They were walking away from the city, just two of them, when they were joined by a third. Chapter 1 of this story is entitled ‘Meeting’, or ‘A Gathering.’ The two share their hopes, their dashed hopes, with the stranger. ‘We had hoped,’ they say. ‘We had hoped we could find acceptance in the church,’ we say. ‘We had hoped that our fellow believer would forgive and reconcile with us,’ we say. Like the two followers of Jesus, we too have dashed hopes.
The stranger then begins to explain the Bible to the two men. ‘He opens the Scriptures.’ This is Chapter 2, ‘Making Sense of the Bible’. The Scriptures are not just history. They are not just theology. They apply to our day to day experience. They prepare us for an encounter with the living God.
Eventually, the three travellers arrive at Emmaus. The two men assume that this place of rest and hospitality is where they will spend the night. But in the sharing of bread, they recognise the third man. They know him to be Jesus. Chapter 3 is ‘Jesus Reveals Himself’. However, at the moment of recognition, Jesus disappears. There is an elusive quality to the presence of the Risen Christ. Where we might want to pin him down and feed on his presence, Jesus constantly moves us on.
Emmaus is not the resting place the two travellers expected. After their long walk, they are so filled with energy that they run back to Jerusalem to tell the other believers that they have met the risen Lord. Not only that, their understanding of who he is has been deepened by the teaching Jesus has given. This final Chapter is ‘Being Sent’.
The shape of the story is familiar to us from worship. Every Sunday, before the pandemic stopped us, we gathered, the Scriptures were opened to us, bread was broken and shared and we experienced the often elusive presence of the risen Lord with us, and then we were sent out to encourage others on this same journey; this journey away from Good Friday, away from dashed hopes and into the joy and energy of living in the power of the risen One.
Our worship follows the same story line as today’s story of the two travellers going to Emmaus. But just because we can’t gather for worship doesn’t stop us from living out this pattern. We find ways to gather, even if it is remotely by technology. We read and reflect on the Bible and the way it prepares us to encounter God. We read and hear sermons and reflections that are delivered through the internet. The presence of the living Lord still encourages us – to ‘glorify God and enjoy him for ever’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism) and the whole story invites us to declare ‘how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread’. (Luke 24:35b)