Home > Opinion > The Road to Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus

By Rev Rod Fisher, The Gap Uniting Church. 

Our gospel lectionary reading for this Sunday is Luke 24: 13-35, often referred to as “The Road to Emmaus.”  It’s an important story near the end of Luke’s gospel.  I’ve often wondered why this particular story was included at this point of the story and what relevance it has for us as readers and disciples 2000 years later.

I’m no historian, but I’m sure that if this particular road had a name, it wouldn’t have been called “The Road to Emmaus”, an otherwise small village of no historical significance.  My guess would be that for anyone who lived anywhere in that area, that road would’ve more likely been known as “The Road to Jerusalem” in the other direction.

So why this road?  Where were these disciples going?  What was significant about Jesus’ encounter with them at that time?  What about this encounter speaks to us and our situation as people and congregations of The Uniting Church in 2023?

I’d like to suggest three things this story says about the church and about God, both in describing our current situation and the way forward into the future.

  1. The journey of grief and loss
  2. The journey and the meal
  3. The journey and God’s work

The Journey of Grief and Loss

These two disciples, possibly Cleopas and his wife Mary, were stuck in a situation of grief associated with a real loss of hope in their present and future and were left to resorting (or retreating) into the familiar pathways and patterns that had sustained them in the past.

We need to acknowledge and own the grief associated with the loss of many things associated with our current experience of ‘church’.  Like these two disciples, when we have trouble dealing with challenges in the present, it is so easy to slip into a default setting of desiring or retreating into beloved patterns and priorities of the past.  And, like these two disciples on the road, we can become oblivious to the presence of God with us, regardless of how physically close to us God might be or how amazingly someone is able to interpret and unpack the Bible for us!

How have we slumped in our posture and patterns? How have we retreated into the familiar places and programs and priorities without realising it?

The Journey and the Meal

One takeaway from this story is that something as simple and ordinary as a meal can be the catalyst to open our eyes to see God and God’s work in new and fresh ways.

Think of the first meal in the Bible.  The moment is heavy with significance.  “The woman took some of the fruit, and ate it; she gave it to her husband, and he ate it; then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen 3: 6-7).

Now Luke, echoing that story, describes the first meal of the new creation. “He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them; then the eyes of them both were opened, and they recognised him” (Luke 24:31).

One of these meals represents all the chaos and suffering the whole creation was subjected to through an act of rebellion; the other represents the defeat of death and the new life and new hope offered to all of creation through an act of selfless obedience.

We are reminded that, especially in the midst of difficulty, we need to be open and attentive to the new thing that God is doing in our midst, open and attentive to encountering Jesus in new people and places, in new programs and pathways, even if these are unfamiliar, unsafe, untested, and all of the other reasons we hide behind.

The Journey and God’s Work

There is another sign of Luke’s artistry to be discovered in this story as part of his framework for the gospel. In Luke 2:41-52 we read how Mary and Joseph went a day’s journey away from Jerusalem, and then, realising Jesus wasn’t with them, looked for him for three days before discovering him in the Temple with the learned teachers.

“Didn’t you know”, Jesus said to the frantic Mary, “that I would have to be getting involved with my Father’s work?”  Now here we have a different couple, likewise at the end of three days’ agony of mental and spiritual searching.  “Didn’t you know”, says Jesus to them, in effect, “that I would have to be doing my Father’s work?”

The whole gospel story is framed between these two very human scenes.  Luke has invited us to accompany him on a journey of faith, faith that will take us through anxiety and sorrow to meet the Jesus who has accomplished his Father’s work and longs to share the secret of it – and the gift of his own presence – with us, his followers.

Whatever ‘road’ we may find ourselves slumping along today, perhaps oblivious to how God is trying to get our attention, it helps to remember that the same Jesus who promises to ‘never leave us nor forsake us’, meets us with grace:

  1. Jesus meets us wherever we are
    • physically, personality, geographically, existentially…
  1. Jesus knows us intimately
    • our thoughts, desires, motivations, regrets…
  1. Jesus provides the means of transformation
    • a new direction, passion, motivation, or vision…

“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” (Anne Lamott)

The road to Emmaus is just the beginning.  Hearing Jesus’ voice in scripture, knowing him in the breaking of the bread, is part of the way forward.

The reminder and challenge for all of us, both as individuals and as the church, is to do whatever we can to be open to the new thing God is calling us to be and do today.  That means that we need to be attentive, and we need to be intentional in all that we do – our worship, witness and service – always focused on the one who has called us and continues to call us into partnership with a missional God.

Will that mean that we might make mistakes?  Yep. 

Will that mean that we might upset some people?  You bet.

Will that mean that some things will go ‘off script’?  Absolutely.

But it also means that we’ll be able to notice some of the new and incredible things God is doing both within and through us.  What that looks like in your context is something best discerned by your community of faith. 

I pray that our hearts burn within us as we courageously step out in faith together.  Shalom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *