I’m reading the story of the walk to Emmaus over and over this week because sometimes the lectionary is a signpost that helps me remember the way I have come, that helps me find my way home again. Every time we cycle around to this story of Jesus strangely appearing to his friends on the road, I feel its fragmented in-betweeness, its unexplained mystery and desperate confusion.
It resonates for me because this is a story of loss and despair.
When Jesus comes upon the disciples, they are “standing still and looking sad,” and, though he already knows their hearts, he still asks them to share with him: What grieves you so?
The disciples ache for the friend and leader they have lost, so much that they can’t even perceive him as he walks among them. Hours pass as they tell and re-tell the story of their community splintering apart at his death. They don’t understand what has happened, and they’ve given up.
We had hoped, they tell this stranger. We had hoped that this man Jesus would save us, but we hope no longer. Everything is over now.
Of course, they’re wrong.
Everything is not over. Their hearts will “burn within them” as they look back on this day and realize they have spent it looking into the face of what they desire most, yet missing it all along.
But I love this story for that, for not passing over the heavy grief and hopeless sadness of the community that experienced Jesus’ death. They don’t just get to skip to the certainty of a risen Jesus: first they have to deal with the confusion of an empty tomb.
I’m glad this part of the story gets told because otherwise we’d be missing a critical piece of the narrative. Scripture is sacred to me because it gives words to the stories I already know as true in my own life, and this story is one that rings deeply inside of me.
Sometimes we are so shaken by the storms of life that we can do nothing more than stand still and look sad in the midst of it all.
Sometimes we are so blinded by grief that we cannot manage to hope for a future, even if that future has come to walk beside us and listen to our story.
Sometimes our hearts burn, so full do they become of that strange mixture of clarity and absurdity that comes from trying to process an experience of tragedy.
And always, no matter what, we have the opportunity to take the walk, however long, to Emmaus together.
– — –
What stories of scripture are resonating in your life right now? How do you see your community responding to its experiences of grief or loss? Who walks to Emmaus with you?