On the Emmaus road

One possible definition of ‘what it is to be a Christian’ is the attempt to imitate the life of Christ – trying to put into practice all that Jesus did. In Jesus, we have an example of the best way to live according to God’s desire. So, we might better understand our own discipleship through the lens of Christ. We want to be like Jesus – to do, to act, to listen, to pray – like Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan therefore we also want to be baptized. Jesus battled against the forces which attempted to distance him from God’s love, therefore we also do battle against those same forces. Jesus forgave those who hated him, we try (and very often fail) to do the same. Jesus brought healing and wholeness, we also want to bring the same. Jesus displays God-practice in life, so Jesus is our model for Christian praxis.

Jesus was a teacher, preacher, healer, reconciler, and leader of people. If we look at the gospels we see a person in Jesus who is deeply engaged with those around him. If we want to see ourselves in a Christ-light, we should consider how our practice is shaped by Christ’s example. If our desire is to model our lives on Christ, we would do well to discover how he relates to others. When Jesus comes alongside two people who are journeying from Jerusalem to Emmaus he shows us how relating develops into believing and then believing becomes the catalyst to a life well lived.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 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?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. (Luke 24: 13-21)

The journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus describes a pilgrimage of trust and possibility

The tennis match between Jesus, Cleopas and his companion is full of rich interaction. Jesus initiates a dialogue, taking into account the look in their eyes which the gospel writer is keen to convey. We can imagine how intently Jesus is focused upon these travellers. Jesus initiates a conversation with a broad and open question, encouraging a response: “What are you discussing?” It was as if this initiative slowed their walk to an abrupt stop. They received his question, “[standing] still, looking sad.” Their body language is betraying their state of mind. And then they respond with passion and a question of their own. “‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ Their response is unequivocal. A difference of opinion has been articulated. There is a freedom of speech here which feels healthy and natural. Jesus listens attentively to their worries and concerns. But how will Jesus manage their heightened emotional state? Jesus’ attuned response does not avoid the intensity of the encounter. The dance continues. Nothing is missed here. Jesus again asks a helpful question prompting a more detailed response from both of them. It seems that they are all actively involved in this encounter, listening well, for this moment, this conversation, really matters. Jesus asks, ‘What things?’ Which leads to a longer interaction and finally a new shared understanding of a most complex matter, which became nothing less than a summary of salvation history!

Jesus’ walking companions had been able to express their hopes, beliefs and thoughts. The hurt and anguish which was present at the beginning of the journey had been named, explored and reflected upon through the skill of Jesus’ interaction. Jesus, through his loving regard, had encouraged them to appraise and even challenge their initial viewpoint.

So, what impact does this encounter have on the travellers? At the end of this passage in Luke’s gospel, the travelling companions see Jesus in a new light.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24: 28-35)

New ideas and possibilities manifest for this group. They have become fully empowered. Now they were to fulfil their callings: teachers, preachers, healers, reconcilers, and leaders of people in Christ’s name. Let us also address the questions that they were asked on the Emmaus road:

What do you see?

What do you feel?

What does all of this mean to you?

This meditation was originally written by Gavin for clergy who were being trained in the supervision of curates. It seemed apt to use this for this week’s blog as our Sunday gospel locates itself on the Emmaus road! More information on this prayers, readings and notices can be found here.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.