THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

One of the important components of the many Resurrection accounts is the unexpected.  There are multiple stories of the Resurrection:  Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, and others.  Over and over Jesus had told the Apostles that He would die and “rise on the third day.”  One would think that the Apostles would have stayed around to see this promise that He would rise; even if just out of curiosity.  But the Gospels tell us they did not stay around.  How quickly they forgot the promise that Jesus would “rise on the third day.” 

One example is the fact that Peter has returned to his old life of fishing along the Sea of Galilee.  This is where the resurrected Christ will appear to Peter as he has gone back to fishing and his former life.  But it is this Sunday’s Gospel that really gives us a good lesson.  It is called the Road to Emmaus.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we find two disciples of Jesus going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem.  They are not given names, perhaps to save them the embarrassment of having forgotten the Lord’s promise that He would “rise on the third day.”  While they are making their way to this now long-forgotten Roman garrison called Emmaus, they are described by Saint Luke as “downcast.”  They had already given up hope in the promise of the Resurrection.  This would make anyone “downcast.”  All their hopes had been dashed.  Jesus seemed a failure.  Death, it seems, had won on the cross.  Ultimately, however, they will come to recognize Jesus who walks with them now, but who is hidden from their understanding.

What is Saint Luke trying to teach us in this marvelous story?  We are simply told that Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem; but it is the direction on the map that gives us the answer.  Theologians believe that Emmaus was located west of Jerusalem.  Therefore, they were walking toward the setting sun.  They were walking into darkness.  More importantly they were walking away from the rising sun/Son.  For Saint Luke, everything in Jesus’ life was directed toward Jerusalem and the city of His death and Resurrection.  These disciples are walking away from Jesus and towards Emmaus, the outpost of the worldly powers of Rome. Or as St. Augustine would say, they are walking from the City of God to the City of Man.

Once their eyes are opened and they realize Jesus now walking with them is the Resurrected Christ, they stop, turn around and run toward Jerusalem.  And they run back in the middle of the night!  You try running 7 miles in the middle of the night after having already walked 7 miles in the wrong direction.

A final thought.  What was it that allowed them to recognize the Lord?  The Gospel tells us that Jesus ‘took the bread and gave it to them.”  I suppose they would have seen His hands which bore the scars of the Cross.  In that moment, they knew the One who stood before them now was the same One who died upon the Cross.  “It is the Lord.”  Just as a warrior is proud of his battle scars, so the Lord proudly displays the scars that are proof of His victory over the greatest battle ever fought:  the battle of the grave.  Like those disciples on the Road to Emmaus, your own scars just might be an opportunity to “open our eyes” to the real presence of Jesus who walks among us, but is hidden from our sight.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon