On the road to Emmaus

As the curtain rises on this famous Gospel scene, we find Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple walking away from Jerusalem in something of a daze. They’re unfocused, literally disoriented – walking away from the East, away from Jerusalem, away from the Resurrection.

Another component of their darkness is that they are unaware. The Risen Lord joins them and walks along with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. We may too quickly assume that it is the Risen Lord who is preventing them from seeing. But maybe, more likely, it’s their sorrow or lack of faith that prevents them. The Gospel text describes them as looking downcast, which may speak to their sorrow, but it also suggests a certain lack of awareness and attention. Think of that line from the psalmist, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help” (Psalm 121:1).

I wonder if we don’t underestimate how much dejection and sorrow can be an impediment to our spiritual lives. In the face of apparent failure and defeat, the two disciples have turned their back on Jerusalem. How often we do the same. Isn’t this one of the ways we are being tested during this time of pandemic? As the confinement closes in and our worries mount, sadness and dejection easily take hold of us. I’m reminded of Job, who complains loudly of his plight to God, only to be blasted out of his self-focus by God’s speech out of the whirlwind. That’s the danger. “Woe is me,” however many burdens we are asked to bear, runs the risk of attaching us, ever more tightly, to ourselves.

The Emmaus episode ends in a moment of recognition on the part of the confused and disheartened disciples. They were brought to understand in the course of their walking with Jesus along the road that the suffering and apparently defeated Master was one and the same with the Risen Lord who comes clear to them in the breaking of the bread. It was a moment of identification and integration, made possible by the enlightening of their minds and by the warming of their hearts. This is the road that every Christian, and especially those who are spiritual guides to others, is obliged to take: to see the pain and the weakness in one’s life as something not simply to be overcome, but to be incorporated into the mystery of God’s abiding presence to us.

There is no resurrection without the cross. This is true for Jesus, and it is true for ourselves.