Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 26, 2020
Easter 3, Year A
First of all, Emmaus is a bit of a mystery. Nearly all the places in the gospels are known to contemporaneous non-Christian sources, but there are like 7 different Emmaus’s. This was either an accident (sort of what would happen if someone set a story in “Springfield” but didn’t specify which state), or it was a literary device, like setting Our Town in Grover’s Corners. Sort of a First Century AnyTown, Palestine. Or the setting of the Simpsons.
So when our story begins, two disciples, whose names we aren’t given, are going Somewhere. And they are arguing with each other. The Greek word here is stronger than mere ‘discussing’—they’re discussing with emotion. Probably with elaborate hand guestures. And dramatic hyperbole. They’re discussing so much that they don’t notice when Jesus appears.
There’s a local Palestinian Christian tradition that the two disciples are Cleopas and Mary, his wife—who is named elsewhere in the gospel narratives, which would partially explain the dynamic here. And also perhaps why Cleopas gets a name, and she doesn’t.
it is Cleopas, after all, who finally notices the stranger, and explains to him what’s been going on, as they walk along on this journey.
There is a tradition in the scripture of wilderness journeys. The Israelites travel from oppression in Egypt to freedom in Canaan through the wilderness. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by Satan. John the Baptist lives out there. The people of God record in scripture that God is to be encountered when you travel in the wilderness, out beyond the orderly ways of civilization, even though it is by definition not a comfortable place to be.
But for Cleopas and Mary (I’m going with local tradition) it’s different. It seems that they’re fleeing Jerusalem for their own physical safety. (remember, in the days following the crucifixion, the disciples were reasonably sure that Rome was next going to come and arrest all of them.) They—or at least Cleopas— discounts the word of the women, and disbelieves the resurrection, because everything is still really scary and threatening.
Not only are they in a physical wilderness of a sort; they are in a mental and spiritual one as well—and it’s one they did not choose; they are thrown there.
“But we had hoped” Cleopas tells the stranger “that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” They have been thrown into the wilderness of disappointed hopes—where instead of preparing for Jesus to rule in triumph, they are fleeing for their lives.
And yet, they encounter the same wilderness experience as the Israelites. Jesus still accompanies them in this in-between place. God still provides them with food and provision, like God provided manna in the desert for the Israelites. And it is in this liminal space that they discover the outlines of the new world of the resurrection.
After all, the resurrection of Christ doesn’t sweep away the world as it is with its disappointments, its hardships, and the brokenness. The resurrection instead for those who witness it in faith moves us into this liminal space where we can encounter God in a new way, and be fed and provided for as we undergo transformation.
in a number of ways, we are in another liminal space now in our world. This pandemic has pushed all of us into the end of one way of being, and we haven’t yet quite arrived at the world that will be. And while this liminal place—this wilderness—is an uncomfortable place to be, Jesus still meets us here. God has always met God’s people in the wilderness to provide for us, and to draw us closer to Godself, and closer to the world God desires.
The goal of this space is not for us to learn every new language, become masters of video conferencing, or become excellent homeschoolers. We don’t have to emerge from this having figured everything out. Cleopas and Mary figured nothing out, I’m fairly sure. Because Christ’s presence is enough to get us through. We just need to be attentive to the ways that the Risen Christ is among us in this journey, even in the unfamiliar and the chaotic.
Christ always shows up, always accompanies us, and always gives us what we need. We just need eyes to see.