After Jesus died on the cross and had been buried for three days, stories began to circulate that his tomb was empty. Some reported that a few women had gone to the tomb and discovered that Jesus’ body was gone. Even more, some were saying angels had appeared announcing that Jesus was alive. Two of Jesus’ followers who had heard all of this were now setting off for Emmaus, a town about seven miles from Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was killed. The long walk gave them time to think. Emmaus may have been their home. We know that one of the followers was named Cleopas and some think that the other was his wife.*
While they were walking, talking, and trying to come to terms with what had happened, Jesus himself came and joined them. Scripture tells us “they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him.” (Lk 24:16, GNT) Something prevented them from perceiving that Jesus was right beside them. How could this be? What was blinding them to the presence of Jesus? Were they unable to see clearly because their eyes were blurred by tears of sorrow, grief, and despair? Maybe it was life itself and all the challenges and hardships that can add up over time. They thought Jesus would be the one to deliver them and now he was dead and gone along with any hope they had.
“they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him.”
Reflecting on this passage, N.T. Wright points us to an earlier story in Luke where we find another couple traveling on a road, Mary and Joseph.** They were heading back to Jerusalem after discovering that Jesus was not with them. He was twelve at the time and had not joined Mary, Joseph and all the others who returned home after the Festival of the Passover. As a parent it is hard to imagine what this may have been like for them when they realized Jesus was not with them. Like the two on the road to Emmaus, Mary and Joseph were filled with sorrow, grief, and despair. They had lost Jesus. How could it have happened?
When Mary and Jospeh eventually find Jesus he says, “Didn’t you know this is what I had to do? I must be about my Father’s business.” When the two on the road to Emmaus discover Jesus he says, “Didn’t you realize that this is how it had to be? I had to be about my Father’s work. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then Jesus showed Cleopas and his companion how his story makes perfect sense when it is seen as part of the whole of what God has been doing and saying throughout scripture. As Jesus explained it, it was as if their hearts were burning within them.
Jesus does everything in relationship with his Father. As Henri Nouwen explains, Jesus shows us a life of “uninterrupted attentiveness to the Father in the spirit of love.” God’s business is beyond us; he plans things greater than anyone can imagine.
What a gift it is to have eyes that can truly see. How often do we miss Jesus at work in our lives and not recognize him standing right beside us? As we prepare for Easter, let’s stop and see where we are and what Jesus is doing in our midst. Remember the two on the road to Emmaus, even though they did not recognize or fully understand Jesus, he saw them. Jesus also sees us where we are and joins us on our way; offering us new hope and a new vision of reality. We just need to start the journey and Jesus will meet us along the way.
*Read the full account in Luke 24:13-35
**N.T. Wright, “Living in God’s Creation”