Cleopas and his companion were leaving town. They’d had high hopes, but those hopes had been dashed. It was all over, time to disappear into the countryside, hoping that nobody had noticed them as friends of Jesus. Of course, if they were honest, by the time they hit the road to Emmaus, they couldn’t have really called themselves “friends of Jesus,” anyway, since along with all the others, they’d left him to his fate. But higher authorities don’t always care about such subtleties.
And yet, it’s clear that their hearts were still back in Jerusalem, despite their decision to take to the highway. Jesus had had that kind of effect on them. Luke says that they were talking about it all even as they continued their journey to the northwest. They were surely feeling sad and maybe guilty, too. So perhaps it was a relief to be able to talk with someone else, especially a stranger who was clueless about all that had transpired just a few days before. Since he couldn’t have formed an opinion about “the things that [had] taken place there,” they would analyze it for him.
And so they told him the story. But did they really hear themselves as they recounted all that the women had seen and told them about on that very morning: an empty tomb and a vision of angels announcing that Jesus was alive? Did they really listen to their own words as they told their new friend that some of their number had actually gone to the tomb and seen that it was all as the women had described? Perhaps they were more focused on the final words of their account – “but him they did not see.” What the women had to say had created hope, but that hope was trumped by what the men did not see.
Jesus’ response -- "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! – must have made them miss a step or two, but soon they found themselves listening as eagerly as they had listened to the Master not so very long ago. And yet “him they did not see.”
Isn’t that our story, too? In icons of the moment of recognition, and even in the great paintings by Caravaggio and Velazquez that also show the breaking of the bread, there’s room in the foreground for another person – you or me, perhaps: slow to “see” and yet drawn by the love of Jesus to want to listen, want to hope, want to believe. An Easter hymn called “Daylight Fades” by Peter Scagnelli puts it well:
When hearts broken by believing
Count their faith and hope as dead,
Christ will greet them in each other
And in breaking of the bread.
That’s where we will see him, this risen Christ. And it’s there that he will greet us, as once he greeted his frightened, shamefaced, incredulous friends, with the most beautiful word of all: “Peace.”
—Sr. Nuala Cotter, RA
Provincial, US Province