Was their destination Emmaus because it was their hometown? Probably not. Biblical and non-Biblical history tells us that Emmaus was, 200 years before the death and resurrection of Jesus, the site of military victory and liberation from Seleucid oppression for the Jewish people through the leadership of Judah Maccabees. The tradition of Hanukkah, the great feast of lights, came forth from that victorious time. It was a big deal. Also, Emmaus was known to have therapeutic springs and a possible reputation of being akin to the Las Vegas of our times. They may have been seeking merely human and physical solace in Emmaus. Go to a site of past glory days, and relax in whatever comforts are available!
Notice the disciples are experiencing the in-between time, caught in the aftermath of the horrible death of Jesus and His resurrection. They do not yet have resurrection faith given by an experience of the risen Christ. Cleopas is not one of the twelve apostles, so he could hardly know anything about the Last Supper and the Eucharist, but the one just joining them is Jesus resurrected. They knew Him from meals wherein He prayed the blessing at the breaking of bread when meals started. Thus, after they listen to Him while walking, when they arrive and have dinner with the Jesus they don’t yet recognize, He takes the bread for dinner and prays, and boom!, He’s recognized and immediately vanishes. Now they are enlivened and have the courage of the Holy Spirit and return to the Jerusalem that is physically dangerous for them and join the other disciples and tell them their experience.
While we have the benefit of the whole story of Jesus our Christian lives, much of it is in the past as we now experience a new turning of life upside down. Very similar to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we could be downcast, feeling defeated, and certainly deprived of the usual gathering for and celebration of the Eucharist. These are the COVID/Corona times. We can hardly find a spa or a Las Vegas because they’re shut down! Much of our time now we seem like those first disciples, ‘locked in the upper room.’ We are quite pared down to those things which are essential.
Yet since it is the Lord who takes the initiative and wants us to newly rediscover Him and His presence with us here and now, then we only need to cooperate. Pray privately and discover more of the Lord within us. Without physical contacts, we can nonetheless contact others to make amends or reconnect with someone we have been away from for a while.
Ask the Lord to help us to be creative and adventuresome instead of just feeling stuck. If you have extra resources help someone losing most of their resources during these times. In getting down to essentials there’s nothing more essential for us than leaning on the Lord Jesus for inspiration and to consider the question: what will be new stories to share in the times to come that will reveal these times as glory days, a time when God was very much at work in us?
My prayers for all of you, Fr Matt Ellis