Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24.13-27)
Jerusalem was beginning to empty. The festival was over and it was time to get back home and pick up the pieces of normal life again. People had come from all over the country and from all the places where the Jewish community was living. Simon had come from Cyrene, others from other parts of the Diaspora. For some it had simply been a good Passover at the heart of their nation, at the heart of their faith. For others it had been life changing.
Simon had been called from the crowd to carry a prisoner’s cross. His life was changed forever. Where would he go, what would he do? Just going back to normal seemed ridiculous. Others had joined a procession in to the city a week ago, following a band of disciples with their teacher; then they had seen that man again, on trial before the Governor. They had followed a grisly procession outside the city wall and watched the man die. They wouldn’t forget it.
Others had been more intimately involved. Cleopas was heading out of town with the crowds, heading back to home in Emmaus and he was travelling with – well, we don’t know who it was. I always imagine though that it was with his wife, Mary. In St John’s Gospel we are told that beneath the cross of Jesus stood his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and Mary ‘the wife of Clopas’ (John 19.25). Is this another way of spelling Cleopas? It most probably is. And John tells us that this woman was ‘his mother’s sister’. We don’t know whether she was actually Mary’s sister, Mary – it would seem unlikely to have two girls named the same – or her sister-in-law, therefore Joseph’s sister Mary.
Whatever the relationship is in these precise terms, it would seem that these two disciples are the aunt and uncle of Jesus, family members who were on the edge of the group of disciples but who had been sharing the Passover with other members of the family in Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph came to Jerusalem for the Passover each year (Luke 2.41) and so they probably shared in that with the wider family – just as we meet up with the wider family for Christmas, visit the aunts and uncles.
So Cleopas and Mary are heading out of town. Perhaps they can’t wait to leave the city. Seeing Jesus die was heart-rending; they were grief stricken and exhausted, supporting Mary in her agony. And as they left rumours were beginning to circulate amongst their friends that Jesus had been seen alive. They couldn’t believe it. So they headed home, home where they could get back to normal – but it would be a new normality.
And like any couple they talked and talked, sharing memories, sharing thoughts. So much to think about. There were a great many people on the road, so when someone caught them up it didn’t seem strange. But what was strange was that someone heading in the same direction knew nothing of what had been happening in Jerusalem.
‘How could this man not know?’ they thought. But they filled him in with the details, shared with him their experience.
And then he speaks.
The account of the experience on the road to Emmaus is, for me, one of the most important Gospel passages. It is about the Christian life, it is about the Eucharist, it is about knowing God, knowing Jesus.
In his book ‘With burning hearts’, Henri Nouwen says of the Emmaus story
‘As the story speaks of loss, presence, invitation, communion, and mission it embraces the five main aspects of the Eucharistic celebration. Together they form a movement, the movement from resentment to gratitude, that is, from a hardened heart to a grateful heart.’
It is this movement that we are caught up in as we too travel with Cleopas and Mary and with the stranger who seems to know so little but knows so much.
Walk with us, Lord,
on our journey
and open the scriptures to us.