On the road
Today we meet Cleopas and mate on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection. Their heads are down as they discuss all that has happened and plod on. They are full of mixed emotions; they are scared, sad, bewildered, wondering if the story the women told is true, if they dare to hope that it is true.
On the road they meet a stranger. What is the first thing he does? He asks what they are talking about.
This question looks to be a literary device so that Jesus can plug into the story and illuminate it for his perplexed followers. But I think there is more going on here. When people are struggling, the best thing we can do for them is to listen. The tumult of mixed emotions make it hard to make sense of what is happening when we go through something surprising and difficult. We need the space to unravel and untangle all that feeling and the facts of what has happened in order to begin to accept reality and to make sense of it.
These days we are on a very particular kind of journey, though we don’t know where it will end or what the future will be like. In truth, life is always like this – we never know where or how it will end or what the future holds. But with the change and tumult of pandemic and response, this truth is so big we can’t ignore it.
And we can be prone to be anxious about it. We all have different ways of calming this anxiety. Some of us will research it to death – listen to every newscast, click on every article that catches our attention, keep up with the daily death count, watch to see if the curve is flattening. Some of us will share jokes and videos, tickling the funny bones of friends and family. Some of us will sleep more or less, eat more or less, drink more or less, exercise more or less. Some us will try to keep busy, fending off unpleasant feelings.
In short, we all do the best we can with what we’ve got. Be kind to yourself as you notice your own responses. Imagine Jesus walking alongside you with love in his eyes. He knows it’s hard. He’s been through some hard stuff himself.
In the story, after he listens, he starts to talk. I don’t find his comments about being foolish and slow to believe very pastorally helpful…at all. So I’m inclined to dismiss them at this point of our collective journey. Also we haven’t been given a map for this terrain. Or maybe we have, but it’s too soon to be able to read it – we need more light and air and time and walking to illumine the road. So let’s put that aside for the moment. But let’s keep the possibility open that Jesus has something to say to us, if we but tell him what is in our hearts and give the same quality of time listening to him as he gives to us.
After he talks, they beg him to stay with them (still not knowing it is he). That is a great prayer for these times. Stay with us, Lord Jesus, for the day is long and the night is longer. Walk with us all the way into the future we cannot see.
The most extraordinary part of this story is, of course, that it is in the breaking and sharing of bread that Cleopas and his mate realise that he has been with them all along. An ordinary act. A hospitable act. “Companion” means “one with whom I share my bread”.
These days there is a lot of sharing of bread, in ordinary, hospitable ways. And we experience it as extraordinary. The shop our neighbour, friend or family member does for us. The flowers that show up at our door. The phone call. The note. It is as though Jesus is using all kinds of people (as he always has) to tell us: I am here. You are not alone. We are in this together. I will walk with you.
His vanishing after the bread points us in this direction….that once his physical body is gone, our bodies take on his love and his work.
I don’t know exactly what being on this road is like for you. But I do know that we are on it together. And that Jesus is walking alongside: listening, sharing the struggle and trying to make sure that we have enough hope, love and bread.
Thank you, Companion Jesus. Help me to be a companion to others. Amen.