The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Easter III...dinner guest/food/host

There are several sites that could be Emmaus. Each offers convincing evidence for why it is the terminus of the Sunday afternoon journey Luke describes. Though NRSV Luke describes the distance as 7 miles, the archaeology at 7 miles from Jerusalem is not as persuasive as the archaeology a bit further away.[1] My money is on Emmaus-Nicopolis.

Emmaus-Nicopolis is at the outer edge of the distances reported by Gospel sources- 160 stadia, or about 18 miles from Jerusalem. Conversational walking pace is three miles per hour- any faster and walkers need more breath to walk than can sustain conversation as well. So a six hour walking journey is not insignificant to be sure, but quite doable. In a culture assuming foot rather than vehicular traffic, such a walk is more commonplace than we know, especially in this case since the trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus-Nicopolis is all downhill; the road toward Jaffa drops over 1200’ in elevation between Jerusalem and Emmaus-Nicopolis. 

Once you get to Emmaus-Nicopolis, you find the site described by Eusebius[1], which has been longest held to be the place Luke describes, despite the discrepancy in distance. Nicopolis is a divided site- a monastery on a low rise, and a small site, perhaps no more than 75-100 yards in diameter down the hill from it. The site holds the foundation of a ruined byzantine church overlaid by a ruined crusader church, a few steps, and several broken columns and other architectural members lying at odd angles on the site. The presence of a significant church building on the site that was erected, well-used and abandoned nearly 900 years ago[2] suggests why this Emmaus was important to the community of faith from the earliest days of our life as the church. 

Whatever logic one pursues and whichever location for Emmaus one prefers, the place figures in one of the best stories in the Gospels. The Road to Emmaus[3] is one of my favorite Bible stories, and for me, most evocative of all the resurrection appearances. 

The periscope we call The Road to Emmaus encapsulates the entire life of a faithful worshipping Christian. Consider: 

Christians are walking together, talking about the Resurrection. 

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 

As they walk along, an unrecognized Jesus joins them to interpret the scriptures about Himself, 

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 

At the end of the day, they invite Him to stay the night with them. 

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 

At supper, He breaks bread and they recognize Him for who he is. 

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 

They put it all together, recalling that He had enflamed their hearts as He taught them, 

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

 and they have to tell someone.   

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

There it is. The entire Christian life succinctly described in a couple of paragraphs. The Road to Emmaus describes what happens every single Sunday when we gather- the aisle of the Church is the Road to Emmaus! We literally walk toward a meal. We talk about Jesus. The story is re-told so we better understand it. We ask Him to be present. The Bread is broken and He is seen. We leave Church walking back down the aisle because we have to tell somebody that we have seen Him…we can’t not tell somebody- The News is too Good! 

The greatest challenge in all of it for most of us is getting up that same night and returning to the city to tell what we’ve seen…. 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, Easter III 2017

[1] variant Gospel sources report anywhere from 60 stadia (7.1 miles) to 160 stadia (18.93 miles)

[1] Eusebius writes in 4th Century CE; it seems clear that even then the distance discrepancies were matters of choice based on more than mileage alone.

[2] Since the last church was destroyed in the 12th century, there would have been no logical reason or opportunity to re-build it under Muslim rule.

[3] Luke 24:13-35