The Many Roads to Emmaus (Holy Land Pilgrimage, Dispatch 8)

Jesus appeared to his disciples on the road to Emmaus, but he had to walk a lot of other roads before he got there.

When Jesus traveled from Bethpage to Jerusalem along the Palm Sunday route that we walked Thursday morning, he was headed almost straight downhill. His borrowed (stolen?) donkey would have had to brace itself against the force of gravity that wanted to roll them both down the hill. With every labored step of his steed, Jesus’ view of Old Jerusalem became clearer. Its walls were made of massive stones and they loomed ominously above him. “Hosanna,” the crowds shouted, thinking that Jesus was going to conquer the city. “Hosanna,” not understanding the sort of kingdom that had come in Jesus. “Hosanna,” not realizing that the full weight of Roman imperial power was about to descend on Jesus with unimaginable force.  

Down, down, down… Jesus rode into the depths of the Kidron Valley, to the very gates of dark Gethsemane, where he would pray only a few days later. In Hebrew, Gethsemane means “olive press.” I didn’t know that until yesterday. As a historical footnote, Gethsemane’s name makes sense, as olives are the main produce of the garden. As a metaphor, Gethsemane’s name is far more powerful. The extraction of oil from olives requires an immense amount of pressure, and Jesus certainly understood pressure.

Most everyone in our pilgrimage group was overwhelmed by the intensity of our time in Olive Press Garden. As one shared, “I felt as though I was facing my sins, and Jesus put his hand on my shoulder saying, ‘I’ll take care of this for you.’” An old hymn captures what I think most of us were feeling:  “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul…”

Our journey over the last ten days has taken us through Jesus’ life. We began in Nazareth where Jesus’ birth was first announced and where he lived as a child. We followed him to Galilee for his time as a preacher, a teacher and an aquapodiatrist. We journeyed with him down the Plain of Jezreel to the place where he was transfigured, and we visited the Wadi Qelt where he is said to have been tempted.

All along the way, Jesus had to make hard choices, each one of them a statement of his love for and dedication to each and every one of us. But, all of this was a prelude to the choice he faced at the bottom of the Kidron Valley: Do I continue on at the cost of my life, or do I turn back and see old age on the shores of Gennesaret? This is one of those moments in which the whole history of the world – or, in this case, of the universe, of the entire created order – hangs on the decision of one person at one time in one place.  

Friday morning, we walked the way of the cross – the via dolorosa, the way of sorrows. This was the road that Jesus followed because he loved us too much to turn back. Each of us had tears in our eyes at some point along the way.

Our destination was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is said to contain both the place of Christ’s death and the place of his burial. Due to centuries of conflict, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is in a remarkable state of disrepair. It is dingy and dark, not what you would imagine or want for it to be. But, do we really know what we want Christ’s tomb to be for us? How could a monument made with hands contain that which the grave could not? For these reasons, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has never held the resurrection for me, and I have never actually gone inside the shrine at Jesus’ tomb. My heart is set on Emmaus.

Our nine-day pilgrimage journey ended in Emmaus this afternoon, the town en route to which Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. The disciples that morning were facing the same questions that we are now facing: How do you go home from Jerusalem?  What do we do next? Each one of us will struggle with those questions, and ultimately answer them in different ways. But, we have all been changed by what we have seen.

Emmaus sits on a hilltop outside the city. It is pleasant, clean and clear, with an overwhelming supply of peace and natural beauty. Scripture says that the road to Emmaus is only seven miles long, but I think that its length is much closer to 33 years. Jesus did not get there without walking from Nazareth to Galilee, through the Plain of Jezreel and the Wadi Qelt. Jesus did not get there without walking the Palm Sunday hill and the via dolorosa.

Jesus did not get to Emmaus overnight, and neither can we. The many roads to Emmaus were long, and if we want to meet Jesus in the breaking of the bread, we need to walk them all – the hard parts and the easy parts together.  

Posted by The Reverend Sandy Webb at 9:38 AM
Share |
Memphis Web Design by Speak