The Gospel reading for Sunday, May 4 – Luke 24:13-35 – tells the story of Jesus appearing to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, “on the evening of His resurrection.” One of the disciples was named Cleopas; the other remained unnamed.
Emmaus – from the Hebrew for “warm spring” – is seven miles northwest of present-day Jerusalem. Just as an aside, there’s also an “Emmaus” in Pennsylvania, named for the biblical village in this Sunday’s Gospel. It’s in Lehigh County, about five miles southwest of Allentown.
From its founding in 1759 until 1830, the settlement’s name was spelled Emmaus. From 1830 until 1938, however, the community used the Pennsylvania Dutch spelling of the name, Emaus, to reflect local language and the significant presence of Pennsylvania Dutch. In 1938, after petitions circulated by the local Rotary Club, the borough formally changed the name’s spelling back to Emmaus, reflecting the spelling in the Gospel of Luke in the English New Testament.
There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere. . .
Anyway, Wikipedia summarized the incident as follows:
“The author of Luke places the story on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The two disciples have heard the tomb of Jesus was found empty earlier that day. They are discussing the events of the past few days when a stranger asks them what they are discussing. ‘Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.’ He soon rebukes them for their unbelief and gives them a Bible study on prophecies about the Messiah.”
Unfortunately, that lecture by Jesus on Bible study – “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” – was lost to history. (That might have been because after the two disciples finally recognized the stranger as Jesus, they had other things on their mind beside taking notes “immediately,” as Mark was so fond of saying in his Gospel. )
But that in turn brings up the ending of last week’s Gospel reading:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
That’s John 20:30-31, sometimes summarized as the Statement of the Gospel’s Purpose, the Gospel of John that is.
So, from John 20:30-31 it might be gleaned either that there are a lot of important things about Jesus that aren’t in the Bible, or that the Bible story continues “even to this day,” in our own lives. Put another way, you might say that the Bible story is incomplete until we put it to use in our lives, today and into the future. . .
But that’s enough potential heresy for one post. Getting back to the Gospel for May, Wikipedia continued:
“On reaching Emmaus, they ask the stranger to join them for the evening meal. When he breaks the bread ‘their eyes were opened’ and they recognize him as the resurrected Jesus. Jesus immediately vanishes. Cleopas and his friend then hasten back to Jerusalem to carry the news to the other disciples, and arrive in time to proclaim to the eleven who were gathered together with others that Jesus truly is alive.”
There are a couple of possible lessons here. One could be that we fail to recognize when Jesus is “walking with us,” metaphorically or otherwise, in our daily lives. Another could be that when we celebrate the Communion on Sundays we come that much closer to “having our eyes opened.” (Maybe that’s why we do it.) And third, it seems that every “mountaintop experience” like this one is always followed by our having to go back to the drudgery of our daily lives.
Or as one “Christian mystic” once said:
Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand. Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move. True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock. It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.
The Rembrandt image and some of the text were gleaned from Wikipedia. The “mystic” quote was from Evelyn Underhill’s book Practical Mysticism (Ariel Press, 1914), at page 177. (For more information see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Underhill). The “mountaintop” image is courtesy of http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/spaceart/terragen/tg234.jpg.