That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem . . . Jesus himself drew near and went with them (Luke 24:13-15).
By now you’ve probably moved on.
Here on Friday, Easter Sunday seems like a long time ago. Especially this year. Maybe you did the best you could do to preserve something that made your Easter a little more Easter-ish. The worship experience on Sunday was probably nothing like what you’re accustomed to. But perhaps you were able to preserve the traditional Easter lunch, at least the ham part. I saw that some families figured out a way to do an egg hunt. And of course, as we mentioned earlier this week, the Easter message is the Easter message. Jesus walked out of the tomb and lives today, pandemic or not.
But that was then. Chances are you’ve put that behind you. Way behind you.
Most of us are preoccupied with our future. We’re aching for some unnamed and yet to be announced date when we can start planning an end to our exile. No one knows when that will be. This week the politicians are arguing about who gets to say when it will be and the criteria that will signal its arrival. Most us are sitting at home hoping, perhaps praying, and asking “how long?”
How long until the researchers discover what it will take to eradicate this disease?
How long until the curve is truly flattened and cresting the downhill slope?
How long until the ballparks are full, and restaurants are taking reservations again?
And perhaps most importantly, how long will it take before we realize that the living Jesus we heard about and sang about on Sunday is with us right now, on Friday? Right here in our exile?
All the Way Home
For two of Jesus’s followers, this realization took seven miles.
Seven miles is the distance from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. These two expectant disciples had been in Jerusalem for the Passover; they had gone there with high hopes as to what Jesus would do to liberate their nation; they had followed the events that led to Jesus’s death. And now they were moving on, leaving all of that behind, headed home to Emmaus.
We are not told at exactly what point Jesus joined them in this walk. Did he join them at mile two? Were they almost home? Luke simply says that as they were talking about all that had happened “Jesus himself drew near.” I’d like to think Jesus made most of the journey with them, leisurely talking about all that had happened and connecting those events to the words of scripture. Here’s what we do know: distracted and disappointed, they had no clue who he was. “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
As they got closer to Emmaus, the sun sitting low in the sky, these two disciples persuaded Jesus to stay for dinner. Only when their traveling companion took the bread and blessed it and gave it to them did they realize who had been walking with them.
This took seven miles. Seven miles of talking with Jesus. Seven miles of listening to his words. Seven miles of distance between the noise and activity of Jerusalem, and the table intimacy of Emmaus.
After seven miles their eyes were opened. Sometimes recognizing the living Jesus takes longer.
Maybe we need a little distance from Easter in order to grasp the truth of Easter.
Jesus is alive and walking with us. Patiently and persistently Jesus reveals himself to us along the way. And in the most ordinary setting, something triggers our recognition. We see what has been right in front of us all along. Our eyes are opened.
This doesn’t always happen quickly. If you ‘Google’ how long it takes to walk seven miles, you’ll discover that a brisk pace you can cover that distance in less than the time it takes to watch a movie. The disciples on the Emmaus road probably were not moving at a brisk pace. Their seven miles took longer. And for some, knowing the truth of Easter – that Jesus is alive and walking with you – can take much longer than seven miles.
The soul’s response to hardship and suffering, to sadness and loss, is not predictable. Do you find that suffering keeps you from seeing or experiencing the living presence of Jesus? Or do you find that somehow your vision is a little bit clearer in your afflictions?
Maybe you’ve discovered that both of those things are true – but it takes time. A very long walk.
As this week draws to a close, Easter Sunday may seem like a long time ago. Maybe you’ve moved on. But when you did, the living Christ moved with you.
Keep walking. And pay attention.
Far too easily and quickly, O God, we put Easter behind us. We move on without fully grasping the reality of your presence moving with us, walking with us. Guard us from walking aimlessly in these days. Reveal yourself as you will and give us eyes to see. We pray in the name of the one who walks with us, Christ our Lord. Amen.