Today’s gospel reading is one of those post-resurrection moments that everybody seems to know.
For me, there has always been something very special about hearing of those two downhearted and disappointed souls suddenly realising that they are in the presence of the risen Jesus – that they have journeyed that long road from Jerusalem to their home town of Emmaus in conversation with Jesus himself.
I don’t know about others but, for me, I can narrow down its impact to just eight words – Jesus himself came near and went with them.
As Cleopas and his companion set out for Emmaus on that first Easter Day they must have felt as though their world had come to an end.
It is so easy, even at this distance in time, to imagine their feelings of disillusionment, defeat and despondency.
They had seen Jesus – the one they believed to be the Messiah, God’s Anointed One – hung on a cross to die in the most humiliating, painful and degrading way.
They knew that no one could survive crucifixion …
and then they had heard the strange stories that were being told of an empty tomb, and of Jesus having risen from the dead.
Surely, as well as disillusionment, defeat and despondency, they must now also have felt doubt, even despair.
Everyone knows that people do not come back from the dead, don’t they!?
Of course, there had been talk of Jesus’ friend Lazarus being raised from the dead – but that was different, wasn’t it?
Lazarus had been taken ill – not brutally put to death.
Perhaps those who say that he was brought back to life were mistaken …
Perhaps he hadn’t really died but had been in some sort of coma …
Perhaps … Perhaps … Perhaps …
But, with Jesus it was different.
Jesus’ body had been broken, publicly and comprehensively.
There was absolutely no doubt that Jesus had died.
And now … there was this talk of resurrection.
Jesus had certainly spoken of death and resurrection, but surely he had been talking of the resurrection on the Last Day – the moment when all would stand before God at the final judgement.
Surely, he had not been talking about getting up from the tomb and returning into the physical, ‘real’ world!!
Of course, we read this story from a privileged position – we do know that that is exactly what Jesus meant.
But … for Cleopas and his companion there was no such consolation.
They set out for Emmaus in the darkest of moods.
And then – along comes a stranger who says: What’s wrong – tell me about it.
Unlike us, with all our natural reserve and caution, they opened their hearts to that stranger – they told him everything.
Did they know the comfort that this would bring, or was it just a desperate attempt at making sense of the chaos in which they found themselves?
In these unprecedented times, at this point in the twenty-first century, we often feel like those two travellers on the road to Emmaus.
In our turn, there are moments when we feel disillusioned, defeated and despondent – well, none of us have ever lived through a moment when modern medical science has been taken so unawares, and when it has not been able to cobble together some sort of solution.
When we listen to news bulletins and political briefings, our doubt is constantly being stoked – we are always being presented with the ‘facts and figures’ from the most dramatically negative perspective.
How could we do anything other than doubt that anyone has the slightest idea what to do?
Surely, all the hope is being drained from us as we find ourselves incarcerated in our own homes – isolated and distanced from those who normally offer us support and love.
Well, there is still hope –
and that hope is contained in those eight words:
Jesus himself came near and went with them.
Human beings have long taken pride in their ability to ‘take care of themselves’, to be self-sufficient, to be able to cope …
But, to be totally absorbed in that way of thinking is to deny the power and the love of God for all of humanity.
God is not ‘punishing’ the world – human beings are machines, and machines go wrong sometimes.
But, when the machines do break down, then we need to trust that there is a stranger walking with us who can and will ease the pain and bring comfort and joy back into our lives –
and … we need to realise that that ‘stranger’ is the risen Jesus – the one whom, as we heard last week, Thomas declared to be Our Lord and Our God.
Jesus went through the horrors of the crucifixion in order that we might know the joy of redemption that could only come through the power of his resurrection.
Jesus understands the sorrows and the trials of this life –
Jesus was the one who wept at his friend’s tomb;
Jesus was the one who endured the agony of human injustice and cruelty.
Jesus knows exactly what it is like to be human.
But … Jesus also knows another place and another way of life – and that place is the nearer presence of God himself.
At Christmas we heard the opening of John’s gospel –
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.John 1:1–3
That Word was Jesus – the Son of God.
That Word is the divine word of God’s wisdom, which far surpasses any human wisdom.
That Word chose to share in the full reality of human life.
That Word knows, understands and can bring consolation into our lives – if we let him.
As we journey through these days of distancing and isolation, Jesus is still coming near and journeying with each and every one of us.
The challenge for us is
to set aside our reserve, our suspicion and our doubt;
to set aside our reliance on self;
to set aside our arrogance and pride;
and then to talk to that stranger in order that he might become our closest friend.
Then we will feel the strength of our faith in Jesus Christ coursing through our veins once more as we see that whatever we are called to endure is nothing, when compared to all that Jesus did for us.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!