By Kathy BerkenWhat’s the name of the road you walk? Is it the Lincoln Highway, Route 66, Easy Street, the Way of the Cross, the Yellow Brick Road, the Highway to Heaven, the Road Less Traveled, or what? I walk the Road to Emmaus. It’s my favorite of all.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t also walk some of the others. But in walking the Road to Emmaus as Luke (24:13-23) aptly describes, I identify with the two people who meet a stranger and do not discover his identity as the Risen Jesus until much later when they break bread together.
I like the story’s innocence. Cleopas and his companion happen to meet this stranger and they tell him their feelings about the death of their friend Jesus. The stranger listens and walks with them in their sadness. The disciples have no agenda to see if perhaps this man was their beloved Jesus. They are regular folks talking with a kind stranger, sharing their feelings. Even when they are dining, Jesus says nothing about his identity, but the disciples’ hearts were nevertheless set on fire when Jesus broke the bread.
That is just one awesome moment! Why? Because it happened without words. This is not a scene from “Law and Order” with investigators trying to get facts about a murder. Jesus’ identity became apparent only as he did what was familiar to the disciples. Was it the way he broke the bread or perhaps just the fact that he did it that caught their attention? Regardless, when the disciples experienced that moment, well, I can’t even imagine their amazement.
I see two ways I can live this. One would be a huge fail. Let’s say I go to the baptism of one of my grandchildren and I’m behind my camera taking pictures and videos of everything so I can capture every moment forever. When my attention is on the next good shot rather than experiencing the event, I’ve lost something precious. It’s a tough call, because I want memories I can keep; perhaps someone can be the photographer so the moments can capture us instead.
My life on the Road to Emmaus is enriched when I’m fully present and participating in life in real time and then later on see how and where God might have been present.
My second example is more in sync with the meaning of the Emmaus walk. I was at Cub Foods recently, but had no plan whatsoever to find Jesus there. My shopping trip was ordinary, my grocery list my priority.
As an introvert, I generally don’t carry on conversations with strangers in stores, but I did answer the man who asked me if I knew the difference between these two cans of milk he held in his hands. I turned towards the two young women searching for the right olive oil and asked if I could help. And, I was ever grateful to the kind young man who saw me stop my cart to wipe my nose and asked if I was okay.
Like Cleopas and his companion, I’m not someone who just sets out looking for Jesus. That would be like holding up a camera waiting for the moment for Jesus to appear and missing life. Instead, I generally go about my business keeping my internal camera powered down.
However, my awareness tuners are more sensitive these days. Maybe it’s because I worked with people with disabilities at The Arch in Clinton. Maybe it’s because I’ve faced death with this cancer a couple of times. Nevertheless, when I reflected later about my shopping experience on Emmaus Road — a good way to end my day — I discovered a truth about my life. Most of the time I find God not in mountaintop transfiguration experiences, not in booming voices coming from clouds, and not in raising-from-the-dead Lazarus moments. I find God incarnated in simple interactions with others especially when something good has been created.
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton (1999-2009) and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)