The story of the road to Emmaus is perhaps one of the strangest of the resurrection
appearances, for Jesus must have been with Cleopas and his friend for several hours.
Most of the resurrection appearances are fairly fleeting; Jesus appears unexpectedly,
speaks to the disciples and promptly disappears again. But we're told Emmaus was
seven miles from Jerusalem (that's at least two hours walk) and after that Jesus
remained until a meal had been prepared.
He put the time to good use. He explained and interpreted all the scriptures to Cleopas
and his friend, starting with Moses and all the prophets. And still the two disciples
failed to recognise him.
I find that very strange. How can you fail to recognise someone you know so well?
I frequently fail to remember names, but I never fail to recognise people I know
well. More than that, I often see people perhaps on television, who remind me of
someone I know. A turn of the head, the facial features, a mannerism, something gives
me a fleeting glimpse of someone I know.
Yet although their hearts burned within them while the stranger was speaking, the
two disciples weren't even reminded of Jesus. In view of the recent horrifying events
of the trial and crucifixion, Jesus was very much in their minds. Yet they noticed
no resemblance at all between the stranger they met on the road, and Jesus.
Clearly there weren't any wounds in the hands or feet or sides of this Jesus, as
there were later that same day when he appeared in the upper room to more of the
So the risen Jesus was quite different from the earthly Jesus. And the risen Jesus
was seen differently by different people, and recognised through different characteristics.
Mary Magdalen recognised him when he spoke her name. The gathered disciples recognised
him when they looked at his wounds. The Emmaus couple recognised him through the
breaking of bread, through brokenness.
The journey to Emmaus must have been terrific for them, stimulating, fascinating,
enjoyable. It centred around Jesus. The talk was not only about him, but by him.
But for all he said, for all the teaching he gave them, they still didn't recognise
him. They only recognised him when he stopped speaking and teaching, and started
doing. And the thing that he started doing, that enabled them to recognise him, was
breaking something and giving it to them.
Brokenness is a vital part of Christian experience, because it strips away all the
layers, all the veneer, and reveals the real, trembling, naked, vulnerable person
That's why Jesus enjoyed the company of the social outcasts so much. Because they
were broken and vulnerable people who had no veneer left. They used their energy
not to build defences around themselves, not to create an acceptable social manner,
but simply to survive.
Gill Goulding, a Roman Catholic nun who works in this country with people for whom
brokenness is a way of life, has said this, "Life is raw on the margins. There is
little time or energy to assume the distancing protective masks which society elsewhere
seems to assume. Instead, there is a sense of being stripped of all inessentials,
as individuals become more aware of their real selves and energy is devoted to surviving….
Most people on the margins have no specific religious tradition, yet they demonstrate
a spiritual aliveness, openness and exploration of real depth and quality which puts
many of us church people to shame. Perhaps if we desire to see Christ, we must know
and love him in his contemporary suffering humanity, particularly amongst the marginalised."
(from "Trust", no.10, April 93).
Not that I'm advocating poverty and all its attendant evils as a way of life to be
sought after in order to gain spiritual benefit. Far from it. We need to support
those on the margins in every possible way. Fortunately, for most of us brokenness
is not a way of life. We're not on the margins. Remain not be rich, but neither are
be dragged down by grinding poverty. But and thank God for that. So for us, brokenness
tends to come differently.
Like the priest whose 22-year-old daughter was married in January, and six weeks
later was diagnosed as suffering from cancer. You can imagine the devastation of
the whole family, and especially the young couple themselves.
Bereavement, divorce, redundancy, serious illness, are all occasions of brokenness.
They're occasions of immense suffering, when energy is used simply for survival and
there's no spare energy to worry about social niceties or what other people may think.
They are occasions which strip us and leave us with nothing, no resources of our
own, nothing to offer. We're forced to lean heavily on other people and to rely on
their strength, because we have none of our own. So they're occasions when we need
to forget pride in our own independence, and accept other people's help.
They're also occasions through which we can recognise Jesus. We may each recognise
him in different ways, through different events. So did the disciples. He may not
appear in the form we expect. He didn't for any of the disciples. We may not be aware
that we've been walking with him. Neither were the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But to all those disciples who met Jesus after his resurrection were changed by the
experience. And that's the litmus test of an encounter with the risen Christ. We
are changed by it. It radically changes our perspective, the way we view life. We
become different people, with different values and different priorities, even if
we only begin to realise we have been with Jesus after the event.
It is possible to experience brokenness without becoming desperately poor and without
the sort of traumatic shock which plunges us straight into it. It's possible to experience
brokenness by becoming increasingly aware of our real selves. By voluntarily allowing
the social veneer to be stripped away. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with
other people. By allowing ourselves to admit to what we really think and feel.
This sort of self-awareness quickly leads to an encounter with the risen Christ,
and we will be changed by it.
The prophet Isaiah, about 800 years before Christ, describes the eventual end result
of brokenness, of an encounter with God. He says, "On this mountain the Lord will
make for all peoples a feast. And he will destroy the covering that is cast over
all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will wipe away tears from
all faces. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in
his salvation." (Is. 25:6-9)
You allowed yourself to be broken and stripped by human beings, and used that brokenness
and stripping to our advantage, to show us the way to your kingdom. Despite all we
humans forced upon you, you still went on loving us.
Broken God, I hate and dread brokenness because it hurts so much. But when my life
events lead to brokenness, help me to live and learn and grow through it, that I
may meet with you, my risen and living Lord.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord
Rev. Canon Stuart Ansell