“The Road to Emmaus” is a story that brings us full circle from despair to hope. On the road going, the grief of the disciples is so profound that it could be termed a “dark night of the soul.” “The dark night of the soul” describes periods of spiritual crisis in which we feel utterly bereft of God and our own feelings of human connection. These disciples were deeply grieved by the recent horrors of the crucifixion. What had happened to the messiah they were following? This passage in Luke begins by telling us that Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem. They had literally walked all day, in a dark gloom, seemingly toward a “dark night,” at risk of falling into deep despair.
After much walking the disciples ask their strange companion (who had joined them en route) to stop and stay with them as it was getting late and they had reached their destination.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.
Jesus had actually accompanied them the entire time even without their knowledge. Then amazingly, upon recognizing him they returned “at once” to Jerusalem. The day was over; which means they walked seven miles in the dark back toward the light!
This turning can also be understood as a theology of redemption. We are redeemed by God not through a payback, but through a turning back to the light of Christ that we can even feel burning in our own hearts. It is the light that brings us hope and guides us toward the larger truth of resurrection life: a life redeemed by our love for one another. The stranger may be the dearest one. Our need for Christ is fulfilled in that mutuality with Christ’s abiding presence when we open our eyes and “listen with the ear of our heart.” (-St. Benedict)
We have come full circle (round trip) in “The Road to Emmaus” story, certainly implied by the designation of the number seven (a biblical notation for completion). The circle is complete. With these disciples as our models and guides we are reminded that God draws close to us even through the dark and uncertain times, and our peace is in the knowledge of this everlasting union.
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer p.124)