For whatever reason, on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus, chose to remain incognito. He asked the travelers what they were discussing, and then he listened with compassion to their sorrow as they poured out the hurt and disappointment they were feeling over the death of the one who was supposed to be the Savior. Only after listening, did he explain the scriptures to them, pointing out the footprints of God throughout the history of their people, and especially those that lead to his coming into the world.
The Road to Emmaus is that lonely stretch of road that seems to run straight through the middle of life. It is a road potholed with disappointments and withered dreams. The Road to Emmaus runs between then and now and people don’t usually like to talk about it much because traveling it is never easy and the journey is always hard to explain. What happens on the Road to Emmaus stays on the Road to Emmaus, but what we don’t usually recognize is that we travel the Road to Emmaus every day…sometimes as the traveler… and sometimes as the stranger.
A couple of years ago, I served as a hospital chaplain, and the first night that I was on call I was summoned to the ICU to sit with a family as they waited for their loved one to die. I can still remember the surreal feeling that came over me as I entered into the most intimate moment a family can experience together. I was a complete stranger and yet the family members struggled to squeeze me into the tiny circle even though the room was already full. There were eight of us surrounding the bed of the young woman who lay dying, and all I could think to myself was that I don’t belong here. I didn’t realize it at the time, but together, we were sojourners on the Road to Emmaus as the family tried to come to terms with what was happening and I listened to them pour out their pain. I had nothing to offer; there were no words that I could say to change or clarify things or make anything better. I was an outsider; I had no stories to tell; no memories to relive with the family…yet they wanted me there, because somehow my presence offered comfort. I have never been so acutely aware of myself in my life. What am I doing here God? Representing you? Me? Are you sure about this? When it was time for me to go I prayed with the family. And as we stood outside the room, one of the woman’s brothers thanked me over and over. What had I done I wondered. Later, much later, it became clear…I had embodied the presence of Christ. Me – the stranger in the room – the stranger on the Road to Emmaus.
It is so much easier to see ourselves as the confused travelers isn’t it? But as Christ’s disciples, we are often called upon to be the stranger. Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth century mystic, lays it out when she says: Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is to look out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.
Sometimes we are the travelers; sometimes we are the strangers. I found this out when a couple of months later my own brother died and God felt so far away, and yet so close because of the many strangers who walked next to me. It was easy to miss – the signs – the little indications that God was there, right beside me, working in my life through people who listened as I poured out my pain. So many moments where if I had just turned to the side, I would have seen that Jesus was walking with me.
We are companions on the Road to Emmaus and we travel this journey of faith, together. He is revealed as he promised: where at least two are gathered, where the community reaches out for bread, where we listen together for a word. Consider the flow of the narrative: the two travelers are met on the road by a stranger who opens the scriptures for them. They then share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ, and then they are sent to share and live the good news. When the scriptures are “opened” and bread is “broken”— this is what we as church still experience together. As we listen to the flow we can hear echoes of ourselves in these early Christians as they did the very same things that we do by journeying, questioning, fearing, but also by feeding and being fed, and listening for and receiving God’s call.
We strengthen one another when we look around and really see what is happening around us. We strengthen the church when we look around for Jesus and find him. As we walk on our Emmaus roads may we dare to turn to those who are walking beside us and see the light of Christ that is in them.