I remember an advertisement for tea that used to run on television. It suggested that tea met our needs in a variety of situations. It could warm us up when we were cold. It could cool us down when we were frustrated. It could energize us when tired and calm us when excited. While I tend to be appreciative of a good cup of tea, at the end of the day its just a hot drink. A good walk, on the other hand, seems to foster all those qualities, and more. There is something about setting the body in motion that is good for the soul. The destination is not important, but rather what we experience on the journey that helps us. Sometimes we need to leave something behind for a time in order to see and appreciate what has been before our eyes all along.
The two disciples have chosen to go for a walk. We don’t know anything about the place to which Cleopas and his companion were going. Nobody seems to be able to pinpoint Emmaus on a map. However, maybe that’s the point. What’s important in this story is not the destination, but what they discover along the way. At seven miles, it was a long enough walk for good things to happen. They meet a stranger who opens their minds to things they thought they knew all along. The stories he tells are transformative. Even the events they have walked away from start to make sense when their place in the bigger picture is revealed. The disciples go from being fear-bound to hospitable. They invite the stranger to stay with them.
I don’t know that they would have recognized him had they remained in their fear because fear narrows our vision. These two disciples, however, had slowly and gently had their eyes opened. They could now see and appreciate more than when they left Jerusalem a few hours before. Their hearts had been strangely warmed. They had experienced the compassion of God, and they were compassionate again. They were now able to reach out and be kind to a stranger and in an act that would have been so familiar to them, the stranger broke bread. In that simple, common action, they recognized him.
We are all on a journey; a good walk if you will. However, in a world that demands our attention in so many ways, a world where we set our minds on goals and strive for deadlines, we can become so focussed on destinations that we stop paying attention to the journey. Worse than that, we can get so discouraged in our efforts to get where we think we ought to be going that we give up on the journey altogether.
Our God invites us to journey. He calls us out of whatever binds us and narrows our vision, to walk with him. These are not necessarily easy journeys, but they are always good. They always require us to leave something behind so that we can be attentive to what will be revealed. He has promised to always go with us and in Jesus, Emmanuel… God with us, he makes good on his promise. Our hearts are changed, and we recognize him.
Photo Credt: Noel Wygiera. Somewhere in the Mount Zion area near the Old City of Jerusalem. The Journey offers many a unique sight.