I have been on the Road to Emmaus many times, both literally and figuratively. Many of you too have been there, if not literally, certainly spiritually. After all, throughout the US and around the world, there is a spiritual movement known as Walk to Emmaus – a Protestant version of the Roman Catholic Cursillo Movement.
What is in my mind right now is not the spiritual movement but being on that road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
Luke tells the story that on that day of the Resurrection, two disciples were on the road from Jerusalem “to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:13). The original Greek text gives the distance as sixty stadia which works out to about seven miles or 10.4-12 km. The longer ending in Mark 16:12-13 gives a very brief account of the story but neither Matthew nor John carries the story.
One of the two, according to Luke, was Cleopas; the second is unidentified.
There are always multiple candidates for historical sites in the Holy Land, and Emmaus is no exception. Church historian Eusebius identified Emmaus Nicopolis as the biblical Emmaus though it is more than seven miles from Jerusalem, but still about a day’s journey. The other possibilities are Kiryat Anavim, el-Kubeibeh, and Khurbet al-Khamasa.
Archaeology at Nicopolis uncovered remains of Christian basilicas going back to the 3rd and 6th centuries.
My first walk to Emmaus was in the company of fellow seminarians – from Sweden, Iceland, India, Namibia, Taiwan, Pakistan and Zimbabwe – eleven of us and our leader from the Swedish Theological Institute. During that walk we reflected on the experience of Cleopas and his companion, with Jesus, unrecognizable, but with them.
Over the years I have gone on that road – and to the other possible sites too – each time with different companions. On each walk we tried to identify with Cleopas and his companion, we tried to wear their shoes and walk on their footsteps. On every occasion we reaffirmed and reassured ourselves of Jesus’ presence in our walk. We did not see him physically – though Cleopas and his companion did – but we knew he was there.
A few months ago, a dear friend who has worked with me in outreach ministry for some years was diagnosed with a rare type of abdominal cancer which had reached an advanced stage. There was hope in a new surgery procedure currently being done at a university hospital several hundred miles out of state.
We all held our hopes high as she went for evaluation for the surgery and stayed in touch and followed her progress on her Caring Bridges webpage. After the evaluation she was sent home to continue with chemotherapy to the stage where the surgery could be done.
Because of fluid build-up in her abdomen she was hospitalized for the chemotherapy. Eventually there was no more news being posted on Caring Bridges . I asked a mutual friend if she had any news and her response was reminiscent of the two disciples’ response to Jesus’ question. She said, “All that hope we had for the surgery has come to nothing!”
Not at all! Jesus is on the road with us.That is what we continue to reaffirm and to reassure ourselves. That, indeed, is the basis of the Road to Emmaus.