Reflection on Luke 24.13-35
Is Emmaus a real place – and does it matter? I read a commentary on Luke’s account of the road which said that nobody knows where Emmaus was – it might not even be a real place. So does it matter whether Emmaus exists as a place or whether, indeed, it’s just a metaphor for all those false destinations that we pursue when our dreams are shattered, our hopes dashed, our love jilted? For some reason, I felt uneasy about accepting the account simply as a sort of parable.
I have really been to a place called Emmaus – a different one, in Pennsylvania. A friend of mine and her family moved there from California 27 years ago. I went there in similar circumstances to those two disciples. It was American Thanksgiving, a major event in family life. But my family life had been brought to an abrupt end by cancer. My friends were kind, loving and hospitable. They fed me, we prayed in thankfulness for what we had received, including the bond of friendship that we shared. It matters to me that I had broken real bread with real friends, and felt the presence of Christ’s love amongst us.
Part of me feels that the reality of the place and the journey accentuates the spiritual presence of Christ in our real lives. And yet … The road to Emmaus also serves as a metaphor for all those journeys which we make to places where we are not supposed to go when we feel lost and desolate.
In The Horse And His Boy, one of the stories of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, there is a scene that reproduces the road to Emmaus. The boy of the title, Shasta, finds himself alone and isolated, walking along a dark road. He becomes aware of a presence nearby in the dark, and he gradually realises that there is something walking alongside him. And he is very much afraid, because it seems rather large. But eventually he plucks up enough courage to ask: “Who are you?” Out of the darkness comes a reply: “One who has waited long for you to speak.”
It was Aslan, the great lion who represents Christ, the one who has waited long for us to speak. As with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and as for Shasta, there is often listening that needs to take place in our lives – to things that have already been said. Many of us need to hear things twice – or more! – for them to sink in. We are all offered opportunities to listen to Christ on our roads to Emmaus – and if we are listening well, we will find ourselves energised – and quite possibly driven to go somewhere quite different.
Resurrection is about Jesus coming home to us, in our lives, transforming and challenging us. Resurrection puts Jesus into our present journeys. Resurrection is about God having the last word – even if sometimes the word has to be repeated as we walk despondently on a road to a place that is somewhere other than we are meant to be. Resurrection is about being open to walk our road to Emmaus. It is about noticing who walks with us; listening to what they have to say; acknowledging and responding to the feelings of our hearts; being fed with nourishment for our souls. This is the road of resurrection, and it is the most likely place to find Jesus: on the road, not in a room, and certainly not in a tomb.
A footnote to all this: I always look back over my notes to see whether I might be tediously repeating myself, and whether I am being consistent. I found that more than ten years ago I had written this: “Nobody really knows where Emmaus was. In a way, that adds to the point of the story. There is no need for a specific Emmaus. The road to Emmaus is one that anyone can walk.”
Sometimes I wonder whether God is messing about with me!
So we have a choice: Emmaus might be a real place – or it might not. If the reality of the walk along the road makes an important contextual contribution to our understanding, we should grasp it; if the metaphor works as a way of applying it to our own lives, we should rest in it. Either way, we have to decide whether to listen to our fears, or to Jesus, and whether to hear him with open hearts and minds – looking for his presence in the breaking of bread together.