On the first day of the week two of the disciples 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.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus himself came near and went with them.
Many years ago now, when I was a young organist, I used to play the organ at a church where the vicar always used this account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and these words in particular, as the core text for his address at weddings. As I sat on the organ bench, I often wondered whether this was simply laziness? He had crafted an address that seemed to work and that he could deliver with fluency and conviction. Why should he bother working out something else to say when this worked so well? After all, each couple only heard it once. It was only people like me that had heard it time and time again! Now, many years later, I have come to understand that that vicar was not being lazy at all. He had actually hit upon a powerful text that was a great message for married life.
We all know that married life brings its ups and downs, its easy times and its challenging times. We also know that this emotional roller-coaster is not reserved solely for those who are married, or in any other type of life-long relationship. We all have times in our lives when we feel elated and strong, just as we all have times when we feel depressed and powerless. Wherever we are on the rolling tide of our emotions, Jesus himself comes near and travels with us.
In our reading we meet two disciples who are at the lowest point in their spiritual journey. We know nothing about them, other than the name of one of them was Cleopas. We do not know whether they are a married couple or just two friends. We do not even know whether the second disciples is male or female. The only thing we do know is that they share a feeling of profound sadness following the crucifixion of Jesus. These two disciples desperately need to know the presence of the risen Christ in their lives.
We are constantly confronted with times like this. Times when we are bewildered by the events that have overwhelmed us, and over which we have no control. It is at these times that we need to remember that Jesus himself is near, and the Jesus himself is travelling with us.
We also need to hold on to this when things are going well in our lives. So often, we only turn to God when we are in need. This self-serving approach to faith is a cause of great sadness to God. God wants to share in every aspect of our lives, and not just the down times. God wants us to give thanks for the good times, as well as cry out for help in the bad times. It is when we allow our relationship with God to develop in this way that we too will feel our hearts burning within us as we come to know his presence on every step of our journeys through this life.