Luke tells the story of the Road to Emmaus. It is a travel story. Two people walking down the road to Emmaus. We don’t know who they are. We do know that they are not among the 12 disciples. We assume that they are some of the followers, those people who heard Jesus say, “Follow me,” and took him literally. They followed him from Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. There must have been a fairly large group of followers, and these two people on the road to Emmaus were probably among them.
Luke says that the name of one of them was Cleopas. That is about all we know about them. It is interesting, though, that there is a man named Cleopas who is the father of a bishop of Jerusalem. Even more intriguing is the fact that in the Gospel of John, one of the Marys who was at the cross, according to John, was “Mary the wife of Cleopas.” So it could very well be this man. If so, then the other man walking down the road with him isn’t a man at all. It may be his wife, Mary. They are going home. They are leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion, despondent, defeated, discouraged, going home.
Cleopas and Mary, or whoever it was, walking down the road, talking it over, their hopes extinguished in one fell swoop, one sudden and ruthless blow. Just gone. There is nothing they can do about it. It’s over. They are helpless now.
A stranger appears and walks down the road with them. The stranger says to them, “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation about some terrible thing that has happened. Tell me about it.” Cleopas says to the stranger, “You must be the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the news.” He told him about Jesus, the mighty prophet, how he was arrested, and how he was tried unjustly, and how he was crucified. Then Cleopas said, “A strange thing happened. Some women visited the tomb. It was empty. They saw an angel who told them, ‘He’s not here. He is risen.’ Some others came later and saw the same thing, the empty tomb, although they didn’t see the angel.” Then they said, “We don’t know. It is all so strange, all these events. Anyway that’s all past now. It’s all over. We’re going home.”
The stranger speaks. “You know, it was all prophesied.” Then he gives them a Bible lesson as they walk down the road, till they come to a little town called Emmaus, seven miles down the road from Jerusalem.
The stranger appeared to be going further. They said, “Will you stay with us? It is getting dark. Why don’t you have a meal with us?” So they go in the inn at Emmaus, and sit down. The stranger takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and hands it to them. They recognize him. It’s the Lord!
Then he is gone. They said to each other, “It was him! He was here with us!” They rush to Jerusalem and tell the 11, “The Lord has risen indeed!”
Such a lovely story. It is a Communion story. The Church saw it that way from the very beginning. Even today it is most often interpreted as a Communion story. It says that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is always the Host.
But what I want you to see is that before it is a Communion story, it is a travel story. Two people, discouraged, despondent, confused, angry. That is like the spiritual landscape of so many lives, desolation and devastation. The vision that these people had of what life could be is now dashed to the ground. The hope that they had in this man is now gone. He is gone. The hope is gone.
I know you have walked down an Emmaus Road. I suppose all of us have. It appears at such times that we are all alone. That is what makes it so desolate, because nobody knows what you have been through, and you fear nobody really cares.
Luke said what Easter means is that you are not alone. Luke gives that affirmation in a story. John puts that same message on the lips of Jesus when he says, “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.”
What I would have you notice in this wonderful story is the way he comes to us. They didn’t recognize him. They thought he was a stranger. Which means, if you are not alert, you will miss him, because he touches our lives so gently. Sometimes it’s not so gently, but most of the time it is just a nudge to move us along on our journey.
They came to an inn. The text says, “He appeared to be going further.” Which means, he doesn’t ever push himself on us. It means he never wants to be where he is not wanted. You know that beautiful image of Christ in the Book of Revelation, the one they made a painting of, Christ at the door, knocking. That text says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him.” He came as a stranger on their journey, and entered their lives quietly.
There is a wonderful story written several years ago called, “The River Why.” It’s about a solitary fisherman, a man named Gus Orviston, who fishes the rivers up along the Pacific Coast of Oregon. He is called Gus, but his real name is Augustine. He is named for St. Augustine, the famous saint of the Church who wrote perhaps one of the most famous books in all western civilization, “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” In “The Confessions” he tells of his wandering, his searching, until he met a man named Ambrose. Ambrose’s testimony changed Augustine’s life. Augustine summarized our life as a journey. He said, “We are made restless until we rest in Thee.”
Gus is a fisherman, but he is really like his namesake, Augustine. He is really a seeker. He is seeking God, even though he doesn’t know it. One night he is talking to an old friend, another fisherman named Nick, whom he respects. Nick becomes for Gus what Ambrose was for Augustine. He leads him to God.
It is an amazing story that Nick tells him. When he was a young man fishing on a boat in the North Sea, a wave swept him off the deck of the boat. He went into the freezing water of the North Sea. Just as he was going under, someone on the boat threw out a line with a huge hook on the end of it. As Nick reached for that line, the hook went through his hand. Then he passed out. He woke up on the deck, safe. He said, “I knew that I had been born anew.”
Nick turned to Gus, and said, “Nothing will ever be the same again. Not for me it won’t.” Then he showed Gus the scar on his hand. He said, “Behold, son. Behold the sign of the fisher’s love for a wooden headed ass.”
Gus went home that night, went to bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He kept hearing Nick’s story over and over again. He said, “I was feeling things that I had never felt before. I knew these things were from the soul.”
He got up at 2 a.m. Started a journey. Walked up the mountain behind the cabin into the woods. He went up to the top of the mountain and saw as he was walking along a road that the sun was just beginning to touch the ridge of the mountain range opposite him. That is when he felt a chill start in his thighs, go up his spine, to the top of his head. Then he felt the sense of a presence. He described it in these words. “It was as though an unseen, oldest, longest-lost friend had come to walk the road beside me.”
That was it. That is all it was. It was not overpowering. It was empowering. The way you feel empowered when a friend comes to you in a time of trouble or despair, and says, “Let me walk with you.”
“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” They rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the 11 gathered together, and they said to them, “The Lord has risen indeed!” May all the blessings of Easter be yours!
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.