Walking to their village in confusion, wonder and dismay, two of Jesus’ followers, Cleopas and one other, are caught up in the mystery of recent events. Reading of their journey to Emmaus, I am reminded that they seem as mystified, confused and troubled in their day as I am in mine.
Thinking of that gives me some comfort. If they, who knew Jesus as a Great Prophet of Word and Deed, were troubled and disturbed enough to turn their backs on Jerusalem, retreating to a village 7 miles distant, then perhaps I can be excused for my own disturbed and troubled retreat in these disturbing and troubling times.
If they, who heard the women say Jesus lived, was out of the tomb and loose upon the world, responded by turning homeward to consider their place in that world, then perhaps my own retreat into shuttered buildings and zoom room conversations might be excused as well.
I think there is more than hope for excuse, pardon and grace in this story. Jesus, true to his promise to never unfriend them (no matter the provocation, unkind act or troll-like behaviour), inserts himself into the conversation. At the point where one of them says,
“You know, we really thought he was One. The Redeemer. But here it is, the third day…”
Jesus jumps in. Quoting chapter and verse of scripture, from Moses on down, he reminds them that their Redeemer had to die, to live again. There is no life without death.
There is no life without death. Think about that. Not only true in scripture, where it is prophesied that the Redeemer will be killed, hung on a tree, yet raised again, but in life itself. Which of us would live without the benefit of another’s sacrifice?
Not just the obvious. The living and dying plants and animals sustaining our bodies. The destruction of land and sea and air in the name of economic benefit. The losses of freedom and choice, the deaths of creativity and intelligence, chained to a bench, tied to a machine, hunched over in a field, coughing lungs to redness in the name of bringing products to market.
What about those who die, as he did, giving birth to ancient wisdom to new generations. Those who bring stories of love’s power to show us ourselves beloved. To know ourselves blessed, to delight in neighbours as the Creator delights in us. What about them?
Emmaus herself died. In 1967 an invading army drove her people out. Denied them the homes and groves of their ancestors. Put their stories to death. In the tradition of ancient conquerors seeded her ruins with trees, creating there a forest, where their own could wander, take delight and never wonder about lives taken, changed, destroyed, forbidden. In their names.
It is not so much the deaths. There can be no life without them. It is the lack of chapter and verse, the scriptures of lives lived and stories told. If we do not know and honour that given for us, who are we? If we do not see and measure the gifts we hold by the ones from whom everything was taken in our name, how can we live with wisdom, with respect, with care and consideration? How can we be who we are meant to be if we have no inkling of that which was given in our name?
How do we hear this story, in our homes and villages when, confused and troubled, we consider life and living. As we gather at our tables, will Jesus settle in? Will we know him in the breaking of the bread? Will we let him hold us in the breaking of our hearts? Will the death of a way of seeing bring us into another path?