How sad those words are! With what had happened on Calvary, it was not only Jesus of Nazareth that dies. The hopes of many people died with him. God knows how many people there were who, like the two disciples of today’s gospel, felt angry, helpless, cheated, disillusioned. In a word, they were in mourning. They had lived with Jesus for three whole years, They had seen him perform miracles, they had listened to his preaching, they had heard him speak of bringing life, spreading fire, making things new. And now, in an instant, all was gone.
No wonder they were running away from it all. Jerusalem for them represented failure. They had hoped that this Jesus would bring freedom to the people of Israel. Clearly, they had not yet understood that the freedom he was about to bring was not the political freedom they had imagined. This was something all the apostles still had to learn. Luke, the narrator of this story, tells us in his other book that, on the day of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the apostles asked him whether the time had come for him “to restore the kingdom to Israel.” Here Jesus chose not to answer that question. He had spoken enough about that, I suppose. He only promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that will give them understanding to really enter into Jesus’ mystery, and courage to be able to proclaim it. The Spirit who, on the day of Pentecost, was symbolized by fire.
“Were not our hearts burning within us?” This was the effect that Jesus’ presence and words were having on the two disciples as they walked with Jesus. Fire! They were running away from Jerusalem. They were heading towards Emmaus, a place which, due to historical reasons, represented national victory for them. It was there that, under Judas Maccabeus, the people of Israel had had a great, unlikely victory over the Greeks. This was still present in Israel’s national collective memory. It is during this journey, feeling utterly dejected, that Jesus decides to approach them. He joins their journey and listens to their story. Then, without scolding or shaming, he starts to simply speak to them about different passages from the Old Testament which spoke of the coming Messiah. He reminds them how it was said that suffering and death were necessary before the experience of the resurrection. Surely, those passages were not new for them. They must have known their scriptures, All they needed was a reminder because, as we know, when we are down and out we tend to forget a lot of what is good.
At the end of the journey the two disciples invite this “stranger” into their house. It was evening, and it would have been too dangerous for him to go on with his journey alone. It was then, thanks to this act of hospitality that, during the breaking of bread, they recognize him for who he really is.
The joy of meeting Jesus again could not be contained! They had to share their experience, this good news. They got up there and then, not bothering for a moment that it was evening, and set out back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about this experience. What a beautiful journey! Not so much the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus and back. The real journey of these disciples was the one their hearts made. It was a journey from despair to hope, from death to life, from sadness to joy. It is the journey that you and I are invited to make during this Easter season. Yes, there is darkness around us. The longer this pandemic crisis lasts, the more we may be tempted to despair, hopelessness, depression and fear. Like the two walking disciples, let us allow ourselves some leisure time to listen to Jesus, to be with him, inviting him into our own hearts and homes. Then, once we recognize him, let us share our experience with those who might need it in their own lives.