By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes
Not long ago, a friend shared with me how a series of unexpected difficulties impacted her life. She couldn’t understand how these things could happen to someone like her. She said she believed in God, but was feeling doubtful that God was concerned, or even aware, of her problems and this led her to really question God’s love in these difficult times. In the most trying of circumstances, in the most difficult of situations, where is God? Frequently, the answer is: “Much closer than you think.”
Luke’s gospel recalls the story of Cleopas and his companion who went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Passover and instead left after attending a funeral (Luke 24:13-35). Luke turns the spotlight on these two as they are walking home after witnessing Jesus’ death and burial. For them, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is dark and depressing.
The account begins on the afternoon of the first Easter. Jesus is risen from the dead, but the two companions had not seen Jesus for themselves. They had only heard others talk of the resurrection. As they left Jerusalem that afternoon, they were full of lament and sorrow. Just a week earlier, the people hailed Jesus as a hero as he entered Jerusalem. All over the city that week, people celebrated the Passover, one of the highest, holiest days in the Hebrew year. The remembrances were full of emotions of sorrow for the enslavement of their ancestors and thankfulness for God’s provisions. The culmination of that week was the farce of a trial that Jesus faced and his subsequent torture, humiliation, and public crucifixion. The traveling companions were reeling from the seemingly destroyed hopes of the movement they knew could change the world. In just a few short days, everything they knew was turned upside down. They were hurt and confused. Like my friend, they were full of questions, doubts, and fears.
Have you walked a road similar to the one these companions walked? Perhaps you know the hollowness of walking away from the graveside of a loved one who died much too soon. Maybe you have felt a sense of confusion and betrayal as those in power committed a miscarriage of justice by killing an innocent person. We have all felt the sting of broken promises and the grief of failed relationships. Many of us can relate to the hurt, anger, and despair that the two companions were feeling that day. Pain, bitterness, and confusion are so wide-spread that we walk with them on a crowded Road to Emmaus.
We continue to witness senseless violence perpetuated against the innocent increase at an alarming rate. The headlines are full of stories of leaders who earned peoples’ trust, only to destroy that trust through an abuse of power and position. Though there is optimism in some parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to steal lives and livelihoods. It seems like every time we see a ray of hope, the news is clouded with uncertainties and more confusion. The Road is crowded, indeed.
However, just like the two companions, we do not walk the road without hope, no matter how dark and difficult the circumstances. Jesus appears to the companions and asks why they are so troubled. When they explain their situation to him, Jesus gently chides them and gives them most remarkable of lessons when “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (v.27) The Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly why the two travelers could not recognize Jesus on that road. However, it is important to remember that Jesus was with them as they journeyed. Though they were confused, hurt, and skeptical, Jesus walked alongside them showing them the Truth and the Way. He did not send them away the doubting and confused duo but accompanied them on their journey.
The fact that Jesus was walking this road alongside them is significant. Jesus was not in the tomb. Nor was he in the temple, showing off to the religious leaders that he was right all along. He was not in Herod’s palace nor in Pontius Pilate’s headquarters gloating about who really won. Rather, Jesus was with the hurt, confused, and skeptical. He walked alongside them, showing them the Truth and the Way.
The modern day, metaphorical, Road to Emmaus is undeniably crowded. However, not all of those who walk this difficult road know that Jesus is with them. Just as Jesus walked with people who were hurt, doubtful, confused, and skeptical, today’s followers of Jesus—empowered by the same Holy Spirit—have the privilege and the responsibility to do the same.