Aha Moments on the Road to Emmaus



In this week’s lectionary passage, Luke 24: 13-15, we read the familiar story of two disciples encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. This event takes place on the same day that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty – Easter Sunday.

We only know the name of one of these disciples – Cleopas – he is identified in v. 18. We don’t know much about Cleopas, as this is the only time he is mentioned in the Gospels. Perhaps he lived in Emmaus and was walking the seven miles back to his village from Jerusalem with another follower of Jesus, and most likely, a crowd of other Jewish pilgrims heading back home after celebrating the Passover. During their walk, Jesus comes alongside them and joins them, acting as if He hadn’t heard about his own crucifixion and resurrection.

Since they didn’t recognize Jesus (v. 16) Cleopas and the other disciple tell him their version of the events of the weekend, even admitting that the news of the empty tomb was simply unbelievable to them. They also mentioned “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel;” hinting at their disappointment that Jesus was crucified instead of overthrowing the Romans, as many people expected.

Even though these two guys were sincere and complete in their narrative, Jesus says, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v.25) He is essentially saying, “After all this time, and after everything you’ve seen, you guys still don’t get it!?” and then goes on to point out every verse in the Hebrew scriptures that pointed to him, beginning with Genesis, and working his way through the Prophets, and undoubtedly, the Wisdom literature. That would have been a fascinating lecture to listen in on!

When you go back through the entire Old Testament and look for prophesies that point to Jesus, you’ll find that there are quite a lot of them that don’t point to a triumphant conquering Messiah. Nowhere does it say that the Messiah will kick the Romans out of Judea. Yes, some do mention a kingdom. But then there are all of those Servant passages in Isaiah. Or that cry of anguish in Psalm 22 that reads, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Not to mention all those one-liners about riding a donkey and being betrayed (Zephaniah); being rejected by his people and betrayed by friends (Psalms); it would be a lot to take in.

And yet, these two still didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what they were hearing, or who was explaining it to them, until Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.” That was the moment that they recognized Jesus; that was their “Aha!” moment. I wonder – was it the nail holes in his hands, or the way he broke the bread that clued them in? Or did Jesus have a particular way of giving thanks that tipped them off?

Their recognition that Jesus was alive must have seemed too good to be true, and Cleopas and his friend needed to reassure one another that they really did just see Jesus. One of them commented that “their hearts were burning” while Jesus explained the scriptures. Now that could have been caused by too much lamb and matzoh washed down with a bit too much wine, but these guys were convinced that it was a spiritual sign.

Their Aha! moment was so powerful for Cleopas and his companion that they left their meal uneaten and ran right back to Jerusalem to tell everyone that Jesus had risen and appeared to them. They ran seven miles, back up the hill, excitedly shouting, “It’s true! The Lord has risen!”

There has been a whole lot written about the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection and appearances in the intervening 2000 or so years since this happened. We’ve heard numerous theories that discount the disciples’ claims; theories that range from they made it all up, to someone poisoned the Passover wine resulting in mass hallucinations. And yet…

Mary Magdalene was convinced that she’d seen Jesus. Peter was convinced. Cleopas and his friend were convinced. Eventually all of the disciples we know by name, and several hundred that we don’t, were ALL convinced that they saw Jesus walking around, after he’d been crucified, died and was buried. And most of them would eventually be killed in nasty ways, still claiming that they had seen Jesus and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He had risen from the grave.

The reality is that strange things do happen in this world.

Just recently a Malaysian Air jet with 239 people on board disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia. In the 21st century, jets don’t just vanish into thin air. And yet, almost two full months after that jet disappeared from radar, not one single piece of debris or any other trace of that jet has been found. Not one. It just…vanished.

I hate to break it to you, but we mere humans don’t know how everything works. We like to think that we do. We like to think of ourselves as very clever creatures who have all the answers. But when the answers don’t jive with our preconceived notion of how the world should work, we just don’t know what to do with that.

Just look at quantum physics. All of the laws of physics as we have known them for hundreds of years do not apply when we’re dealing with things at the quantum level. At the quantum level, a particle can be in two places at one time. That shouldn’t be the case. And yet, it is.

Can you imagine what the scientist who first observed this phenomenon must have thought at that moment? After years of  study, and experiments that yielded bizarre results, someone came up with the wild idea that maybe the laws are different at the quantum level. That person became the laughing stock of the lab I’m sure, but they persevered, and re-ran all of those experiments. To finally realize that the theory was right after all….
Have you ever had an Aha! moment? One of those moments when suddenly everything made perfect sense? A moment in which the answer became crystal clear; despite the fact that you weren’t even sure what the question was? A moment in which time slowed down, light appeared brighter and the edges of reality seemed crisper? Tell me about it!



5 thoughts on “Aha Moments on the Road to Emmaus

    1. That occurred to me as well, Abby. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case! Thanks for your keen observation!

      1. And in re-reading the passage again today, it seems to me that the unnamed person was probably Cleopas’ wife. Because, you know…dinner was served, right? Sigh.

  1. Thanks for this thought provoking post Susan! My reading is that Cleopas and his companion’s Aha! moment came with the breaking of the bread. While I don’t know if I would go as far John Dominic Crossan’s “Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens” I do think the passage works best as a metaphor for whenever Jesus’ disciples (then, now and in between) recognize that he lives though he died, that he is present in earthly things, and especially in the community gathered around the earthly elements of bread and wine.

    With those Old Testament passages you mention it is helpful, for me at least, to remember that the gospel writers were using a lot of midrash giving old prophetic words new and deeper meaning and that all of these words from psalms and prophets had applications and refereed to people and events in their immediate historical context. It helps me to sympathize much more with the Jews of Jesus time and often the disciples just not getting it. It’s because God was not only fulfilling but – I believe anyway – radically reshaping the expectations of what a Messiah could/would/should be…

    “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

    Who would have thought that word of shalom and end to all wars (with its implicit undertones that the rest of the world will stream your mountain, recognize your God and validate that your strange monotheistic religion was the right one all along) would come through a suffering Galilean peasant hanging on a Roman cross?

    1. Excellent points, Wayne. I agree that prophecy has many, many layers, and I certainly don’t hold it against any of Jesus’ followers that they didn’t put 2 and 2 together right away. I know I wouldn’t have gotten it either! (There are days when I still don’t!) Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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