If you ever take a pilgrimage to Israel and ask to visit the site of Emmaus, the most honest response your guide can give you is, “Which one.” There are at least 3 different sites identified with the city mentioned in this week’s gospel lesson (Luke 24:13). Perhaps it is appropriate that we don’t know the exact location where Cleopas and his companion were heading. Neither do we know the road on which they were traveling. In reading the text, whatever the street sign might read, they certainly were walking along Despair Drive, Anguish Alley or Disappointment Boulevard.
Typically we focus on the fact the disciples are walking TO Emmaus. While this is true, we should not forget they are walking AWAY from Jerusalem. They also were walking away from the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation given to the women from their group that Jesus was alive. They were walking away from the Risen Lord and from the hope of the resurrection.
The frame of mind of the two Jesus followers is summed up in their reply to Jesus’ question, “what are you discussing with each other.” Their reply, “We had hoped …” I cannot think of a sadder situation than to speak of hope in the past tense – as if hope has past them by. There is nothing as devastating as having lost hope.
Probably all of us have taken a similar detour on the path of our life. Some of us might be on that road today. If not, we most likely know someone who is slogging along life stuck on a route like this.
What is important to note in this story is that Jesus shows up along the way. Jesus shows up to be with these two disciples as they walk away from Jerusalem, as they walk away from their hope in Jesus, as they walk away from the stories of the resurrection. Jesus comes to them, even as they are journeying away from where he had appeared to the disciples.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, Gospel Medicine, says this about the fact that the disciples were walking away from Jesus: “[Jesus] does not limit his post resurrection appearances to those with full-confidence in him. He comes to the disappointed, the doubtful, the disconsolate. He comes to those who do not know their Bibles, who do not recognize him even when they are walking beside him. He comes to those who have given up and are headed back home….”
The reality is that an encounter always begins with him finding us. He comes to the disciples, even as they are walking way. Like the shepherd who leaves the flock to search for the lost lamb, Jesus searches for us. Lost sheep don’t find the shepherd. Shepherds come and find them.
The promise of this story for us is that the Risen Christ does come to us in the midst of our dashed hopes and shattered dreams. The key is that Jesus is along the way with us and for us. Whatever path we are taking, Jesus is with us. Even when we think we are walking away from him, Jesus is still with us along the way.
As bad as the story begins, it ends with joy, renewal, and reinvigoration. From trudging away from Jerusalem in despair, they returned to Jerusalem with spirits refreshed and hope restored. Rather than the whispers of despair with which they left, they return with shouts of joy.
May Jesus encounter you on whatever path you currently find yourself on and may you find joy and hope restored.
If you would like to view past editions of Moments with Mike, follow this link: https://corridordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/