That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
As we sat at the table for dinner one evening, my two-year-old daughter unexpectedly shouted “Da’key! Hoo’zanna!” to announce to my wife and me her own toddler retelling of “the message.” With grinning faces and attentive ears, the conversation went something like this:
-“Yes, Ellie. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people shouted, ‘Hosanna.’”
-“The rooster crowed three times?”
- “Yesh! G’shush.”
-“What about Jesus?”
-“Yes, Ellie. Jesus died on the cross.”
-“Yes! Jesus rose from the dead. Where is Jesus?”
Without missing a beat, my daughter turned her head slightly to the right and pointed over her shoulder proclaiming, “He’s w’ite day’er.” My wife and I laughed at first thinking, “Oh, that’s cute,” but my daughter’s imaginative story telling pointed to an affectionate truth that later brought me to tears in joy—He is right there. At another dinner table on the first Easter, Jesus’ friends realized just how true this is.
In Luke 24, two of Jesus’ disciples are deep in conversation on the way to Emmaus as a fellow traveler joins their company. When the stranger asks what they are talking about, they stop dead in their tracks in sadness (v. 17). How could he not know about what had happened? They were disillusioned in sorrow at the brutal execution of their dearest friend. After hundreds of years of foreign domination and religious corruption, they had hoped that Jesus was the one who would finally set things right, throw off Roman rule, and establish God’s good and loving run of all things. And yet, this prophet who taught them what God is like, this servant who healed the sick and oppressed, this friend who kept company with the low-lifes and left-outs, the one who welcomed children into his arms, fed the hungry, raised the dead, opened the eyes of the blind, and washed dirt-grimed feet—this Jesus—was rejected, crucified, dead, and buried. Though they had heard the perplexing news of an empty tomb that morning, the lifeless body of Jesus hanging on the cross remained freshly seared in the disciples’ hearts and minds. Under such crushing defeat, what else could they say to this curious traveler other than, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21)?
In a surprising turn, the stranger on the road replies with a fresh retelling of the “old, old story” of God’s loving purposes to save the world through His people Israel: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). As they share a meal together later that day, the disciples’ guest takes on the role of host: “he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (v. 30). In this gracious act, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (31). The disciples saw that their longed-for hope had come true in a remarkably unexpected yet now powerfully revealed way in the presence of the risen Jesus.
When Adam and Eve rejected God’s loving goodness in the Garden, their eyes were opened, and they hid in shame (Genesis 3:7). Our ongoing story ever since has been thorns and thistles, sin and death, within God’s glorious yet groaning creation (Romans 8:18-23). On the road to Emmaus, Jesus revealed that all of God’s mighty acts of love and wise ordering in history as told in the Scriptures have come to their climax in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now eyes are opened once again, but this time there is an “enormous explosion of joy” (Lesslie Newbigin’s words). “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (v. 32).
God’s victory over evil is won, the new day has dawned, and we are invited to follow our Savior in. We are called into the story by the Spirit taking up the vocation to tell “what happened on the road” through our ordinary lives and labor, words and deeds. Though the way may be dark today—particularly so in these times of sickness, isolation, and death—the resurrection lights the path and illuminates that coming day when everything sad will come untrue. May we join that fellowship of the burning heart entwining together suffering and joy, sorrow and celebration, in the name of Jesus that the world might know that He is right there.