Finding Ourselves on the Road
by Ruth Haley Barton
I am intrigued by the fact that the second disciple on the Emmaus Road is not named. Even though it’s fun to speculate, I prefer to leave it alone. The fact that we don’t know who the second disciple was means it is easier for us to find ourselves on this familiar road. For you see, all of us are on our own Emmaus Road—somewhere between the now and the not-yet—in some area of our lives.
The disrupting event could be something as traumatic as the loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage or some other close relationship, the death of a loved one, a betrayal of some sort where something has been taken from us forcibly and the new has not yet come. Or it could be something a little more subtle—like a sense that it is time to let go of one thing in order to be open to something new, or an awareness of a stuck place in our spiritual life where we don’t know how to get unstuck. There is a sense that we, too, are waiting for something that has not yet been fully revealed.
While it may feel that whatever precipitated our Emmaus Road experience is beyond our control, we do have control over one thing: whether we will walk the road alone or choose to walk it with others. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the throes of loss and disillusionment, profound emotions and dangerous questions, I usually want to keep to myself. Some things feel entirely too personal to share with others, and at such moments I am convinced that no one could possible understand what I’m going through. The idea of trying to put the unspeakable into words feels completely exhausting, and the thought of subjecting my soul to inane questions and trite answers during such tender times is almost too much to bear.
The disciples’ choice to walk together and to talk about all the things that had happened to them was, in some ways, fairly radical. They could have decided that what they had been through was so personal, so traumatic and so confounding that they didn’t want to talk about it until they had gotten a handle on it. Or they could have chosen to walk together but avoid talking about what was really going on, chatting away about anything else but that. But no. While the experiences of the weekend were still fresh and raw, unvarnished and unresolved, they chose to walk together and talk with each other about all these things that had happened.
The reason this was such a crucial choice was that there is something about the willingness to walk together and speak honestly about the fundamental issues of our lives that caused Jesus himself to come near.
The disciples on the Emmaus Road weren’t praying in any formal way. They were not having a Bible study or worshiping in the synagogue. They were not having a formal quiet time. They were discussing the stuff of their lives—all the things that had happened that were having such an impact on them spiritually and in every other way—and something about the nature and quality of their conversation opened up space for Jesus to draw near. And the encounter that took place among them was completely reorienting and life changing.
That is the essence of Christian community. Before Jesus draws near, a group of people journeying together is merely a human community. Once Jesus joins us on the road, it becomes a Christian community. As we discover ways to open to Jesus’ transforming presence on the road between the now and the not-yet, it becomes a transforming community.
Taken from chapter one, “Between the Now and the Not Yet: Choosing to Walk Together,” of Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton. ©2014 by Ruth Haley Barton. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515.
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