The road to Emmaus. We have all been there. The road is uncomfortably familiar. We’ve walked it. We’ve lost our way on it. We’ve left it behind and then returned to it. Its not about where the road leads. In fact, it might be a great circle with no destination at all. More like a hamster wheel. But we know when we are on this road, just as the disciples heading home to Emmaus knew it. It is the road of blind disappointment. “But we had hoped….”
How often have these words been on our tongues? But we had hoped that this virus would not travel to America. But we had hoped that there would be a vaccine by now. But we had hoped that no one we knew would get sick, lose their jobs, work in harm’s way. We look back from today and say, “But we had hoped….” It is easy in the noise of the news and the isolation of our homes to be enveloped by the dark cloud of disappointment. Then we find ourselves on the road to Emmaus.
The words we speak on the road to Emmaus are words of pain, disappointment, bewilderment, and yearning. They are the words we say when we’ve come to the end of our hopes, and there’s nothing left to do but return to something past, rebuild our old lives, somehow. Find what pieces remain and gather them around us like a fortress. Don’t let anything or anyone in. No more dreams. We are done with that!
Cleopas, and let’s call her Judith, husband and wife, disciples of Jesus, were on their way home. No glorious homecoming! Something more like flunking out of college. They were bone tired, dry of spirit, nothing to say but to repeat themselves to each other, we had hoped…. Jesus is dead. The Rabbi they staked their lives on, the Messiah they thought would change the world, has died, and his promises of a new kingdom have come to nothing. Worse, Jesus’s tomb is empty, his body is missing, and the women who loved and followed him appear to have gone mad – what with their bizarre reports of angels, gardeners, and talking ghosts. How completely things have fallen apart. “But we had hoped” for so much.
This is an Easter story. And this may give us a clue about how to walk the Emmaus road. It happened on the evening of the very day we sing the Hallelujah Chorus and decorate with white lilies. The first Easter did not come with our kind of fanfare. The whole day was drenched in disappointment. The women couldn’t find the body, the Jews were still on the war path, rumors abounded, but who could know what to believe. The first Easter was mostly a continuation of living with Good Friday souls. The most hopeful thing to say was what Jesus said on the cross, “Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
But it is Easter, too. And as an Easter story, it is also laced with “deep magic,” as C.S. Lewis calls it in the words of Aslan. It is the road Jesus walks. Resurrection walks with you on the Emmaus road. It is the place where the Resurrected One shows up! You never know when you will run into him there. You may refuse his companionship once, twice, a hundred times, but when you allow him to walk alongside, he has all the right questions.
What if you look at it a different way? What if you change your perspective for a moment? Like, how has God worked with the covenant people forever? Has anything like this ever happened before? Yes, of course! And as they pried open their memories, he began to shine a light on the stories from a different perspective. Walking got a little easier. This, as it turned out, was a good companion.
The questions were not easy, but they tear the veil of darkness from top to bottom. They are the questions of discovering our own ego, our own wishes, our own small vision, letting them go and finding that there is a new way we never saw when our own way filled our dreams.
This year, as the pandemic crisis continues to wreak havoc around the world, I am grateful for the honest witness of this post-resurrection story. I’m grateful that even the road to Emmaus, the road of failure is a sacred road. A road that Jesus walks. Yes, even Jesus walks the road of failure. A road that holds the deep magic of hope that only comes when all our natural hope has been exhausted. It is the hope that a way will emerge, beyond our own small vision.
That is the thing about Jesus. You never know when he’s going to show up. You never know when the Creator will get a new whim to create. You never know when the sacred Spirit will show up as a ventilator just before breathing stops!
So more than anything else, this is a story of hope. Just when things could not get any worse, Jesus walks up and sets his stride to yours. What’s on your mind? What are you talking about? He starts with a question. Will you be honest? Will you really tell Jesus what you are saying or thinking? Cleopas and Judith did. They had the courage to lay out their disappointment. And on the other side of the veil, was a new way. Again, they had the courage to do good, rather than mope in failure. And life could start again.
And for us, too. Amen.