Friday, May 2, 2014

Journey to Emmaus

'Enough of this,' said Cleopas. 'I'm leaving.' Simeon, along with everyone else in the upper room started. They had been sitting quietly for hours now it seemed. Most were frightened; more were confused; all were tired.

There had been little sleep over the last several days, not since the Master had been arrested. And that day, the third since his execution, they had all been woken early by the women who had gone to his tomb to finish wrapping and anointing his body; they had come back full of excitement, saying the tomb was empty and he had risen. Some of the men had run there to see what was going on, but they had come back shaking their heads. The tomb was indeed empty; but of the Master there was no sign.

For a while the people had whispered amongst themselves, not too loudly so as not to attract attention, discussing what might be happening. They sat in small clumps, scattered around the room, some on cushions, most on the floor. But as the hours wore on, they had lapsed into silence. Many had stretched out and fallen asleep, worn out by the worry and confusion; others simply stared at the shadows that filled the room, for the shutters were closed, leaving only what little light that could creep around the edges or through chinks to fight off complete darkness. Breathing, gentle sighs, and the occasional soft snore were the only sounds in the room until Cleopas' loud voice made everyone jump.

He tapped Simeon on the shoulder. 'Let's go.'
'Yes, father,' the boy said. Without a word he gathered up his few things. He was glad to go: after three days the room smelt of unwashed bodies and decaying food; he'd risk anything for some fresh air at this point. They left the room in silence. No one said a word; there were no farewells and no one tried to stop them.
His father paused at the door that lead to the street. He glanced quickly left and right, making sure that there was no one suspicious hanging about – no Roman soldiers, not temple guards, no one who looked like they might be leftovers from the mob that had arrested their Master and screamed for his crucifixion a few days earlier. But all was quiet and they stepped out blinking in the late afternoon sun.

'Where are we going, father,' Simeon said in a soft voice as his father started to march off down the street.
'Ah,' Simeon said. For some moments they walked on in silence. Then the boy said 'But father, this is not the road to Emmaus.'
'What?' Cleopas came to a sudden halt, looking about him, as if he was seeing the streets and houses around them for the first time. He gave a laugh.
'My mind is addled.' He gave his son a clap on the shoulder. 'Well spotted boy. It'd take us a long time to get home going in the opposite direction.' He turned round and started back down the street. 'Although, I probably shouldn't call you boy any more. You're nearly as tall as I am.' Simeon said nothing. He was, in fact, almost half a hands-breath taller than his father, but he saw no point in mentioning it. They walked on in silence. Simeon had many questions he wanted to ask his father, but he didn't want to ask them in the city. Someone might overhear; someone who wasn't friendly towards their master and his followers; someone who might decide to call the temple authorities; or worse, stir up a crowd against them on the spot – a crowd who might think they were doing God's work by stoning them where they stood. He waited until they were a half-mile clear of the city before he spoke.

'Why are we leaving, father?'
His father did not answer at once. The clumping of their sandals on the dry ground raised the smell of dust in the air. There was the bleating of sheep in the distance. The lucky ones, thought Simeon. Passover is over; there isn't much danger they will be taken to the temple to have their throats cut today. At last Cleopas spoke:
'What is there to stay for?'
'But what of the years we spent following the Master?'
'Wasted, now that he's dead.'
'But what of his teaching? Does that not still matter?'
'And what does his teaching mean if he is dead? He made us think he was sent by God. That can't be true if he's dead. So either he lied to us or he was a crazy man. What is the teaching of such a one worth?'
'How can you say that about him? You were one of the seventy he sent out to share his teaching with others; you know better than almost anyone how wonderful what he had to say was – how can you say it's worthless?'
'What does it matter what a madman or a liar said? Look where it got him – a slow death on a Roman cross.'
'But what if what the women said is true? What if he has risen?'
'No one rises from the dead. And you know as well as I do that the testimony of women counts for nothing – if a court wouldn't listen to them, why should we? If he's risen, why has no one else seen him? And as for what he said, we've already covered that.'
'So it's really over?' said Simeon. He felt the tears begin to roll down his face. He stopped walking. His father stopped too, and turned to embrace him.
'That's just the way it is,' he said, pulling his son's head to his shoulder. 'But don't worry. God is good. And life goes on.' He patted him on the shoulder. 'Hush now. Someone is coming.'

Simeon hurriedly wiped his eyes and turned to look. A man was only a few steps away. As tall as himself, but it was difficult to see his face in the fading light with the hood of his robe covering his face. All Simeon could see was his dark beard and the flash of his teeth in a smile as he spoke: What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’

They stood still, looking sad. Simeon whispered in his father's ear 'we can't trust anyone. We shouldn't speak with him.' His father shook his head.
'What does it matter?' he whispered back. 'It's over now; and we're alone on the road. He won't give us any trouble. And if he does, there are two of us.' Speaking normally he said:

Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
What things?’
The things about Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, but he was handed over to the Romans by our chief priests and leaders to be condemned to death and crucified. We had hoped that he would set Israel free. This happened three days ago; and some women we know are saying some astounding things. They were at his 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.’
The stranger's smile grew broader.

Oh, how foolish you are,' he said 'and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Wasn't it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things - and then enter into his glory?’
'What do you mean?' said Simeon.
'Well think about all the things that the Scriptures said about the Messiah, all the prophesies they contained of him. And think the way in which your Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled them all.'
'I can't think today,' said Cleopas. 'My head is addled.'
'Well,' said the stranger 'think of what it says in Genesis that he would be a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and be born of the house of Judah. The prophet Micah said he would be born in Bethlehem; Isaiah said he would be born of a virgin. Did these not happen?'
'Yes,' said Cleopas. 'I had heard that.'
'And did not both the psalms and the prophet Isaiah say the Messiah would be rejected by his people? And also, that he would speak in parables; and that he would be falsely accused and stand silent before his accusers?'
'That's true,' said Simeon.
'Did the psalms not also say that he would be mocked, his hands and feet pierced, that he would be given vinegar to drink, that he would pray for his enemies, that his tomb would be among those of the wealthy – and after all that he would rise from the dead?'
'Yes, yes,' cried Simeon and his father together. They walked on, with the stranger giving more and more examples of prophecies about the Messiah from the Sacred Scriptures and how they had all come true in Jesus. As he did so, the sadness of both fell away and both grew more and more cheerful. Simeon felt as if he was glowing with happiness. He had never heard anyone speak so well, other than the Master. Perhaps what the woman had said was true. Perhaps Jesus had risen from the dead. Before they knew it they had reached the village and were standing outside the door of their own little house.

'Well, friends,' said the stranger. 'It has been good to talk with you. I still have a way to go yet, so I bid you farewell.'
Cleopas and Simeon shot each other a quick look. Neither of them wanted this conversation to end.

No, no,' said Cleopas. 'Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ Simeon glanced around. It was almost dark. He hadn't even noticed.
'If you insist,' he said, with a smile. They went in. Simeon's mother was inside, bent over the fire. She spun round and stared at them, with her mouth open. The she glared at them and placed her hands on her hips.

'So you're back,' she said. Cleopas smiled. He went to her and took her in his arms.'
'Peace, wife,' he said and he gave her a kiss.
'Get away with you,' she said, pulling free from him. But she did so with a smile. She went to her son and gave him a fierce embrace.
'I'm glad to see that you're both safe,' she said in his ear in a soft voice.
'I'm sorry if you were worried about us,' he said.
'And why wouldn't I worry?' She turned to the stranger. 'I see you've brought home another stray. Well, you're more than welcome, sir. There's food a plenty, no thanks to these wanderers! Sit, sit. It will be ready soon.'
'This is my wife, Miriam,' Cleopas said.
'Miriam,' said the stranger. 'It is a good name.'

They washed their hands and feet at a stone basin in the corner and sat themselves at the table. There was already bread and wine upon it. Cleopas splashed some of the deep red liquid into beakers and added a little water from a jug. He motioned to the bread with one hand.

'Perhaps you will say the blessing, friend?' he said. He took some of the warm, fresh flat-bread Simeon's mother had baked. He blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. The moment he did so, it was if the room grew suddenly brighter. For the first time, Simeon could see the stranger clearly. And he knew who he was. He heard his father gasp across the table from him and he knew he was seeing who it was also.
'Father,' he said, turning his eyes toward him. Cleopas glanced over at him. When they looked back, the stranger, who was no stranger at all, was gone. They stared in silence.

'Was it … ?' Simeon began. His father nodded.
'Yes. It was the master. Of course it was. Were not our hearts not burning as we walked along the road, as he explained the Sacred Scriptures to us?' Simeon nodded.
'Yes – burning! That's what it was like; it gave a warm glow to my heart, and light to my eyes to see the truth!'

Simeon's mother turned back from the fire.
'Where is your friend? Has he gone? Without saying good-bye?'
'Yes, he is gone – in a way,' said Cleopas. He rose to his feet. 'And we must go too!'
'What! Where?' said his wife.
'Back to Jerusalem.'
'At this hour?'
'We can not delay. There is something important we must tell the brothers and sisters there.' He made to move from the table.
'Stop where you are!' His wife's tone was so sharp he paused. 'I have food ready. You'll go no where until you've both eaten. My son looks like he hasn't been fed in a week.'
'But we must go,' said Simeon.
'You'll quicker with food in your belly than stumbling about in the dark half-starved. Eat; the moon will rise soon. A short delay now will make for more speed later. Sit.' She slammed a couple of steaming bowls on the table. The smell made Simeon's mouth water and his stomach growl. He glanced at his father.
'A little food can't hurt, father.'
'Perhaps not.' He sat and began to wolf down the food. 

Soon they were done and ready to go. Miriam hugged them both and pushed a small bundle with more food into Simeon's hands. The road was bright, with the light of a sliver of moon and a myriad stars. As they rushed along, much faster back than they had walked earlier, they could hear crickets chirping. The insects fell silent as they approached and then started up again when they were a few meters past. Simeon thought it was almost as if they were not moving, but standing still in a little bubble, lit by moonlight, where crickets could make no sound. But soon the walls of Jerusalem loomed above them. They made their ways through the dark streets, the only light that which spilled through the shutters of taverns and homes. Soon they were back at the house they had left that morning. They entered and almost ran up the stairs, so eager were they to share their news. They burst into the upper room.

And what a change they found from when they had left. Now the room was brightly lit, with lamps and candles everywhere; it had been cleaned and the floor swept. Instead of the stale smells of earlier, the air was sweet with incense; and the silent, gloomy people were smiling and chattering.

'Brothers!' they cried. People ran to embrace them. 'It's true. The Lord has risen. Peter has seen him.'
'We know,' said Simeon. 'We have seen him also.'
'What! Quiet everyone. Cleopas and Simeon have seen the Lord also.'
'Praise be,' said a man coming forward. It was Peter. 'Brother, sisters, silence! Let us hear what they have to say.' All stopped talking to listen. So Cleopas told their story, what had happened on the road, and how they had recognised Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

'In the breaking of the bread,' said Peter in a soft voice in the silence that followed. 'Brothers, sisters, do you not remember what I told you he said to the twelve at that last supper he shared with us? He blessed the bread and broke it, saying it was now his body, and that we should do the same in memory of him. Of course they recognised him in the breaking of the bread. Whenever we break bread in the way he told us we must he will be there with us.' He turned back to Cleopas and Simeon.
'Thank you, brothers, for coming back and sharing this with us.'
'How could we not?' said Cleopas. 'We thought he was dead and that all we believed was over. But he is risen! And we know now that everything is changed.'
'Yes,' said Simeon. 'Everything is changed forever.' Peter clapped him on the shoulder.
'Well said, boy! Indeed, everything is changed forever.' 

The people cheered, no longer afraid to make noise. And as Simeon looked around at the happy, smiling faces, he realised that his heart still burned within him – burned with a fire that he knew would never go out.

copyright fr levi 2014

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