by Rev. Kate Foster Connors
“Now on that same day two of them 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.– Luke 24:13-35
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.”
Take a few minutes to read the Road to Emmaus story (above), preferably out loud. Even though this is a familiar story, take your time with it. See what you notice this time. You might even try reading it outside somewhere – scripture always speaks in new ways when we read it in new places. Notice what you hear differently in this story when you read it on the street corner, or on your front porch, or in a nearby park.
This is a post-resurrection story, and this year, it falls in the lectionary on the third Sunday of Easter. It is often preached and taught from a post-Easter vantage point – the disciples meet the risen Christ and run to share this news with the other disciples. In focusing on the end of the story, though, we often lose sight of the beginning of this text – of why the disciples were walking on the road in the first place. The disciples are leaving Jerusalem because they had just experienced a trauma. They had just seen the public execution of their friend and teacher. So now, they are fleeing. They are taking some time to get their feet back under them after they witnessed something that shook them up and left them anxious and grief-stricken. So they are traveling away from the trauma, and they are traveling together.
This Easter season, we, too, are experiencing a trauma. The outbreak of Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on our social systems, our jobs, our congregational life, our sense of security. And the virus is taking the lives of friends and family and neighbors. As we celebrate the hopefulness of the resurrection, I invite all of us to also be gentle with ourselves. To remember that we are experiencing a collective trauma, and we may need to flee every now and then to get our feet back under us.
As they fled the place where they had experienced the trauma of their friend’s execution, the disciples saw something that helped them feel less shaken up. They saw Jesus break bread and pour a cup to drink, and they knew that it was Jesus who had been with them on the road, who was making a place for them to rest and eat.
Jesus being there doesn’t make the reality of trauma in the world less painful for the disciples, nor for us. But Jesus does remind us that being together is important (even if we can only be together online!), that deep and trusting relationship is at the heart of a life of faith, and that there are places for us to rest and regroup when we need to get away for a little while.
After they recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread, the disciples go back to Jerusalem. They remind us that from these places of rest – once we have found our footing – we go out again, knowing that we go together, and that the time will come again when we will need to travel the road to places of rest. And when we do, Jesus will be with us every time.
Let Us Pray
We are experiencing layers upon layers of loss:
the loss of interaction with loved ones;
the loss of jobs; the loss of future plans;
the loss of our normal, day-to-day life;
the devastating loss of life caused by Covid-19.
The list goes on and on,
and the grief can overwhelm us.
Bring us comfort, reassuring us that it is exactly in the moments of our most profound loss
that you come to us.
Remind us that it is okay to face our grief,
and that it also is necessary sometimes to walk away from it.
Give us patience with one another and with ourselves,
Always remembering that you walk with us, no matter where we are. Amen.
Rev. Kate Foster Connors is the Director of The Center: Mission Outside the Box, a mission initiative of the Presbytery. A graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, she has served churches in Memphis, TN and Baltimore. She is spending these socially-distanced days exercising, gardening, playing with her dog, taking a lot of walks, and singing karaoke, playing games and watching Netflix with her two teenage daughters.