What’s that you say? You’ve just arrived from Cyprus and you are new to the area? And, you’ve heard some incredible things? You want me to tell you all that’s happened? Come in for some water and …some bread.
Where should I begin, stranger? There is so much that has happened the last three days – the last three years, in fact! And long before now! Since you are a visitor from Cyprus, I will start with some necessary background so you will understand why my husband and I are so giddy.
My husband Cleopas and I – I am Mary – settled many years ago in this fertile valley below Jerusalem This area is known as Emmaus. We call this place Motza. Our village is about 30 stadia from our beloved Jerusalem.
As you have seen, it is a well-watered area with rich soil and an abundance of willow trees. During the Feast of Tabernacles celebration many come to our valley and gather willow branches. They take the willow branches and stand them up on the sides of the altar with their tops bowed over the altar.
Our valley has many springs watering it. Our people come down to one of Motza’s springs to get water for baking their matzo for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
I’m sure you noticed the Roman Centurions stationed here. My husband says it is a strategic position for them as they can protect the ascent to Jerusalem on the road leading from Jaffa. And, it is strategic in the ways I know of. Cleopas has overheard some of them saying that they would like to retire here because of the many springs and because north of our village the valley widens offering them plenty of room for settlement and for growing food.
My husband and I are simple farmers. But life for us and our people has not been so simple. Many of us have long desired to be freed from the rule of those who do not worship the One true God. When the Babylonians overtook Jerusalem and carried our people away into exile it was the Isaiah the prophet who spoke for us …
O Lord our God,
other lords besides you have ruled over us
but we acknowledge your name alone.
Now, we are back in our land and still the pagans lord over us. So, we wondered: Would our God act again to bring us out of this exile as he took us out of Egypt? And, when will God resurrect Israel and restore her as a nation? When will the messiah, the Anointed One and Son of the Most High from the line of David, restore the house of David? When, when, when …when would God redeem his people and set up his everlasting kingdom on earth?
On many Sabbaths, as we gather in the synagogue, words from the Torah are read. And then the words of the prophets – the haftarah. We all felt the hopelessness and despair in the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Our leader would then pray these words:
Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
Yes, there were times of renewing hope and rejoicing. This past fall my husband and I and pilgrims from Cyrpus and from faraway lands went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the tabernacle. We carried with us willow branches and olive branches to build to sukkah – our temporary booths. When we all gathered together, we shouted praises to God, sang the songs of Aliyah and waved our fragrant lulavs – our willow branches and palm fronds – before the Lord in a spirit of thankfulness.
After the feast, we walked home with the pilgrims on the Emmaus road, the same road that brought you here. Our hearts were burning with expectation as to what God would do. There was much animated discussion about the events of those seven days. And, it all centered on Jesus. You must know about him, don’t you? How can anyone not know?
That day as we walked along we talked about his feeding the five thousand by the shore of Galilee. We talked about our seeing him healing the blind and the lame. And, Lazarus had been raised from the dead! We marveled that demons were being cast out and at Jesus’ authority over them. And, his words! No one ever spoke like he did about the Moses and the prophets. We discussed how our religious authorities despised him and wanted to do away with him. This made us all fearful, as it would negatively affect our synagogues. Yet, they each said that many were believing in him as the one who was to come.
But Miriam told the group that that even his brothers did not believe in him. She learned this from a young doctor named Luke, whom she met at the feast. He told her that Jesus’ brothers wanted Jesus to show himself publicly so that he could become well-known. “Show yourself to the world!” they said to him. They wanted to put Jesus in a situation which would make him prove he is the Messiah. But Jesus told them “My time is not yet. The world can’t hate you, but it hates me, because I am giving evidence against it, showing that its works are evil”. He told them to go up to the feast. Miriam said that Jesus went up later in secret and now we know why. There was a considerable dispute in the crowds. Some said “He’s a good man and others “He’s deceiving the people!” There were those who hated him and wanted to do away with him.
Ruth told us about the twelve-year old Jesus. His family had gone up to Jerusalem for Passover. When they left to return to Galilee with a caravan of friends, they had traveled a day’s journey before realizing that Jesus wasn’t with the group. He had vanished! So, they went back up to Jerusalem and searched for him for three days. They couldn’t find him anywhere. When they finally did put their eyes on him, he was sitting with the teachers of the law. He was listening to them and asking questions. Those listening to him were amazed at his answers to their questions. But, Mary was neither amazed or happy. She scolded him for disappearing. “Child”, she said to him, “why have done this to your father and me? We have been frantically searching for you”. Jesus told his mother, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I would have to be getting involved with my father’s work?” They didn’t understand a word of what he was saying. Wasn’t his father a carpenter?
Oy, there is so much to tell. I will focus on the last few days and on what happened to Cleopas and me this afternoon. What happened the last few days in Jerusalem we learned from the Jesus’ disciples as Cleopas and I were in Jerusalem for Passover. I can tell you that it was a time of weeping and anguish.
As you may have heard, on the night of Passover Jesus was captured by the authorities – ours and Roman. Though he had done nothing wrong he was sentenced to death on a Roman cross. Our authorities pushed for this, shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea and then released by Pilate to the angry crowd. Jesus was crucified like a common criminal. When we learned of this our hearts were broken, our hopes were dashed. “What good is a dead messiah we asked each other? We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” God be praised! There is more to tell you!
We were in Jerusalem this morning. We heard many, many accounts and rumors of visions and of Jesus’ tomb being empty. The disciples were at a loss as what to make of it all. Peter had gone off to see for himself and confirmed that the tomb was indeed empty. But he was as perplexed as the rest of us. We waited for while longer to see what might come of it all and then we decided to head home. Now, this is the part I’ve been waiting to tell you… I can barely …
Cleopas and I headed home to our village. Along the way we discussed all that had happened that morning. We argued, too, about what it meant. As we walked a stranger approached us and began walking with us. He was not at all familiar to us but he must have overheard us. He started the conversation:
“You’re obviously having a very important discussion on your walk. What’s it all about?”
We stopped walking and turned to him. He must have seen that we were both downcast. Cleopas answered the stranger. “You must be the only person around Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on there the last few days.”
“What things?” he asked.
“To do with Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet. He acted with power and he spoke with power, before God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. But we were hoping that he was going to redeem Israel!
And now, what with all this, it’s the third day since it happened. But some women from our group have astonished us. They went to his tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”
“You are so senseless! So slow in your hearts to believe all the things the prophets said to you! Don’t you see? This is what had to happen: the Messiah had to suffer, and then come into his glory!”
At this point, we were quite perplexed. Who is this stranger and why is taking this so personally? We were both taken aback by the zeal and authority with which the stranger spoke. We searched his face for answers to what we didn’t recognize in all of the Sabbath words. He began walking and we followed.
We listened to the stranger explain Moses and the prophets and all of Scripture in terms of the One who was to come and ransom Israel and bring her and the whole world out of exile. He told us …
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
As he spoke, it was like we were no longer walking down the Emmaus Road. We were on top of a mountain. Our eyes were opened to a vista that went far beyond anything we had known. Everything we had been taught, everything we had heard and seen, began to take on new meaning. He went on to talk about a kingdom on earth and about new creation. His words astonished and exhilarated us. Wonder and joy flooded our hearts.
We reached the intersection to our village. We turned down our road. The stranger kept walking down the Emmaus road. We called after him urging him to stay with us. He kept walking. Cleopas finally ran up to him and pleaded with him to stay with us. “Sir”, he said, “the day is almost over. Stay with us.” The stranger agreed to come with us.
We invited him in and gave him a bowl of water and a towel to wash his hands and feet. We gave him water to drink. We sat down to a small meal. The stranger took the bread up into his hands and prayed, giving thanks for the meal. He then broke the bread and gave it to us. It was then …it was then …it was then that we were shocked beyond belief! Our jaws dropped and we looked at each other with wide open eyes. Cleopas and I saw that the stranger was Jesus, the resurrected Jesus! And, as soon as we saw him, he vanished from our sight! Poof!
We were speechless. The Anointed One and Son of the Most High was walking with us and talking with us and sitting down to eat with us! Everything we hoped for had come true in our sight, as Anna the prophetess foretold and Simeon prophesied! … Our eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people!
Now, our new friend, Cleopas and I have to return to Jerusalem to tell our brothers and sisters all that has happened this afternoon. We must break bread with them. Come with us and you will see him, too!
As we walked the 30 stadia back up to Jerusalem, Cleopas and I kept pinching each other. We walked and danced and walked and ran and clapped. We kept saying “Do you remember how our hearts were burning inside us, as he talked to us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?” Cleopas, in his booming voice and with a smile on his face, kept repeating “For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave” and the words our Sabbath leader prayed:
Why are you cast down, O my soul
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.
We both shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
The Cypriot, not sure what to make of all this, watched us from a distance. There was an amused and perplexed look on his face.
Adapted from the Gospel according to Luke (2:41-50)