This narrative has got to be one of the greatest stories in scripture. It overflows with heartbreak, humor, suspense, depth of character, and surprise. This brief anecdote is a masterful piece of flash non-fiction. Just a few examples of the amazing turns of phrase and poignant moments in this tiny episode:
"While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him." These two disciples (Clopas and another unnamed disciple, quite possibly his wife) are talking things through. Processing their grief. Scrambling for purchase in the destabilizing events that surround them. Jesus comes near in their processing and walks with them, unrecognized. Have you experienced this? I daresay.
"What things?" This is perhaps the funniest moment in the whole story. In Greek it's even more brief, just a single word: "Poia?" What things? They carry in their hearts the things that have happened in Jerusalem in these days concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Think of all that is summed up in that phrase for them, going back to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and being honored with a banquet in his home; Jesus' triumphal entry on Palm Sunday; his teaching in the temple, his overthrowing of the money changers' tables; his furtive movements in and out of the city outwitting the Jewish authorities; the last supper in the upper room; the treason of Judas and Jesus' betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane; a sham of a trial, shuffling back and forth from Annas to Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod and again to Pilate; the unthinkable flogging of the Son of God, the crown of thorns, the Via Dolorosa, the cross; Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and others taking Jesus' lifeless body down and depositing it hastily in a new stone tomb; the disciples' huddling behind locked doors for fear. All this is summed up in their conversation. It is much to process, overwhelmingly so, but Jesus (who has been the heart of every event, every twist) asks, "What things?" as though he was a rube newly arrived from some backwater corner of the countryside. We need to see the humor that is an essential part of the joy that bubbles over here.
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" Jesus chastises these two for their unbelief, but then he goes on to instruct them. If there was ever a Bible study I wish I could be a part of, this is it. Jesus walks them through the Old Testament and shows how all that has happened is not a discontinuation, not a disappointment, but is in fact the fulfillment of God's plan. How often I am slow of heart to believe all that God has promised! I get too comfortable living in disappointment, too willing to be Eeyore in my thinking: This is all I can expect. Oh, well, I guess it will have to do. Instead, Jesus reminds them that God has a greater future planned, and the trauma they've endured is part of the outworking of God's plan.
"And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him." There comes a moment when we see God's work for what it is. This is by grace, and nearly always surprises us. This moment, this new perspective, redefines the past and we see our own history clearly for the first time, reinterpreting the events of our past. This moment reshapes the future in a flash, transforming it from more of the eternal same into a bright pathway of possibility. It is the splash of cold water on the face that wakes the sleeper. If we are too bound to our present perceptions, this will be an uncomfortable realization. If, however, we have learned to live with a God who is willing and eager to surprise his people with hope, we can ride this roller coaster with joy. Are you willing to let God surprise you?
"The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Apparently Jesus, after disappearing from the table at Emmaus, flashes to Jerusalem and has a conversation with Simon, who then has time to inform the eleven and the others while Cleopas and his compatriot run the seven miles back to Jerusalem. This is news, not just information, and Jesus spreads the fact of his resurrection around to various voices that then reinforce each other. Who is in your life with whom you can share resurrection stories? Who shares your hope? Who walks deeper into God's word, into possibility, into hope, with you?