“The Disciples at Emmaus”
Pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn (c 1655)
Luke 24:13-35 (see end of post for this text)
I wonder. If Cleopas and his friend had been on Facebook the day they took their long walk to Emmaus, would they have thought to post a picture of themselves walking along the road with this stranger? Probably not. They were sad. Standing still sad, Luke tells us. Numb. Not long ago they had been celebrating as their leader had ridden into Jerusalem. Had been so sure that God’s kingdom had come at last. But then. But then! Just three days ago they had seen all their Messiah hopes hanging limp and lifeless on a cross.
So what now? Then, too, what to make of the tale some of their women-folk were spreading? An empty tomb and angels saying Jesus was alive again. All too much. A gray mist of doubts and questions shrouded their lives. Nothing made any sense. And then this intrusive stranger. This intrusive stranger who seemed oblivious of all that was happening. Not welcome. Most certainly not a good time to post a FB picture.
Most of our posts on FB are posts of fun, joy, beauty, and abundance in our lives. Nothing wrong with this, but I worry sometimes that FB posting can be deceptive. Deceptive, because it can project—not only to our friends, but to ourselves as well, the sense that our lives are, or at least are supposed to be, always carefree, beautiful, exciting. Nothing amiss. The sun forever shining on us. Our cups always filled to the brim. Evidence, we tend to think, though we’d never admit to this, that we are favored and blessed.
Of course that’s not the way things are. We all walk that dark road to Emmaus over and over and over again in our lives. Hopes dashed. Difficulties overwhelming. Circumstances paralyzing. Questions without answers. Mists and doubts clouding our paths.
I’m most certainly not advocating we post these dark times on Facebook. They are moments far too intimate to share on social media. But I do want to urge myself and all of us to be fully present to these murky times. To accept them, difficult as they may be. To ponder them. To pray through them. Perhaps even to post these dark times on the facebook walls of our souls. To re-visit them from time to time. Let them help to keep us grounded in reality. Let them remind us that life is forever filled with both abundance and emptiness. “Abundance and destitution,” says Christian Wiman in My Bright Abyss, “are two facets of the one face of God, and to be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is to recall one when we are standing squarely in the midst of the other.”
To be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is also to remember that in every dark time, as well as in every bright time, the Stranger of Emmaus who “came near and went with them” also comes near and walks with us. We may not always recognize him. We may at times, like those Emmaus disciples, wish he would just leave us alone. But always he walks with us. Always he listens to us. Always he blesses us with his very real presence.
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”