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Road to Emmaus: Story of Hope

Reflections on Luke 24: 13-35 by Jan Casey


J. Kirk Richards painting "Road to Emmaus"

In the Emmaus story in Luke 24:13-35, two of Jesus’ disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a small village about 7 miles away. Jesus had been crucified a few days earlier. The disciples have been hearing stories that some of them have seen Jesus. He is alive! These two are walking and talking about the events of the past few days. 


Jesus draws near to them and joins in their conversation. He asks questions and acts totally uninformed. They do not recognize him. One of them says to Jesus, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?" Jesus replies with another question, “What sort of things?” 


They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.”


Their ideas of how things should happen do not match the reality. This is not how they anticipated that this prophet’s life would end. They had placed their hope in him. They thought he might be the one who would redeem Israel. They were confused, disillusioned, and uncertain of the future.


It seems to me that this story is a parallel to the pandemic in which we live. Here in the United States, we did not think the corona virus could take over and cause so much suffering and death. It has become obvious that the virus has a life of its own and we have very few tools with which to fight it. We are not in control. The ways in which we normally push back to keep things going for us allow the virus to spread to more people and cause additional deaths. We are told to just stay at home and practice social distancing, if you have to go out at all.


The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were discussing everything, trying to make sense of this senseless killing of one in whom they had placed their hope. In our homes, on social media, on our phones we get with those whom we know and love and COVID-19 is the topic of conversation. It has upended our way of life, caused many of us to lose our income and isolated us in our own homes. Hundreds of thousands of people across this country are fighting for their very lives as they try to heal from the virus. And, tens of thousands have had someone in their family die from this virus. Fear and grief fill us. We are like the disciples of Jesus after the crucifixion – we are confused, afraid, uncertain and depressed at what is going on.


What Jesus did as He walked on the road to Emmaus gives us an idea of one way to handle this pandemic. He did what only God could do – Jesus explained His life and that the suffering he endured was necessary and predicted by the prophets in the Old Testament stories. And, he chided them for their lack of belief in all that the Scriptures had to teach them. He outlined the Old Testament stories and connected them to His story. Their eyes were not opened to who this stranger was until he stayed to eat with them. He broke the bread, blessed it and gave it to them. “With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”


What Jesus gave the disciples was hope. Hope that the crucifixion and death were not the end of their dreams and hope in a future. The cross becomes the sign of resurrection, of new life. This is contrary to how we humans want life to proceed. We want to have a rosy life moving in the direction in which we plan for it to happen. We like to think we have control. And the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that we are not in charge. Nor are we victims. 


Jesus’ death did not end. It led to the Resurrection! He is alive! Death doesn’t rule. Pain and suffering is not the end-all of pandemics. Look around you. There are signs of new life emerging very slowly. We are in a very difficult and extremely painful phase of the corona virus. It is all around us. And, it is not the end of the story. Our lives will emerge from this pandemic. We live in confusion and fear and waves of grieving now. This will not always be so. Listen to Jesus, connecting the Scriptures to His story. We are called to connect our story to Jesus’ story. Suffering and death are not the end of the story. Resurrection – new life – that is the end of Jesus’ story. And new life will be the end of our story also. Getting through the muck of the painful parts is where we pray, have faith and hope in Jesus’ story and message to the disciples on Emmaus. 


What these two disciples did as soon as Jesus vanished from them is a good model of how we can respond to the pandemic. The disciples left and walked back to Jerusalem to join the other disciples, telling them about their walk to Emmaus and how Jesus had appeared to them, connecting His story to the history of salvation in the Old Testament. 


We need the support of each other right now. Social distancing makes that a bit of a challenge and yet we have technology to help us gather virtually, listening to each other, deeply caring for each other, praying together, emotionally supporting each other. The pain is so intense for many. It doesn’t take much effort to look around and see someone who is in need of our emotional support, our financial support, our prayers. This is what the disciples did as soon as Jesus left. This is how we connect our story during this pandemic to that of Jesus.


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