Summary: The risen Christ encounters us when we find ourselves downtrodden on the road to Emmaus. And through that encounter we are transformed in such a way that Emmaus becomes the beginning o the journey, not the end.
How many times in your life have you experienced "the blank stare"? You all know what I'm talking about, right? You're trying to explain something to someone, when their eyes begin to glaze over, and their mouth drops open, and they look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language. And then, sure you can make some progress, you continue, "Don't you see?" Don't you see this little wire here that isn't connected? Don't you see that the protagonist and the antagonists are actually brothers? Don't you see how much fuel it takes for those rocket boosters to lift that shuttle? Don't you see that those people need some help and we can help them?
Sometimes our continued efforts work, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes we have to try again with a little more creativity. Sometimes we need to grab the hand of the person and take them to the place where they can actually "see" what we are talking about. And then sometimes we have to start again from the beginning, explaining everything with more precision; pointing to every clue and revealing every detail. And how many times have our efforts to help someone else understand only led us to see that we misunderstood it all ourselves?
That is exactly the experience of those two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The Passover Feast has concluded, their leader Jesus was crucified while they were in Jerusalem, and they saw it. Now, Cleopas and his companion are headed out of Jerusalem. Luke tells us only that the two disciples were going to Emmaus. Emmaus was a little-known town, and Luke doesn't tell us why Cleopas and the other disciple were going there. They may have been going home or going there on business. And as they go, they talk. They talked with each other about everything that had happened. Before they know it, the two disciples have another companion with them, and as the man falls into stride with the two disciples, he asks, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
It's kind of humorous at this point to imagine the reaction of the two disciples to this question. Their walk slowed to a stop, their shoulders drooped, their mouths dropped open as they looked at this man in front of them and wondered what planet he was from. Cleopas must've been thinking, "Don't you see?!?" But instead of such an incredulous response, Cleopas says, "You must be the only person around Jerusalem who doesn't know what's been going on there these last few days." But the man doesn't know, at least he doesn't seem to know as he asks the two disciples, "What things?"
So they continue toward Emmaus, and as they go, Cleopas and the other, clearly overwhelmed and distraught, share with their new companion the sad news of recent days. It is a story of hopes dashed and dreams lost. Listen again to what they say, "About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of the women amazed us. They went to our tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him."
Cleopas pours his heart out to this man who has joined their journey to Emmaus. And as the travelers talk, we sense that perhaps these disciples are going to Emmaus not to get home or to get work done, but just to get away from the terrible things they had witnessed in Jerusalem. There is not much known about Emmaus, and one theologian interprets Emmaus as the place we go in order to escape. Maybe it's a bar, or a movie, wherever it is that we throw up our arms and say, “Let the whole thing go…It makes no difference anyway.” Emmaus could be buying a new suit or pair of shoes that you don’t really need. Emmaus could stand for whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves try and forget about the awfulness of things. We journey to Emmaus often, don't we? We grab a friend, and we start ranting as we beat the punching bag, or we pour our hearts out over a tub of ice cream. And then someone comes along wondering what we're talking about, and we turn to them and ask, "Don't you see? Don't you understand how bad things are?"