Cleopas and friend, former adherents of the Jesus Movement, are ‘getting out of Dodge.’ Their leader, the rebel rabbi from Nazareth, has just been executed for treason by the Roman government. The Christian project has failed. Their fallen hero is obviously nobody’s awaited Messiah. Right? So they are on the road heading away from Jerusalem, moving away from the risk of being molested; for association with what’s left of the Movement is still dangerous. And, then, to add insult to injury, there are rumors of some kind of resurrection. How confusing and confounding it all must seem.
Then, suddenly, Jesus is there beside them! This is another one of John’s remarkable little post-resurrection vignettes. These very beautiful, albeit ahistoric, tales are critically important to us in theological and experiential terms. (As my friend, the late great Doctor Marcus Borg was wont to say: “Emmaeus never happened. Emmaeus always happens.”) What will Jesus demand of these disciples who are on the road again? A deep apology and some new oath of loyalty? Maybe their signing of a ‘faith statement’ or a promise to follow him now as personal Lord and Saviour? No, in fact he demands nothing at all. Instead, he reveals himself. And he does this in two ways: through the creative use of the Scriptures and through the recognition of his Presence in a eucharist. In our tradition, we call this ministry of Word and Sacrament. In these two ways he lives on amongst us. They help to form our identity and to strengthen us to be Christ in, and for, the world.
Like the duo on Emmaeus Road, we are travelling into the future in a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. We cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. And in these days of COVID-19 pandemic, we too may easily let ourselves be overcome by worry and fear. We may also feel that all God’s promises have failed. But that is because we have not understood them! God never promised us a rose garden. As Catholic Christians, we have no “theology of prosperity,” assuring us an easy life and wealth if we believe certain things or give enough money. That is pure rubbish! Rather, our story reminds us that, whatever we may face, we never walk alone. Christ is with us in every step of the journey. Like Cleopas and his companion, at times we may fail to recognize the One who is right besides us — giving us strength in our weakness and encouragement in our despair, conferring meaning on all our sorrows and sufferings. There are times in our lives, and in the life of our nation, when we can only “let go and let God.” This is one of them.