The Road To Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 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?”

24:19 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,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 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.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 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.

24:24 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.”

24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 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.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 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?”

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Midrash on the Road to Emmaus

From an evolutionary point of view, road stories rock. They convey motion and trajectory. Life is “on the way”. The two disciples, in this story are on the way home to “Emmaus”. We don’t know much about Emmaus as a geographic location, but we do know it emotionally and psychologically. It’s all the places we go, sometimes within and sometimes without, when our world has been turned upside down by disappointment and disillusionment. A forest, the beach, our beloved dog, our favourite cafe, the refrigerator, the liquor cabinet, a video game, a friend’s house. It’s different for us all, but that’s where the two disciples are headed.

The path of spiritual evolution is not about heroics. It’s not all “upward and onward”. More often than not it’s about dealing with what Teilhard de Chardin called the “passivities”—stuff that we are required to undergo, what Bruce Cockburn calls “big circumstance”. The disciples are being summoned to face and accept reality. They are involved in what I have called a “discourse of despair”, and there is a place for this in the spiritual journey. Who can honestly face the what is being enacted by our species in relation to our planet, to other-than-human species, and to each other, and not be in this conversation? In truth, it’s only by facing reality, and accepting it, that G_d/Life can enter the door of our hearts.

But these discourses of despair are unseemly for the person of faith, if we get stuck in them. We all know people who chronically complain, feel victimized, and tell the same story over and over again. This is an act of unfaithfulness, and we’re not actually called to endure it. Jesus comes to the disciples and interrupts their discourse of despair with an alternative narrative—a narrative of exception to the dominant discourse, one that contextualizes despair with hope. The author of Luke’s gospel has Jesus contextualize their discourse within an interpretation of scripture that opens up to them a new, unimagined future. You gotta love it when somebody does that for you!

Do you find it as challenging as I do to frame my suffering in a way that doesn’t shut down the future? I have a “bleak streak”.  It represents a lack of imagination, that is itself caused, at least in part, by feeling like a victim of circumstance. While the old spiritual adage, “everything happens for a reason”, is not always true,  it’s more true than most rationalists can admit. And, pragmatically speaking, it gives us something to do other than sink into depression. When Jesus asks them to consider the possibility that his death was “necessary”, he is opening them up to a new wisdom, to finding a way for them to “attain the resurrection” for themselves. We are invited to ask, “what is the largest purpose of this experience, that is beyond reason?”

After the mysterious stranger breaks bread with them, they recognize that it is Jesus who joined their conversation. This is probably an allusion to the significance of the eucharist in the early church, which itself is appropriated from the Jewish practice of breaking bread. One of them may have been looking at the embers that the stranger used to nourish them with a meal when he exclaimed,”Did not our hearts burn when he was talking to us on the road?” The risen Jesus fanned the flame of hope in them for a new future.

I find that an evolutionary worldview is intrinsically hopeful. It is itself a “narrative of exception”, interrupting the dominant discourse of despair that is so easy to default to. The universe has been facing into and overcoming roadblocks for 13.8 billion years. And now, in us, it can do so consciously, or rather, we can participate in this natural grace. As we face into and accept reality, no matter how apparently bleak, asking ourselves the deeper meaning of our suffering and the circumstances causing it, we open ourselves to the mystery of the Cosmic Christ, present in this sacred evolutionary impulse to transcend our existing conditions (by inhabiting them more deeply). Leaning into a deep trust in this creative impulse can contextualize our own road to Emmaus experiences, and fan the embers of our heart,  to believe and participate in the emergence of a new and better future.

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