Encountering Christ Through Crisis
Today in our Gospel we meet two of Jesus’ disciples on a road leading out of Jerusalem toward a village called Emmaus. We are never told why the disciples have chosen to set out on this journey or what they seek to find upon their arrival. The village of Emmaus itself is a mystery, as scholars and archeologists have been unable to form a consensus regarding the physical location of this village. Many believe the disciples traveled to what is now known as Emmaus-Nicopolis, the Emmaus mentioned in the first book of Maccabees where the Battle of Emmaus took place, later becoming a Roman Garrison village. Others believe the Emmaus from our Gospel can be found in a neighborhood called Moza, close in proximity to Jerusalem, where archeologists have discovered inscriptions suggesting it was once called Emmaus. It seems that the physical road to Emmaus holds as much wonder and mystery as the biblical account does for its readers.
With the physical location of Emmaus unclear we, the readers of Luke’s Gospel, are encouraged to draw our attention away from the physical journey and instead reflect upon the emotional and spiritual motivations for the journey in the first place. A week ago, the two disciples witnessed the joyful celebration that accompanied Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Now the city holds pain and suffering, being there is too much for them to bear. After witnessing the death of their beloved friend his followers are frightened for their own lives and do not know what the future will hold. Despite having received news earlier in the day that Jesus is risen, the disciples pain overshadows their possibility of hope. They do not dare believe that this message is true for fear of having to grieve their friend all over again. They are experiencing a crisis of faith and wish to distance themselves from the city of Jerusalem and their responsibilities to it.
However, one must remember that Jesus’ ministry was always meant to lead his disciples to Jerusalem. Throughout Luke we see a clear trajectory through Israel; from Galilee, where Jesus calls his first disciples (Luke 5:1), to Jerusalem. As they journey Jesus says to the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles…After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again,” (Lk 18:31). Jesus does not hide what is going to happen to him from the disciples and makes it clear that everything that will occur must occur to fulfill what has been written. There cannot be a resurrection without going to Jerusalem (Lk 13:13; Zech 12:10-12).
Being human, the followers of Jesus find his message difficult to absorb. Therefore, it is not surprising that our grief ridden disciples walk away from all that has happened in the hopes of distancing themselves from their pain. But our disciples receive a beautiful gift during this time of crisis. They encounter Jesus himself on the road and he guides them through their suffering. Instead of rebuking them for losing their way Jesus simply asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (Lk 24:17) and he gives them space to explain all that has occurred. They provide him all the details about the last three days, but they have forgotten something, the key piece that Jesus reminded them of many times throughout his ministry. He says to them, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and then enter into his glory,” (Lk 24:26)? He calls them to jog their memories and think not just about the heartbreaking circumstances but on the divine mission. The events in Jerusalem had to happen so the words of the prophets may be fulfilled and for the world to fully experience the great love of Jesus Christ.
The glory of the resurrection comes through suffering, through Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the resurrection of Christ does not mean the overall destruction of our suffering. Instead, our faith in the resurrection allows us to walk through our suffering with hope. In her book, Abounding in Kindness Elizabeth A. Johnson writes, “…Christ crucified and risen discloses the truth that divine justice continuously leavens the world and does so in a way different from the techniques of dominating violence. The victory is won not by the sword of a warrior god but by the power of compassionate love that brings the living God into solidarity with those who suffer in order to heal and set free.” Jerusalem may be the location of Christ’s horrific death, but it is also where an act of selfless love was performed. Christ’s resurrection reminds us that God the Father did not abandon his Son in his time of great despair and that he will not abandon us either as we cope with the struggles of being human. Poverty, grief, injustice, death, and even the act of selfless love, are burdens that we do not have to bear alone. This gives us the strength to continue through the cycle of great love, suffering, and resurrection. Once the disciples remember this through their encounter with Jesus on the road, they have the courage to return to Jerusalem and place their hope in the resurrection.
Currently, we as a world are in a time of crisis. It is quite easy to feel like the disciples who wish to leave behind all the suffering of Jerusalem and forget the promise of the resurrection. This is made even more challenging because, unlike the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, we do not have the opportunity to receive Christ in the Eucharist and then, with a renewed spirit, go out into the world to bring the joy of the resurrection to others. Right now, the greatest act of loving suffering is keeping our distance from one another in the hopes that we will experience a resurrection, when we are once again able to gather as a community and receive Christ in the Eucharist. To echo Elizabeth Johnson, we must perform acts of, “compassionate love,” to help the world navigate this time of suffering. In a time where we long for physical connection, we must deny ourselves of this to ensure the safety of those around us. We are still able to bring the message of the resurrection to others by performing acts of service, like donating to a food bank, or offering to pick up groceries for a friend who is immunocompromised. Even now, in this time of loss, uncertainty and despair we are encountering Jesus because he shares in our suffering and in our selfless love for our brothers and sisters. Just as Christ’s death was not permanent, we must remember that this time of crisis is not permanent. Though the future is unknown, as children of Christ we have faith that this road will lead to new life. As we continue to lovingly distance ourselves from each other, may we place our hope in the One who suffers with us and will deliver us through this crisis to new life.