Over the weeks following Easter, Gospel stories recounting the appearances of the risen Christ to the disciples are read in Christian churches. Of these stories, perhaps the most striking to me recounts two people and their encounter with Christ on Easter evening. This story is commonly called, “The Road to Emmaus.”
Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus. They are bereft because of the public execution of Jesus. A stranger joins them on their way. Seeing they are upset, he asked what happened. They explain, “We used to hope that Jesus was the messiah.” The stranger explains to them the Hebrew Scriptures pointing to the events which had just occurred. The stranger stays with them for dinner and, while sharing the meal, he breaks bread. The disciples realize that the stranger is actually the risen Christ.
The story is rich in symbolism. For instance, Emmaus is not a town that ever existed. Instead, the word “Emmaus” means “warm springs.” The disciples were going from the place of tragedy to a warm spring, an oasis, a place of rest and comfort.
The disciples are trying to make sense of a tragedy. They lived in a world marked by cruelty and oppression, ruled by fickle leaders who took advantage of the people at every step. They thought they had found someone who would save them from their plight. Would he over throw Roman oppression much like the Maccabee brothers who led the revolt to overthrow Syrian oppression? Would his teaching lead to a new kind of realm? They used to hope for so much, but all their hopes were crushed. What did they have to live for? Why go on?
In their trauma, they invited a stranger to stay with them. In ancient stories, a stranger is a symbolic figure representing change or opportunity. The stranger shows them that all is not lost. They discover something that reminds them of all Jesus taught in a simple, universal act: breaking bread and eat with others. It was in this simple gesture that new hope was found.
During the weeks after Easter, as I drive past churches, I see many signs proclaiming things like, “He is risen!” What does that really mean? Was a dead body resuscitated? Is the Easter story about a zombie? Honestly, I don’t find much meaning in the way the Easter story has been reduced to a magical event by many Christians.
Instead, what I find very significant and extremely meaningful is conveyed in this story about the road to Emmaus. It’s when life looks most grim, when everything has fallen apart, when we find that our dreams are dashed and that we have given up all hope that we can experience resurrection. The story conveys that the disciples found new life, new meaning, new purpose, new energy by sharing their pain, by welcoming new opportunity (represented by the presence of the stranger), and finding something sustaining in the most ordinary thing: breaking bread and sharing a meal with others. This encounter on the road to the desert oasis didn’t change what had occurred, but in the midst of pain and death, the disciples found new life.
For me, the most important truth of the resurrection is that in the midst of our difficulties, we can continue to find new life. That is truly something to celebrate.
Photo credit: Ben Amstutz via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.