One of the most interesting things about travelling or undertaking a journey is the high possibility of exposure, learning and discovery. Among the Igbos of south-eastern Nigeria, there is a proverb that says that “a traveller is far more intelligent than someone with grey hairs who does not travel out”. It is little wonder then that most great storytellers were great travellers. If we take time to look into some of the major discoveries in the world, we would still come to the conclusion that they came within the context of travels and journeys. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World that is America while undertaking a journey with his crew aboard three ships: Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. In 1497 the Portuguese explorer and navigator, Vasco da Gamma discovered the sea route to India from Europe while on an explorative journey. In 1796, the Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, discovered the Niger River during one of his journeys! We are also at home with the fiction Gulliver’s Travels and his great findings as represented in the novel by Jonathan Swift.
Today can be called “Emmaus Sunday” giving the centrality of that town in the gospel reading (Luke 24:13-35). Two of the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ were undertaking a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Now the number two is very functional both in Jewish and Christian traditions. It stands for completeness and productivity. In any legal suite two witnesses are needed. The number two also accommodates the duality that is so evident in the world for instance light and darkness, body and soul, physical and spiritual etc. In the gospel today we will see this duality representing faith and doubt, belief and unbelief.
Now the two disciples left Jerusalem, the city of Peace, to Emmaus which means “warm spring” after the “bizarre” news of the empty tomb. Their journey to Emmaus was not a joyful one. They left Jerusalem, the city of peace in utter confusion. There is an indication that peace eluded them. Now they were going into Emmaus the place of warm spring indicating that their faith had grown cold and they needed some warmth. They were vacillating between belief and unbelief. As they went along the way, they talked about the events surrounding the death and the resurrection of our Lord; in few words, they were preoccupied not with vain talks or gossips but with the affairs of the Lord.
At some point in the journey, the Lord appeared to them and inquired about the theme of their discussion. Here we come to understand that God is always interested in what we think and say; if you like what comes out of us ( Mark 7:15). God is interested in our conversations especially if they are directed at him. If they were talking about unproductive things the Lord would not have come to them. If they busied themselves with worthless issues, the Lord would not have attended to them. The psalmist would say: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
The two disciples were disappointed that our Lord, whom they described as a “stranger”, did not know what was currently making the news in the city. Cleopas, one of the two, began by giving an assessment of the situation concerning Jesus of Nazareth whom they considered to be a mighty prophet in indeed and word before God and the people who was crucified and buried and now some women in their group who went to the tomb said that his body cannot be found. They were disappointed because they believed that Jesus came to deliver his people, but now he cannot be found. From their statement one could see faith challenged by doubts and confusion. From their testimony one can clearly see that they believed in the person and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ but they failed to understand the meaning of the empty tomb.
Our Lord Jesus Christ rebuked them for their inattention to the scriptures concerning the Christ which included his suffering as well as his glorious resurrection. The scripture class continued until they entered the village where they were going. Our Lord was about leaving them when they begged him to stay with them for the night. Now this request brought about the next significant event. There can never be any better request than that of asking the Lord to stay with us. In fact by making the request they were simply reminding our Lord what he stands for or if you like his name; EMMANUEL: God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matt. I: 23). Put in another way, they actually said: “God with us, stay with us”. The response to this request was positive. The Lord will never fail to come to those who invite him; those who sincerely love him and wish to stay with him (John 14:23).
During the stay with the Lord another important thing happened; of course staying with the Lord cannot be in vain. The Lord gradually moved from the scripture class which featured the explanation of the Word of God to the breaking of bread. It was at the point of the breaking of the bread that their eyes opened and they recognised the Lord, but he had vanished from their sight. The breaking of the bread as we see here has a direct link with the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Their eyes were opened based on the understanding they had gained from the Word of God they heard and believed. Many days back, we saw what happened to Judas Iscariot at the breaking of break at the Upper Room. Instead of his eye opening it was closed by the entrance of the devil (John 13:27).
The true meaning of the journey to Emmaus consists in the experience of the two disciples we saw in the gospel reading. They were on a pilgrimage of faith in search of the Lord whom they believe will bring about the final liberation of the people as the messiah. In this search they found the Lord in the Word of God and in the breaking of bread. On the journey to Emmaus there was a translation from darkness to light, from confusion to clarity, from disquiet to peace, from lack of understanding to deeper understanding! Emmaus has to do with a transforming encounter with Jesus Christ that changes us from what we used to be into what God has designed for us. On the way to Emmaus we are given a direct access to Jesus Christ who comes to us to enlighten our minds. On the way to Emmaus we understand that the empty tomb is not a negative return but a highly positive and rewarding event.
Today we have our own Emmaus journey; a journey with transforming gains. In this journey we look forward to an encounter with Jesus Christ that will redirect our hearts and minds. An encounter that will fill us with the Word of God which will in turn make us to desire to stay with the Lord. An encounter that will open our eyes and to see the Lord as he really as we partake in the breaking of bread.
May the Emmaus journey bring about our own transforming encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ as he meets us at our points of need.
Have a blissful “Emmaus” Sunday.