Where Is Our Emmaus?

Luke 24:13-16; 30-35   NRSV

All right, so imagine: something cataclysmic, unexpected, sudden, and scary just happened, and is happening. Can you imagine it? Hmm…somehow I think you can. So that’s the story here. We have two people feeling all kinda low and dragging their feet down a road. The foundations of their belief were rocked by an earthquake [Jesus’ death], they had a stinging feeling of loss, and also the slow burn of uncertainty….

A couple of depressed people walking down some road to some town called Emmaus.

44 The-Road-to-Emmaus Limited Edition

The painting is He Qi’s. I have this print on my wall at home.

And where is Emmaus? Don’t worry about it. See, you, and even Biblical scholars and archaeologists for that matter, cannot really find Emmaus on some map. We cannot really know where such a road existed—if it did at all.

The characters are also just some people who happen to be some disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Cleopas and one other person. Some have tried to claim that this Cleopas is the variation of some other name that fits with a character in John’s Gospel, but that is quite a healthy stretch and probably just an attempt to make sense of the story.

So how about we don’t try to “figure out” or explain away the story. How about we just listen?
See, Emmaus could be any town, or suburb, or city, or place.
The road could be any road or highway or train or bus line or street.
And the two disciples could be anyone.

Even you and me.

Luke’s story is not about historical people or places. It’s about the journey itself.
The Emmaus Road is a metaphor for the journey of life.

So what was the Emmaus road for these two characters? It was their escape from despair. Emmaus, a place to run to when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do; a place of escape, of forgetting, of giving up?

Emmaus is the place we go when we are saying: “I’m done! I’m not here for this! I’ve had it, enough is enough!” You may be feeling this way now…

So let me ask you: Where is your Emmaus?

So imagine you’re going there, to your Emmaus. You’re on that path. And yet here’s the thing—if you’re open to it, you won’t walk that path alone. There will be plenty of others journeying to their respective Emmaus, seeking a calm in the storm or an escape from the madness. Yes, we’re on the road/path together, but we’ll need to experience the journey in our own unique way.

On this path/road you just never know who you’ll meet. Yesterday I went for a run on MLK and I saw all kinds of people on that road. Babies, kids, teens, adults, elderly folk. Some biking, skating, running, walking, sitting, laughing, contemplating, fishing, sleeping, and skateboarding. And yes, there was plenty of space on that road for all. And we weren’t crowded; we experienced that road in our own way.

Of course, not everyone noticed all the life around them, I’m guessing. The sound of the water from the Schuylkill River and Waterworks, the geese and their babes, the birds in the trees, the music resounding from cars. See, you can be on the road and not even notice anyone or anything else.

Well that’s what happened in the Luke story. The two people were so stuck in the cycle, stuck in the fixated dreams they had for themselves and they felt like they had nothing left; they had no purpose.

So of course, even if Jesus of Nazareth himself showed up on that same road, they wouldn’t recognize him.

Real quick: I don’t think it’s really important for you to believe or not to believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in bodily form. I’ve never viewed the Christian Gospels as scientific or historical records. They are more mystical and spiritual in nature. Thus, in this case it’s less about a physical resurrection and more about what the people need to see, touch, and hear. Remember the Thomas story? But as always, don’t take it from me. Think critically and decide for yourself.

And now, back to story…

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The two people on the road still didn’t recognize their dear Friend-Rabbi-Prophet! Eventually they made it to a village. They invited the stranger [Jesus] to come and stay. Then they sat down at the table to eat and then…well, then they finally opened their eyes.

They finally saw Jesus’ resurrected form. After seeing, they changed direction completely [I guess Emmaus didn’t have much to offer] and headed right back to Jerusalem. The existential, circular questions were irrelevant now. They had found purpose, a reason for being.

And no, they didn’t find purpose in bread. The act of breaking bread

NOT Breaking Bad….

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…was what it took for them to snap out of their zombie-like existence. Yeah, things sucked at the time. Yeah, it was important to say as much, and express the pain and loss and frustration. All of that was good and healthy. But eventually, they had to recognize that the story wasn’t over. Resurrection was possible. See, they were on their way to Emmaus, that place they thought would be an escape from the pain, loss, and despair. They wanted a comfortable, familiar, nostalgic place.

But they never made it Emmaus.

In fact, they turned around on that road and went right back to Jerusalem, the place where difficult, awful, and sad things happened. They faced their fears. They acknowledged their pain. They didn’t have all the answers or the comfort they were looking for, but they weren’t focused on that anymore. Because now they recognized that on the road, on the path, anything was possible. Even life. Even restoration. Even transformation.

So friends, I know that right now for a lot of you, we’re on the road to Emmaus. We are desperately looking for any relief and respite from all this stuff going on. I’m with you. And so, let’s walk that road together, but let’s understand that Emmaus isn’t our destination. It’s never been about the destination. It’s about the journey. So be open on the road to notice the life around you. Notice the people who have different stories and experiences and listen to them. Notice the pain and loss and listen to it without judging. Be honest on the road. Be kind and patient on the road.

And then, when the time is right [and you are ready], bread will be broken in the way it needs to be for your mind and your heart to be opened. See you on the road…

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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