Have you been to Emmaus?

Literally, I haven’t been to Emmaus. But the moment I intend that question in a figurative sense. I do not refer to the Palestinian village several miles from Jerusalem, but I refer rather to our own Emmaus, because Emmaus is the place you go when there is nowhere else to go. Emmaus is the place of lost hopes, shattered dreams, and heavy hearts. Emmaus is the place you retreat to when you are bone-tired, beaten down, and broken up by the tragedies and disappointments of life. It may be a village, but it is often a state of mind, characterised by the absence of joy, the lost sense of meaning, the frequent loneliness of the human condition, and the seeming absurdity of life.

Have you been to Emmaus? It is the place you escape to when you are hurting and in need of healing, when you are crying and are in need of comfort, when you are exhausted and in need of renewal. If you have lived at all, I suspect you have been to Emmaus or maybe you are still there. The road to Emmaus is frequented by ordinarily men and women such as Cleopas and his unnamed companion, such as you and me.
Like the disciples of Emmaus, we, too, have our own ideas of Jesus Christ, his message and his church. We, too, are conditioned by our upbringing, early education, culture and life experience. The disciples could not recognise Jesus as long as their mindsets about who he was and what he was to do were in place. When Jesus demolished their blindness with his explanation of the Scriptures, their vision of him began to assume a more realistic tone. The price of recognizing Jesus is always the same: our idea of him, of the Church, of the spiritual journey, of God himself has to be shattered. To see with the eyes of faith we must be free of our culturally-conditioned mindsets. When we let go of our private and limited vision, He who has been hidden from us by our pre-packaged values and preconceived ideas causes the scales to fall from our eyes, just as He did with St. Paul. He was there all the time. Now at last we perceive his Presence. With the transformed vision of faith, we return to the humdrum routines and duties of daily life, but now, like Mary Magdalene, we recognize God giving himself to us in everyone and in everything.

Yes, Emmaus is a place where we need to go. Emmaus is a place of the heart. Walking to Emmaus is an exercise of the soul rather than of the legs. These two early disciples were exploring the depth of their own faith, or willingness to believe. Freely they shared their story even though they did not know how the story would end. Walking to Emmaus gives us a chance to know where we are rather than knowing where we would like to be. When we are walking to Emmaus the Lord can help us in our journey, because we are opened to guidance. Cleopas and his friend listen intently to our Lord's words: they wanted to continue their growth but were not sure what to do next. Their willingness to listen assured that they would find their way.
Sometimes we forget that we are on a journey. We want to know all there is to know, and fall into the trap of thinking that we know it all already. The two disciples had been willing to listen, and now they were given the gift of discernment. They now knew that what they had heard was another step on their spiritual journey. Their Lord had risen and they had spoken with Him and received bread by His hand. They then went to Jerusalem and met with the eleven. When the met with the eleven they were told that Jesus had risen and that He had appeared to Peter. After hearing this the two explained to the eleven what had happened to them. Here again the two were willing first to listen and then to speak; their openness to instruction increased their understanding. We can learn a lot from these two early disciples. We can learn to listen before we speak.

So where do you go for renewal and recovery? Many go to the church or the sanctuary where they have sensed God’s presence in the past. Some go to the beach. The mountains? To meet with friends? Sometimes, of course, old hopes must die before new hopes can be born to take their place and so we go from hope to hope. Sometimes an unrealistic hope must be abandoned before a more realistic hope one can be embraced. Maybe some of you have run out of hope and are walking a lonely road in search for it once again. The road to Emmaus may seem lonely because we are so absorbed by our own troubles, but it is a road that is crowded with fellow pilgrims, many of whom are hurting just as we are. Oh, we do well at hiding our hurts and disappointments but all of us have them!

 So have you been to Emmaus? Well if you’ve never been there or if you find yourself today on the road to Emmaus, keep an eye out for the Stranger. He will be there and I assure you, you do not walk alone!