt, the spectacle of the Passover no longer providing the noise that could drown out the memory of what went wrong. Yes, there was no longer any place to hide from the pain at the death of their rabbi and leader, this prophet mighty in Word and deed. And there was not longer any refuge from the guilt that, at the very moment they should have been near, at the time of trial, they ran like cowards motivated by nothing more than self preservation. So they walked, together, away from the place where they had seen Jesus die and saw a picture of themselves that was perhaps a bit too honest, for they had left him to die alone. And while they might not have been there to comfort Jesus in his aloneness, they certainly were there to comfort one another now. The simple presence of another body somehow drawing limits around the sorrow and betrayal that mingled together around them. Yes, to walk away meant to own up to the facts; to know that life must return to its normal and grinding state, that their hope in this Jesus had ultimately been misplaced. That God just might not have been as involved in all of this as they had once thought.
And if you could not blame them for walking away, neither could you blame them for being astonished that this stranger had no idea what had just occurred in Jerusalem over the last several days. To be sure, this question, “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know about these things?” was probably a bit overwrought, a bit on the exaggerated side, but doesn’t that make all the more sense? For these men were indeed grieving: grieving the death of Jesus, grieving the death of their hopes that God was finally acting for His people, grieving the death of a vision of themselves in which they would pay the ultimate cost for their cause. In short, everything they had hoped about themselves and their God had turned out to be miserably and utterly wrong. All of this had been reduced to nothing as Jesus died and they hid in back alleys, far away from any real danger. And so they experienced the sort shrinking and compression of their worlds that attends any sort of grief and pain, the sort of shrinking in which one becomes convinced that the whole world is indeed experiencing the same pain and grief. In these circumstances, when one bumps into an ignorant stranger, one who does not feel the same amount of pain or fear, and when that stranger’s ignorance suggests that there might be people who did not even hear about the death of this Jesus, well that sort of thing is an insult and prompts questions like “are you the only person who does not know about these things?”
This question, this string of words that is less an inquiry and more an accusation, this is that deep expression of human pain and grief. For our own struggles in this life prompt any number of questions that reveal the same fundamental injustice: the world, more often than not, seems indifferent to our trials and tribulations. When we are having a hard time at work, or are having trouble accepting the fact that we might be a lot less patient and caring, less virtuous and brave, than we had hoped, or even more poignantly, when we had expected God to act in some dramatic fashion on our behalves and what transpired was not the drama of the divine but rather a terrible silence, yes when we are brought into any number of these sort of disappointments, we implicitly expect that those whom we meet will be attune to what we experience. And when they are not, when they ask “what things?” with an infuriating indifference, our spirits are deeply troubled and we are shocked. What do you mean that you do not know of my troubles and my trauma? How could you possibly not know? When we ask these questions, we give voice to the narrowing effect that grief has on us. It becomes impossible for us to believe that anyone would not know what we are experiencing, for it is having such a profound impact on our lives.
While the human dynamics present in this story, in our story, are entirely interesting, the greatest shock is how God responds. To our question, “are you the only stranger who does not know about these things?” God, in Christ, poses a more interesting question still: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Now, at first, the two questions seem to have nothing to do with each other: but that is where the greatest surprise comes to bear. In our world where grief isolates us and we believe that we have God figured out and can predict the Spirit’s movement, the questions do not compute. However, from God’s perspective, where the cross and empty tomb are necessary for God to get to us, the one answers the other. For when Jesus asks these two men this question about the Messiah’s suffering and all that it means, he is asking them to reconsider what they held as steadfast and true about the way that God works in the world. Yes, Jesus is pointing them to this fact: that God often works against our expectations and God’s entry into our lives is frequently not when we are at our best, but rather when we are at our most desperate and fearful. In short, God often walks up next to us when we are walking away from what we had hoped would be a triumph but instead was a failure, and who among us could not sing of the Christ’s sweet consolation in times of fear and pain, when we come to him not with our pride and supposed merit, but when we come to him as we are: broken and fearful, full of trembling doubt? Yes, it is in those moments, when we admit our doubt and our fear, that the Christ comes up next to us, singeing away that grief and pain with the fire of his own brilliant and burning love. Yes, it was necessary that the Messiah must suffer these things so as to answer our lonely and fearful questions with the robust presence of his resurrected body. For now the resurrected Christ’s presence is not dependent upon our efforts or striving, for he is now just as real, just as present to us, when we are in need of forgiveness and healing, when we need a God who not will abandon us to our fear and failings. Because the Christ has suffered his way into glory, those lonely questions that plague you no longer plague you alone. For Christ himself hears them and by his holy and loving presence, transforms what was once only fear and pain into the life abundant. And it is that sort of presence, that sort of divine transformation that has the potential to quite literally turn your life around, the road to Emmaus is now the road to Jerusalem, the road back to the place where the church will begin and where the disciples will be given the Holy Spirit and the power to proclaim Christ’s resurrection in word and deed. For notice, please, how the disciples run back to Jerusalem, for if Christ is risen, then there is still work yet to be done, the work of proclaiming God’s goodness in all we say and do. For now, now that the Christ has entered into his glory by the cross, that means that any place of fear or abandonment is a place where Christ himself is now active, bidding us to come join him as he has first joined us. For Christ is risen, he is risen, indeed. Alleluia.