A journey has many stages
The Road to Emmaus story is told in Luke Chapter 24, Verses 13-35. It tells of two disciples who meet the Risen Jesus, but only recognise him after a process of walking, talking, listening, and breaking bread. This passage is important both for the structure of the Eucharist and also the coming to faith of any disciple.
The conversion that takes place in the hearts of the disciples, for that is what it is, is told from beginning to end. It is important for us to realise that our journey of conversion is lifelong and involves often-revisited territory. It is not that we are going round in circles, though it might feel like that, it is just that we have to travel a similar road to find the things we may have mislaid or forgotten.
This means that not only are we at different stages, but also that we are at different stages at different times in our lives. We can recognise Jesus in the crowd, and then a week (or a day) later miss again and have to start again. As Teresa of Jesus (Avila) was fond of reminding us: it’s not that when we pray, we don’t sin and fall, it’s just that we can be picked up more quickly. In other words, as we walk and talk with Jesus, we can pick up the trail a little easier perhaps than when we first had to walk down the road. As long as we remember three things (isn’t it always three?).
1. You are not alone
Jesus walks with the disciples before they recognise him. They ‘knew’ he was dead and gone (‘You must be the only person who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days’)! We oftenknow things, and this blinds us to the presence of God (and true wisdom). Jesus does not wait for us to see or understand before he shares our journey, nor does he condemn us for our ignorance. He does wait, however, until we have a chance to open our hearts and minds. This is the work of the Spirit. My first suggestion, then, is to pray to the Spirit for a fresh outlook.
2. We are happy to tell our story in our own words and be honest
We do not have to have won a Booker prize or be a Poet Laureate to tell our story. We are the best ones to ‘write’ our own biography. We might struggle with the words or take time to express things in the way we would like, but that too is a lifelong journey of trial and error. Most authors have written about twelve pages by lunch, and two by dinner time! As long as we are happy to tell it, be honest, and have the confidence that telling it will make a difference, then we shall have done very well indeed. Also, if we include Jesus in the story – either his presence or his absence – it will move us on.
3. Have the humility to listen
We are not really a listening society: we are a talking one. ‘Everyone must have their say’, we trumpet, but we never say, ‘everyone has to listen, too’. At times, we are just waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can start. The hearts of those two disciples on the way to Emmaus were not set on fire by what they had to say, but what they heard. Then they were prepared to meet Jesus in the breaking of bread. Talking and listening is conversation, dialogue is not just speaking. ‘The ear alone is most safely believed,’ wrote Thomas Aquinas in his hymn ‘O Godhead Hid’, and he knew a thing or two about talking!
Might I suggest, then, as you prepare for your Emmaus Walk that you do three things?
1. Pray to the Holy Spirit and, whether you feel the presence of God or not at that particular time, make a profession of faith that he is there and that he loves you.
2. Think about what you want to say. There are a lot of things going on in our lives, but what might it be helpful to share?
3. Read the passage in Luke’s gospel about the Road to Emmaus and try to listen to what the message is for you.