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Walking the Emmaus Road in Uncertain Times

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 26th of Fourth Month, 2020

Speaker: Brian C. Young

Scripture: Luke 24:13–35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 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?” 19 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

Good morning, Friends!

This week, Lois Jordan wrote to us here in the office and asked a question: “Are we in

a liminal space as we live through this pandemic—leaving a familiar way of life, and not sure what life will be afterward?” We liked that question so much that we put it in the

Friendly Visitor, which you may have seen. The word that Lois used, liminal, is one that you

hear in theology and philosophy every now and then; it refers to indefinite spaces that lie

between better-defined regions. A liminal period is one in which something has ended, and something else has not yet begun. Liminal spaces can also be ones where two different environments come together and create something that is neither one nor the other; so thresholds, and shorelines, and borderlands are liminal spaces.

In the passage we’ve heard read this morning, two disciples find themselves in liminal

space, betwixt and between. The wonder of being in Jerusalem with Jesus, as he preaches and teaches and confronts the powers, has ended. That way of life, for whatever brief period it was theirs, has been taken away by his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. And whatever comes next has not yet arrived. On the Emmaus road, they are grappling with how to make sense of all that has happened, including the report, early that morning, that Jesus’ tomb is empty.

If you were with us on Easter, you might remember that we looked at Mark's account of

the women who came to the tomb early on the day after the Sabbath: remember that they

were preoccupied with how they were going to get into the tomb so that they could take care of Jesus' body: “who will roll away the stone?” Very quickly, that problem became a non- issue, and they had a much bigger one: how to understand what had happened. Where had the Master's body gone? What did the messenger mean when he said, “He has risen; He is not here”?

Here in Luke's Gospel, the problem of understanding has been compounded: in the

earlier part of chap. 24, the gathered group of Jesus' followers hear the reports of those whohave been to the tomb; Peter even has been there himself, and seen the cast-off burial

clothes, and nothing else; so the testimony of the women has been confirmed. But this pair of disciples don't even have a stone-at-the-mouth-of-the-tomb problem to occupy their minds, as they walk along.

Now: these disciples—what do we know about them? Only one is named: Cleopas,

and the name is about all we have. This is the only place in the Bible he appears. It’s possible he might be the husband of the Mary who is mentioned in John 19:25, as one of the women attending Jesus at the cross; but there the name of her husband is recorded as Clopas or Clophas, so it’s not clearly the same person.

We know even less about the other disciple; Luke gives no name. More than one

commentator points out that often in the Gospels women are nameless, suggesting that this

might be the case for this second disciple (e.g., Ringe, 287). So it could be that Mary, not named here, and her husband Cleopas or Clophas, are the ones who walk together—a married couple discussing this problem that they share with the other followers of Jesus.

Not much is definitely known about their destination, either: Emmaus in Hebrew means

“warm wells,” a not uncommon place name in first-century Palestine. As to its location, while there are a number of possibili