The Road from Emmaus
On Holy Saturday, my colleague Jill Carattini tweeted poignantly and truly, “Friends, we have much to grieve in this world, much to lament, individually and collectively. Let’s not rush to Easter yet. Good Friday gives us permission to lament profoundly together.”
Easter Sunday has come and gone. But the day felt more like Good Friday. Somehow it feels like we need to extend our stay at Good Friday—stay a little longer, mourn a little more.
Not unlike the disciples themselves.
In Luke 24:13–49, the episode on the road to Emmaus is set, not in the dusking shadows of the crucifixion, but in the dawning light of the resurrection. But it is a poignant narrative set in the shadows cast under the light of Easter.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus “stood still, looking sad” (v.17). Even though we live on the other side of Easter, there are those times when we feel as if there isn’t much of a point and purpose to life. These are those moments when life comes to a standstill, especially in times of deep sorrow. We feel like the last person in an evacuated world.
The disciples had expected Jesus to manifestly and unmistakably defeat their oppressors and fulfil their dreams: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v.21). But the exact opposite appears to have happened. Not unlike the disciples, we also place our hopes on certain things and expect things to turn out in a certain way. But in life, things don’t always happen the way we want, hope, pray, or expect. The road to Emmaus is littered with shattered hopes and broken dreams.
The two grieving friends go on to relate: “Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive” (vv. 22, 23). The report of the empty tomb and the phenomena that accompanied it left the disciples perplexed and confused.
We also find that when Jesus appears to his other disciples, “they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’” (vv. 37, 38). Yet again, like the disciples, there are times when we are filled with fear and doubt, even unbelief. The more we experience the harsh realities of life, we gradually and unconsciously lose our youthful abandonment to and trust in God. We lose our nerve and courage, and doubt the reality and activity, the greatness and goodness, of God.
Still. Sad. Sorrowful. Shattered. Stricken. Surprised. Stunned. Scared. Skeptical. We are all on the road, the road to Emmaus. The question is: How do we deal with such experiences and feelings? How do we cope with the dramatic events that leave us traumatized? How do we arrest the silent but deadly hemorrhage of our faith? How do we cope with the world? How do we cope with ourselves?
In his account, Luke the evangelist drops the word “open” three times in quick succession. And each “opening” is a clue that aids us in navigating and negotiating through life’s inevitable traumas—openings that let the light in, that we might be led out.
All along the journey, the eyes of the two disciples were not open to recognize Jesus even if he’d been with them throughout. The problem was not that they could not see him; it was that they could not recognize him. The problem was not that they were not talking to him or that he was not listening. Neither was it that he was silent or that they were not hearing him. It was simply that they did not know that it was Jesus. It was only “When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened [Gk. diēnoichthēsan], and they recognized him” (vv.30, 31). During traumatic times in the journey of life, we can fail to recognize the presence of Jesus with us. It is in such times that our eyes need to be opened to recognize him, “God-with-us.”
The second opening occurs in verse 32 where the disciples say to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened [Gk. diēnoigen] to us the Scriptures?” What does the Bible really say regarding the reality of life, including the Christian life? Does it say that all our problems will go away? Does it say that Christians will never suffer? Does it say that God will always answer our prayers? Does it say that we will be completely free from disease or destitution, death or destruction, the devil or demons?
Unless we open the Bible and learn what the Bible actually says about life’s realities, our faith will be misguided, our hopes will be misplaced, and our disappointment and bitterness will be sure. The regular opening of the Bible in our individual and corporate lives, getting the Bible into the blood and bones of our being, is the fuel that reignites the dying embers of our burning hearts.
It is also essential to notice that Jesus, in opening the Scriptures to his disciples, both on the road to Emmaus and later in the place where they were cloistered, does not just quote a set of disparate or isolated texts from the Scriptures Rather, he opens to them the Scriptures as a whole: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v.27; cf. v.44). The matrix and kaleidoscope of the seemingly disconnected and conflicting parts of Scripture are drawn together to converge and cohere in the center that is Christ himself. It is when we see all of reality refracted through this center, that we find ourselves renewed, revived, and reignited.
The opening of the Bible is, however, not enough. It must be accompanied by the opening of our minds. The revelation of Scripture requires the illumination of the mind. What is given in revelation cannot be grasped without illumination. So Jesus proceeds, finally, to open their ignorant, un-illuminated minds: “Then he opened [Gk. diēnoixen] their minds to understand the Scriptures” (v.45).
In this opening of their minds, we find the Lord engaging in a twofold process: first, he rereads Scripture and reframes its reality—its law, history, politics, poetry, and prophecy—through the lens of the cross and the resurrection; second, he reframes the reality of his passion and resurrection through the rereading and reinterpretation of Scripture. The truth of the gospel does not simply correspond or conform to reality; it transforms and reframes reality.
A fixed, closed, “fundamentalist” mind, resistant to new vistas of understanding God’s word and world, also closes the door to new understandings of our traumatic experiences and, thereby, to new possibilities of coping with them. God—his word, his works, and his world—is bigger than us. We can never outgrow God. In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan tells Lucy, “Every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” As we mature and experience life more, our mind also needs to be opened and enlarged to gain a deeper, bigger, and richer understanding of God and his ways. This, in turn, enables us to pick up the broken and fallen pieces of our lives and reframe them in the image and pattern of the crucified and risen one.
The opening of our eyes to recognize our Lord; the opening of our Bible to reignite our hearts; and the opening of our minds to reframe our realities—that is what we desperately need too.
In the story, only one of the two disciples, Cleopas, is named (v.18). The name of the other disciple is not given. The two, however, appear to live together in the same home. Who might the other disciple be? In John 19:25, a certain “Mary the wife of Cleopas” is mentioned. If the other unnamed disciple is indeed Cleopas’s wife, Mary, then the opening of the two disciples’ eyes is also an allusion to the opening of the eyes of another couple, Adam and Eve, when they partook of the tree in Eden: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:7). The first couple, Adam and Eve, partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that brought them nakedness, shame, pain, and death. But here, at last, is another couple who partake of the blessed and broken body on another Tree, the Tree of Life—and their eyes are opened to recognize him, the One who bears their shame, heals their pain, and enables them to turn away from Emmaus and head again toward Jerusalem, the City of God (v. 33).
Kethoser (Aniu) Kevichusa is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Nagaland, India.
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