Two of them were making their way to a village named Emmaus seven miles distant from Jerusalem, discussing as they went all that had happened. In the course of their lively exchange, Jesus approached and began to walk along with them. However, they were restrained from recognizing him. He said to them, "what are you discussing as you go your way?” They halted, in distress, and one of them, Cleopas by name, asked him, ‘Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know the things that went on these past few days?” He said to them, "What things?” They said: "All those that had to do with Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed in the eyes of God and all the people: how our chief priests and leaders delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. We were hoping that he was the one who would set Israel free. Besides all this, today, the third day since these things happened, some women of our group have just brought us some astonishing news. They were at the tomb before dawn and failed to find his body, but returned with the tale that they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our number went to the tomb and found it be just as the women said; but him they did not see.”
Then he said to them, "What little sense you have? How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Did not the Messiah have to undergo all this so as to enter into his glory?” Beginning, then, with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to him. By now they were near the village to which they were going, and he acted as if he were going farther. But they pressed him: "Stay with us. It is nearly evening—the day is practically over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he had seated himself with them to eat, he took bread, pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him; whereupon he vanished from their sight. They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the Eleven and the rest of the company assembled. They were greeted with, "The Lord has been raised! It is true! He has appeared to Simon.” They recounted what had happened on the road and how they had come to know him in the breaking of bread.
Entering the Scene
This scene appears only in Luke’s Gospel. Luke has just told the Resurrection story but only by way of the women who’d encountered "two men in dazzling garments” at the tomb. Simon Peter runs to the tomb to check it out but finds only the empty wrappings. There has been no appearance of the risen Lord up to this point in Luke’s story—until now. Yet something additional must have happened in Jerusalem that is not recounted for when the two from our story return to tell the others, they are greeted with, "The Lord has been raised! It is true! He has appeared to Simon.”
This reminds us that Jesus appeared other times beyond the seven we study in our retreat. We look at these seven because they appear within a larger context or story for us to explore but other appearances are referred to. For example, Paul will later write to the Corinthians about the risen Christ, "he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. After that he was seen by five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have fallen asleep. Next he was seen by James; then by all the apostles” (I Cor. 15:5-7). Take note of the similarities, differences and questions that each of these encounters raises.
The text tells us that the town called Emmaus is seven miles distant. At a brisk sustained pace of one mile in 15 minutes or 4 mph, it would take an hour and 45 minutes to arrive. The conversation between these two would seem to slow that down considerably, though their return to Jerusalem later may well have been brisk indeed. Plus, these are not flat, paved roads. Hills surround Jerusalem making east-west travel particularly vertical. Rome had, indeed, built broad, stone roads throughout the Mediterranean—50,000 miles, in fact, in order to move troops and supply them. There were three of these running north-south in Israel—along the coast, along the east side of the Jordan and in the center along the watershed ridgeline. But most of the roads in Israel were simply beaten paths. These were the ways worn down by sandaled feet, pathways where good portions of the gospel narrative take place. Jesus and his followers spent long hours and days traveling these roads. Perhaps it is not so surprising that this is the place where He appears to these particular followers.
Getting into Character
What can we know from the text of the two walking along a beaten path? They are clearly part of a larger group of followers of Jesus—"some of our group,” "some of our number.” They are completely absorbed in discussing what has transpired, and not in a casual way. They are "distressed” and in retelling their story say, "we had hoped…” So we know their state of mind, the anguish in their hearts, and can presume some physical weariness from the road and from the toll of these last several days.
Again, like the first Station, The Women at the Tomb, we have one identified character and one not identified. What do we know of the one identified as Cleopas? This is the only time his name appears, so we know very little. But many folks have noted the similarity between Cleopas and Clopas, mentioned elsewhere, and scholars have debated the possibility of them being one and the same. The two names are not linguistically related. "Cleopas” is Greek and "Clopas” is presumed to be Semitic. But grammarians say that such an interchange of names may have been a common occurrence in the cultural, linguistic diversity of first century Palestine.
What is the relationship between the two who are walking along? That answer depends a good deal upon the earlier Cleopas / Clopas question. The one time that Clopas appears, it is in John 19:25, when John identifies one of the women at the foot of the cross as Mary, the wife of Clopas. So, if these two names are one and the same, it may well be that this is a married couple, Cleopas/Clopas and his wife, Mary. There is no way to know for certain but it is an intriguing and real possibility.
For our purposes on this retreat, let us entertain that possibility—one of our later questions focuses on that. Just as I asked you on Passion Sunday to choose a point of view from which to enter the story, let us choose the point of view of a married couple encountering Jesus first on the road, and then at their table.
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Consider what happens when we take an alternate point of view and see it from a different vantage point. A fascinating example is this painting by the Spaniard, Diego Velazquez, c. 1620, The Servant Girl at Emmaus. Painting in the 17th century, Velazquez paints a Moorish servant as would have been common in his time and place. While the ethnicity would likely have been different in Jesus’ time, the sentiment remains true. You actually have to look closely at the upper left hand corner and through the window to recognize the setting as Luke 24. The poet, Denise Levertov, was inspired by this painting to tell the story of the girl in the foreground.
She listens, listens, holding her breath.
Surely that voice is his—the one who had looked at her, once, across the crowd, as no one ever had looked? Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her? Surely those hands were his, taking the platter of bread from hers just now? Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well? Surely that face—? The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy. The man whose body disappeared from its tomb. The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, alive? Those who had brought this stranger home to their table don’t recognize yet with whom they sit. But she in the kitchen, absently touching the wine jug she’s to take in, a young Black servant intently listening, swings round and sees the light around him and is sure.
As with our earlier appearances, we have questions raised by the story. There is, once again, the question of recognition. This time, Luke offers the explanation, "they were restrained from recognizing him.” Is the Risen Jesus somehow different from the Jesus that each of these persons knew and loved so well? Is it their own grief that "restrains” them? Denise Levertov plumbs that question expertly in her poem when the servant girl recognizes Jesus before his companions do.
Jesus is sighted in many different places and times. It is impossible to set a timeline or to map these appearances. Is that because each writer tells the story uniquely, complete with anomalies? Is it caused by confusion? There is, after all, no precedence for how to deal with something like this. Or did the Risen Christ in some way transcend time and space? Is that a quality or characteristic of the risen life for him? For us?
And what about the moment of recognition? "He took bread, pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened...” Is it the very familiarity of those actions, actions done before in the company of Jesus, that caused them to remember, much like the servant girl does in the poem? Or is something more divinely-ordered taking place? The lines continue, "…and they recognized him; whereupon he vanished from their sight.” Again, we have contradiction: the familiar, everyday action of breaking bread, feeding the body, interrupted by vanishing from their sight. The commonplace and the other-worldly within the same sentence. Is that perhaps, somehow descriptive of this new state-of-being that is the Risen Jesus?
Though they recognize him in the breaking of the bread, it is in the breaking open of the scriptures that they first experienced him. "Were not our hearts burning within us?” parallels the Samaritan woman’s proclamation, "He told me everything I ever did!” and both of these come as a result of Jesus explaining and making the scriptures come alive. It is, of course, the perfect blueprint for liturgy but in that moment, it is simply a profound and passionate reality.
Bringing it Home
The two disciples in this story experience Jesus in a variety of ways: as a companion walking and talking with them, as a teacher explaining the scriptures to them and as the Messiah they had come to hope for when he breaks the bread. Consider each of these three entry points to find parallels in your own life—and share them with others in your group if you are in one.
1. "He Walks with Me” stirs recollection of those times when Jesus is with us, familiar, comforting, alongside as we walk into prayer, through life or in times of need. How have you experienced this?
2. Have you ever had a time when the scriptures struck so a responsive a chord in you that you had to tell someone? Had to memorize it? Write it down? Saw yourself in the story?
3. Have you ever deeply connected to Jesus in receiving Communion in church? Have you ever experienced deep fellowship at table in such a way as to realize Jesus was with you?
4. How might this familiar story change for you if, indeed, this were a married couple into whose home Jesus came and shared a meal? Enjoy creating a scenario as did Valazquez. What persons or details would you add to your picture?
Living Lord, in walking the road with your two disciples, you walked alongside them in their grief and comfort them with your presence. When we are in sorrow through all life’s twists and turns; be the lightener of our load; the cleanser of our vision; our upholder when we stumble.
A personal note from Kathleen
For your further consideration, these lines from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land."
Who is the third who walks always beside you When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another who is walking beside you Gilding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded I do not know whether a man or a woman --But who is that on the other side of you? (II. 359-365)