It’s a well known story. Two disciples are walking to the small town of Emmaus and Jesus appears to them. You can find the story in Luke 24:13-35. Recall that just before this Luke tells us that the women discovered the empty tomb and spoke with angels. The women tell the apostles, “But their words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Except for Peter who runs to see the tomb.)
That same day, two disciples head off to Emmaus. We don’t know why. Perhaps they lived there. Perhaps they just needed to get away from Jerusalem and Emmaus was as good a place as any. They are walking, and it’s quite a walk- seven miles- and they talk about what had happened. Then Jesus “came near and went with them.” You can imagine what happened. They are walking along a road and someone is going in the same direction and they all start walking together. Their new companion asks, “What are you talking about?”
This is what I find so very interesting. It’s another instance where Jesus doesn’t do what we might expect. Jesus doesn’t say who he is. Jesus doesn’t say, “Hello, I’m back, risen, just as I promised.”
That statement would, of course, change the entire conversation. It’s as if Jesus is more interested in learning about what’s going on with these two disciples. He walks along with them, literally and figuratively, in their confusion as they struggle to make sense of things. Jesus lets them talk first. He asks some questions. And only when they are done, does Jesus start explaining things to them. And still, he doesn’t say who he is. Why do you think Jesus chooses to talk with them in this way? I wonder, does he think the disciples might be afraid or embarrassed to say what’s on their hearts and minds if they knew who they were talking with? Does he think they will be more honest talking to a stranger?
When they reach Emmaus, Jesus is ready to walk on. But the disciples stop him and invite him to stay and eat. Only then, do they recognize Jesus.
While Jesus doesn’t physically walk alongside us, many Christians believe the Spirit does as God works in and through regular people. Certainly God is with is in prayer.
This story gives us some clues about how God makes themselves present to us. There is no grand pronouncement. No requirement to speak in a certain way. To watch our language. We can express what we feel. Describe what we think is happening. And God listens. Only when we are finished, does God start “talking”.
There is an accompanying that happens. God is walking with us, often present as another human. God doesn’t impose themselves on us. God doesn’t demand a place at our table. God waits for us to invite them in. Like these disciples, we may not recognize God’s presence until after the fact. Only looking back do we say, “Were not our hearts burning?”
This encounter on the way to Emmaus is not a strict script. It’s not a blueprint for divine encounters. God makes themselves know to us in a variety of ways. John Calvin wrote that God comes to us in the ways we can understand. That certainly describes the encounter on the way to Emmaus. Bereaved people don’t need dramatic encounters. Most of us, most of the time, don’t need dramatic encounters. What we do need is a friendly companion who listens well and can help us make sense of what has happened. Someone to walk with us on the way to the small town of Emmaus.