Today’s gospel is my favorite resurrection story in the New Testament. It is a beautiful story full of symbolism and overflowing with meaning.
The gospel story is the story of the risen Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. One of the disciples is named Cleopas while his companion remains unnamed. Emmaus is roughly 10 to 12 km from Jerusalem.
The name Emmaus is derived from the Hebrew form hamma or hammat (חמת) which means “warm spring.” Emmaus may have been a spa or a resort place; it would be fair to say, the Las Vegas or Pansol in those days. Why are these two disciples going to Emmaus on the afternoon of the day when they were supposed to celebrate because Jesus resurrected? As we can glean from the gospel, they were walking away from the hurt and humiliation in Jerusalem and going to a place which could take the pain away or at least distract them from it.
In other words, the journey to Emmaus was a walking away from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the fulfilment of their dream but has been shattered by the shame and humiliation of the cross. When they entered Jerusalem together with Jesus, they were hoping that Jesus will sit in glory like the kings and emperors. As it turns out, Jesus was an epic failure, dying in the most shameful way. This is too hard to take; feeling dejected, they walked away. Unknown to them, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, as he promised.
Despite the two disciples walking away from the resurrection, the Risen Jesus walks with them as a fellow-traveller. Despite that the disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death; despite not believing in his words that he will rise up again, Jesus walks and accompanied them in their doubts and frustrations as they walk out of the resurrection.
But why on earth did they not recognize Jesus in spite that Jesus walks side-by-side with them? It is utterly ridiculous not to recognize Jesus whom they have ardently followed and recognized as their Master for the past three years.
We can only conjecture two reasons. First, the humiliation and pain of unfulfilled expectation were so heavy that in spite of Jesus walking with them side by side, their eyes was closed even to the people around them. Second, perhaps they did not recognize Jesus because the appearance of the resurrected body of Jesus might have been different from the earthly body of Jesus they have followed and interacted with before.
It was on the road that Jesus had to explain to them once again why he had to go through his suffering in order to fulfill the promises that God had told the prophets. The messiah has to go through suffering and death but attains glory and emerge victorious from death in the end. This is a powerful symbol of discipleship–Jesus and the two disciples walking, following and listening to Jesus who is the way.
The story of Emmaus represents the deepest truth of our lives. We have experienced many times in our lives walking away from failures and disillusionments – not recognized for the true worth of our efforts, not getting the job we wanted, not being loved by the one whom we love, not achieving our goals, etc. On the other hand, these experiences have taught us great lessons about life and have made us a stronger and better person.
But the gospel story today points us to the biggest fundamental walking away that we need to hurdle in life – the walking away from following Jesus’ passion, death up to the resurrection in Jerusalem. We can never understand the core meaning of our lives unless we learned not to walk away from our own death and resurrection. The core meaning of life as Jesus showed us is giving up life. Not giving up on life but dying to one’s life. In other words, the core meaning of life, the reason why Jesus gave his life for us on the cross, is love.
The redemption of the story is that the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to announce the good news and never to walk away again from the life-giving vocation that Jesus did in Jerusalem.
But this realization happened to the two disciples not without the Eucharist. The story of Emmaus is also the story of the Eucharist. Eucharist is the celebration of Easter. It is the celebration of the Risen Lord walking with us through life’s journey even if we walk away from resurrection.
In the Eucharist we who are followers on the road gather together and encounter Jesus. First, in the Liturgy of the Word as the Scriptures are broken open and explained, and, second, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where what Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection is remembered with thanksgiving and the bread that is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood, is shared among those who are the Members of that Body to strengthen their union and their commitment to continuing the work of Jesus.