“Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over” (Luke 24:29).
We are all on the road to Emmaus. Life’s journey is made up of smaller forays that take us toward something or away from something. We seek meaning, security, success; we run away from chaos, danger and failure. We find like-minded companions to share our hopes and disappointments. Everything is a work in progress, sometimes easy but often incomprehensible, even overwhelming. Like death, the death of a friend or family member, or the very notion of our own death. We want to run away.
The death of Jesus shattered the hopes of his companions: “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” But instead he was condemned by his own people and handed over to the Romans, and they made an example of him by publicly torturing him to death. The shock of it has numbed his followers, who are in hiding or, like these two, in flight from Jerusalem. Rumors that Jesus was seen alive again seem like a cruel, hysterical hoax, only prolonging the long road back to reality. Power always wins. Death silences the dreamers, idealists and prophets.
We know the rest of the story, how a stranger came and walked with two distraught disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. We hear how he opened their minds to the scriptures and rekindled hope in their hearts, then revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. If the Last Supper was the final Passover of the old creation, the meal at Emmaus was the first Eucharist of the new. Each time we worship, we process together along the road of our struggle to believe; we hear the scriptures; we break the bread and share the cup; we go out to tell the world.
It is all very mysterious, and it takes time to understand how suffering and death can lead to such joy. But it is the story we have, the story we tell over and over again in the face of all our disappointments and losses. Easter faith is a work in progress. What we know for sure is that on the road there will always be a stranger walking with us, explaining that whatever has happened to us, God is always with us, love overcomes hate, and life is stronger than death.