“That very day [Easter Sunday] two of the disciples were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened [Jesus’ crucifixion the precious Friday]. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. … [And they answered:] “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet might in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one [the Messiah] to redeem Israel.’” (Luke 24:13-17, 19-21a)
Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem just three days before – right before their eyes. And now … well, there was nothing left for these two disciples in our gospel story to do but get out of town. And where did they go? They went to a little town called Emmaus. And where is Emmaus? And why did they go there? It was no place in particular really – most likely their home (though we can only infer this from Luke 24:28-29), some seven miles from Jerusalem. And the main reason they went “back home” is that their future hopes had been heartbreakingly crushed. Did you hear it? “But we had hoped …” (v.21)
Do you understand what I mean when I say that there is not a one of us who’s not gone to some Emmaus with them? Emmaus can be a night at the movies just for the sake of seeing a movie, or to a bar just for the sake of a bar, or yes, just going for a walk. Emmaus may be buying a new article of clothing or getting some groceries we don’t need, or just “surfing the net” or flicking through the channels on the TV, vegging-out.
In many ways, we too are like these two early disciples, depicted by St. Luke in our Gospel story for this weekend … Carrying this empty hole in our hearts that speaks of loss … Loss of loved ones or friends, or just flat out, love! Loss of health or some great expectations. Or perhaps the deepest loss of all, as already referenced, echoed in v.21 of our Gospel story: “But we had hoped …” Four of the loneliest words in Holy Scripture.
Think on this with me: Do you remember a time as well, when Jesus was so real for you that you had no question about his presence in your life. He was your most intimate friend. A comforter. An inspiration. But now you don’t really think of him very often. You no longer have that special feeling. He’s become unrecognizable, a “stranger” (v.16). Somehow you feel you’ve lost him? Hmm?
So what do we do with this huge sense of loss – “but we had hoped” – that hits our lives? Try to fill it with stuff or distraction? Blame someone else? Try to “strut-and-fret” but really not signifying anything with honesty? I love this line from Graham Greene’s novel, The Heart of the Matter: “The man kept speaking of his gracious heart, but it seemed that a long deep surgical operation would have been required to find it” (Penguin Books, 1977; p.47).
No amount of make-up will cover it all… However, there’s another possibility; and that is this, to grieve our losses. To grieve is to allow our losses to soften and break apart our feelings of security and self-centeredness and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness. And this is where our journey of faith begins anew – as this gospel word of God in Christ – comes to us on our Emmaus Road, beginning with the Kyrie in our order of worship this coming weekend. These two Greek words are short-hand for Kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy”). It’s a grieving, contrite heart that recognizes our co-responsibility for the evil that surrounds us and is in us, and that we need a saving hope, a resurrecting power that’s beyond our human strength or worldly power. And so the early disciples confess: “… our chief priests and rulers [and we ourselves] delivered Jesus up to be condemned to death” (v.20)
Again, there is this wonderful “however” … something amazing, life-giving, hope-renewing that’s about to happen in this story for the disciples and for us as well … Come and see. Come and hear. Come and be renewed … that your hearts as well might “burn within you,” (Luke 24:32). Yes, with hope … as God’s Word comes and speaks to you, afresh, anew.