It was late afternoon when we set off on our walk back home. The sun was in our eyes as we walked westward, away from Jerusalem, but our heads were so bowed and our eyes so tear-fogged from the sorrow in our hearts that we scarcely noticed it. All we could talk of was our great grief, still trying to fully understand the sequence of events, still baffled as to how the destruction of all our hopes could have taken place so swiftly and absolutely. We felt as if death itself had taken up residence in our spirits.
Later, when we had discussed it over and over again between ourselves, we still could not pinpoint the moment when the Stranger joined us. There was no shock, no moment of making room for him to walk beside us, he was simply there, and had been already there with us when he asked us what we were talking about.
Cleopas, though surprised, was carefully polite, “Are you a visitor to Jerusalem, that you don’t know what things have just been happening?”
“What things do you mean?” asked the Stranger.
Well, we needed to talk about it, so we did. We told him about Jesus and his greatness, (oh, the irony!), about His capture, sentencing and crucifixion, and even about the confusing stories the women had told of an empty tomb and visions of angels who said He was alive. But when some of the men went they had seen nothing. So what were we to think?
To our amazement he rebuked our unbelief. (Were we supposed to have believed the unsubstantiated testimony of women?) . Then followed the most amazing conversation we had ever been part of. We listened, rapt, as he laid out for us, from the scriptures we had known all our lives, the plainly revealed truth that the Messiah we had so longed for, and believed that we had found, had to suffer before he entered his glory. The one who was the Salvation of Israel (and not only Israel) was the same who would be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The one who would crush the serpent’s head was the one whose heel would be stricken. How could we not have known that? Yet still we were blind.
We could not get enough of his words, so when we reached Emmaus we urged him to stay and share the evening meal with us. It was only when we sat down to eat that our whole world was utterly changed. For the Stranger took up the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and as he handed it to us in the ritual that went as deep as life and breathing, our eyes were opened at last and we saw him at last for who he was – the risen Lord Jesus, the Christ of Israel and the Saviour of the world. And, as we recognised him, he vanished from our sight, and for one fleeting, all-transforming moment, we felt as if we breathed the very air of heaven.
We looked at each other, seeing each other, too, in a whole new way. “Didn’t our hearts burn inside us as he spoke to us along the way?” There was no thought now of finishing our meal or settling down for the night. Instead, energised with wonder, we returned to Jerusalem to tell our story to our brothers there.