Eastertide: The Emmaus Road

Tucked in between the Paschal journey of Jesus (1) are a few little stories that attempt to bring to light what it might have been like for those of his friends who were witnesses to his death, and resurrection. Following on from the encounter that Mary Magdalene had with him in the garden, we meet two travelers, disciples, on the road to Emmaus. We find them possibly a bit dazed and confused by the events that they have just witnessed. This Jesus, who had promised to be their Messiah, the one who would usher in the Kingdom of God and overthrow the Kingdom of Caesar had been executed as a common criminal. They lost their friend, and their hopeful King. 

Wandering along this road, a 7 mile (11km) journey we find them considering the events that had just taken place. Jesus himself, whether in the flesh or in vision form (does it change the power of the encounter?) wanders alongside them and begins to ask them what it is they are talking about. The words trip off their tongues at a fast rate of knots and they wonder how this traveler could not possibly be aware of the events that have just taken place. As they approach a village at dusk, they invite him to stay for a meal, a common form of manaakitanga, the stranger, the pilgrim always being welcome. As they ate, Jesus broke bread and their eyes were opened to see the risen Christ… and the penny dropped. (Luke 24) 

Author Ruth Haley Barton suggests that the Emmaus Road could be called 

the road between the now and not yet’, a liminal space, a threshold where one moves from a place or state of being to another. I suggest that the Emmaus Road as an in-between space, is the road that most of us are on, most of the time. We set out on our paths with plans and intentions, hopes and dreams, (shattered and fulfilled), and what happens along the road determines our destination. We might end up in the same ‘physical’ location that we set out to reach, but how we get there will change everything about the way we engage with the destination.  

The Road has always been a metaphor for our haerenga, or journey. The destination itself becomes less of the focus and ‘we make the road by walking.’

The actual journey itself becomes the destination, if we slow the pace down enough to notice what, or who walks the road with us.  

A few years ago a friend & I set out on a long walk across Northern Spain, a pilgrim walk called the Camino de Santiago. We had no idea where we were going, we just followed the yellow arrows that were dotted throughout the countryside. We set out initially with great gusto, but very quickly realized that if we didn’t slow our pace, not only would we develop excruciating blisters on our feet, but we would completely miss the point. The road became our teacher and our guide, and by the time we were close to our destination our pace began to slow down so much as we realized that the journey was coming to an end. We began to feel the grief of the loss of the beautiful road and her invitation to change and transformation. 

There were others we met along the way, strangers who became our travelling companions and friends. They spoke different languages to us, but our common purpose knitted out hearts together, and our eyes were opened to relationships we never would have experienced had we not slowed the drive within us that was always goading us to go a little faster and a little further each day. 

We are all Emmaus Road travelers. Who will we meet on the road? What encounters might we have that will change us, and give us hope for our future? The destination might be the same, but we will be different, and that’s the point.

Linda Burson Swift

1 a term that refers to the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension