Our Paschal Walk to Emmaus
Dr Harry Hagopian

‘On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named
Emmaus, about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem, and they were talking to
each other about all the things that had happened.  As they talked and
discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them … As they came
near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going
farther’  (Lk 24: vv 13-15 & 28).

‘Jesus acted as if he were going farther…’ This verse, taken from St Luke’s
Gospel, indicates that Jesus was quite purposely ‘feigning’ his intention to
continue his walk to Emmaus. This is exceptional - if not downright odd -
coming from Jesus himself. All throughout the biblical narratives, the
gospel writers are quite clear in their assertion that make believe was not
part of Jesus’ disposition! In fact, the verb ‘acted as if’ is used only
this once in the New Testament. However, I do not think that this sole
exception connotes any moral latitude on the part of the Resurrected Christ.
On the contrary, his self-effacing discretion manifests a presence that
deeply respects the mystery of others. It mobilises our faith, shifts it
into high gear, deepens it and then opens up a ‘new route’ for believers to
follow - which, incidentally, is the etymology of the word ‘synod’.

Let us just go back two thousand years and put ourselves for one minute in
the place of those disciples! They had spent three years with Jesus as he
walked and talked across the whole land. They were now desperately trying to
make sense of the events they had just witnessed in Jerusalem. They were
dazed, and found themselves confused and fearful.  After all, the
crucifixion of their teacher had shattered all their idealistic images of
Jesus as Saviour of Israel. Their master had died, but the Resurrected
Christ was suddenly in their midst again some three days later. And not only
that!  There was also nothing earth-shattering in Christ’s apparition in
their midst. It was certainly not reminiscent of the thunder, lightning,
thick clouds and loud trumpet blasts that accompanied the theophany of the
Israelites at Mount Sinai when Moses met with God (Ex 19:16). If anything,
this meeting was noticeable by its low-key discretion!  According to Luke’s
version of the encounter on the walk to Emmaus, Jesus simply joined his
disciples, walked along with them and asked them, “What are you talking
about to each other, as you walk along?”  As simple as that - no fanfare, no
great shakes and certainly no fireworks!

I believe that this discretion of the Saviour at Emmaus is paradigmatic of
the relations Jesus Christ continues to have with us today. It takes into
account our own slowness and slothfulness. Instead of impressive and
hard-hitting gestures, he takes the time to ‘walk the walk’ in all humility
and engages us in plain conversations - almost like intimate banters. In
verse 21 of St Luke’s version of the walk, the disciples - who had not yet
discovered the true identity of Jesus Christ - tell the stranger they had
hoped that Jesus would be the one who would set Israel free. Again, in
verses 23 and 24 of the same text, the disciples inform the ‘stranger’ that
some of the women had gone at dawn to the tomb but could not find the body.
They also add that the women had then returned saying they had seen a vision
of angels telling them that he was alive. The men in turn had then gone to
the tomb and found it exactly as the women had described it – though they
did not see Jesus either. The disciples were demonstrating yet again their
inability to grasp the truth or to trust other people.  Jesus respects our
inherent weaknesses. His discretion depicts an understanding that our
inchoate faith needs time to develop, and he gives us ample opportunity to
seize the truth.

This discreet and soft-spoken God who reveals himself to his disciples is
the God who walks along with us on our journey through life. He does not
demand that we bow our heads before him.  He is the God who talks to us; he
does not cast spells on us. He is one who challenges our beliefs and deeds;
he does not peremptorily approve or disapprove of our actions.  He explains
the Word to us; he does not shield himself from us behind an infinite and
haughty silence. He allows us to open our eyes to the truth gradually; he
does not wish to blind us with flashes. This is the essence of the God of
the New Testament that Christians believe in. Jesus does not compromise on
the truth. He challenges us to abide by it.  However, he also knows our
human weaknesses and gives us the necessary space to choose the path of
truth and righteousness - if we opt to do so.

This week, many local Christians in the Holy Land celebrated the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of them went to Emmaus to celebrate holy
mass and to break bread with the whole community there. Perhaps as we recall
the story of Emmaus during the season of paschal celebrations, it might help
us to open ourselves up to Jesus’ teachings and to be vulnerable to his
sense of discreet persuasion.  We need not always hide behind our own
firewalls of suspicion, reluctance, fear, apathy and self-protection.
Christos Anesti!  Alithos Anesti!  Hallelujah!

hh © MECC/jlo
April 2000