Hang in there, or walk away? These are real choices that people are faced with in the difficulties of life. It would appear that Cleopas and the other disciple had chosen to walk away, leave Jerusalem and all the pain of their grief and disappointment, and journey to Emmaus. There was no point in lingering there after the story had ended.
Yet, while they may have left Jerusalem, they couldn’t leave the story behind. They were carrying it with them in their conversation as they journeyed. They could explain vividly to the ‘stranger’ who drew near and walked with them all those things that had happened to Jesus three days beforehand, and how their own hopes had been dashed. To add to the confusion and the ache some women from their group had reported seeing angels who told them that Jesus was alive, but he had not been seen by any of them.
These two disciples could not walk away from this past. They could not abandon their history, and that’s when Jesus entered into the story of their pain. First he listened to them, and then he gave them another way to see and judge what had happened. They, for their part, were beginning to get a new perspective from him on the meaning of Jesus’ life and death. So when they reached Emmaus they prevailed on him to stay with them as the day was almost over.
It was normally at sundown that the Christian communities gathered, shared the stories of Jesus, and broke the bread. So Jesus entered the home and became the host in taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it and giving it to them. They had known this gesture in the feedings of the multitudes, and in the Last Supper remembrances. In seeing this action of Jesus, their eyes were opened and immediately they knew that he was present with them, listening to them, setting their hearts aflame with new hope, and breaking the bread with them. Their reaction? They set out immediately, even though it was night, and headed back to Jerusalem to share the good news that Jesus was indeed alive and that they had recognized him in the breaking of the bread.
The story was one of hope in the power of Jesus’ risen presence for the early Christian communities suffering persecution. It is a story offering the same hope to all of us today. In our times of walking away from the pain, the power of the risen Jesus is present to us in the stranger, the friend or the acquaintance who can hear our pain, offer us new vision and hope, and break the bread with us.
When our eyes have been opened we turn our feet back to witness the presence of Jesus. Then we become the ones to break the bread of healing in another’s pain and doubt, simply following the request of Jesus, “Do this in memory of me.”
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP