The Road to Emmaus

A reflection on Luke 24:13-35 as a model of Accompaniment from EAPPI’s 2014 Annual Meeting.

by Steve Weaver

The ancient city of Emmaus is where the West Bank Palestinian village of ‘Imwas used to be. Its buildings were leveled, its residents expelled, in 1967. Today it is Canada Park, a popular Israeli leisure spot. It is operated by the Jewish National Fund, established with $15 million of support from Canadians. A series of signs in the park describe the historical significance of the landscape, and a handful of ancient buildings, in terms of their Biblical, Roman, Hellenic, and Ottoman pasts. But no mention is made of its recent Palestinian past.

The biblical story of Emmaus is in a place that has become a contemporary story of dispossession, of injustice. And so here we are – the global church, most of us foreigners, outsiders, responding to the local church, to our Palestinian brothers and sisters to accompany them, to walk together, as we work to end dispossession and injustice.

What does this passage of the road to Emmaus tell us about accompaniment? What can we learn from it as we begin these days together to discuss our work?

Many commentators on this passage highlight that it is only at the end, at the table, in the breaking of bread that the two men finally see and understand who is before them. At first they didn’t recognize Jesus, he is a stranger to them. They think he is a foreigner, from another place, and doesn’t know of the terrible things that have happened, the sorrow they are feeling. But then he takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

I’m struck when I read EA accounts how often they make reference to drinking tea with people or being invited to dinner in someone’s home It is in these intimate spaces that ‘otherness’, ‘foreignness’, ‘strangeness’ are often overcome. “Say yes to tea” an EA emailed me when I told her I was coming to this annual meeting.

As one commentator on this passage has written:

“In Luke’s gospel, we hear about the encounter of two travelers on their way to Emmaus with the risen Christ. This story seems to indicate that we best bear and recognize the imago [God’s image] we know intimately in Christ, not when we teach, or preach, or even when we proclaim the prophets, but when we break bread and extend the hospitality we have been taught by Christ.”

But I am not a theologian. I am not a biblical scholar. Rather than expound further on my reading of the passage, I will turn to the refection of a church leader, a Palestinian, whom we know well.

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, ELCJHL, has written on this. It is found in EAPPI’s publication Theological Reflection on Accompaniment. Here are some of his thoughts:

“Accompaniment in the Middle East is not a new notion. It goes back to the Old Testament. When the Hebrews left Egypt to Sinai, God accompanied them by cloud by day and by a fire that lit up the night (Exodus 14). It is this accompaniment as solidarity with the other that the Bible teaches us. Accompaniment took root in the flesh in God’s incarnation, when God became one of us. In Jesus Christ, God engaged with our brokenness and sin. He accompanied groaning humanity in order that it might regain the image of God through the salvation of the cross. So this accompaniment that God calls us to do as companions with the global Church is an accompaniment with groaning humanity that seeks forgiveness and the justice of God in order that all may be brokers of justice, instruments of peace, ministers of reconciliation, and defenders of human rights.

“Such accompaniment can be seen in the story of the walk to Emmaus in St. Luke 24:13-43. Two frustrated men who had experienced the horrible week of suffering and the cross, returned back to their village, Emmaus. Their hopes were shattered. In their depressing situation, Jesus accompanied them. He heard their stories and contributed to their understanding of the Scriptures. He accompanied them, giving them encouragement. So accompaniment is walking together with Jesus Christ in companionship and in service to God’s mission. In walking together on the road to Emmaus, as the Lord revealed himself to his two companions, their three stories became intertwined. As their stories came together, God’s plan in Jesus’ resurrection became clearer. A new community, the Church, began to emerge in Jerusalem. In sharing a meal and breaking the bread the companions recognized the presence of Jesus with them. Accompaniment is valued for its own sake as well as for its results. It is open-ended with no foregone conclusions. The companions learn together through the journey the peace, justice and hope that God intends for humanity. Accompaniment binds companions more closely to their Lord and one another as they seek to live out this mission. (p. 23-24)

“Your accompaniment is similar to the road of Emmaus. We walk together as equals in humanity, and as equals in salvation. We walk together bowed in head, seeking the truth, comforting the Church of God. We accompany each other, trusting that in our wonder and uncertainty, God will inform us of our mission and our witness in a broken Holy Land. For this reason, accompaniment is an instrument and tool of the Holy Communion through which we are commissioned to be God’s witnesses for justice, peace, and reconciliation. It makes both companions witnesses of hope in a hopeless situation, witnesses of love in a world of hatred and retaliation, witnesses of faith in a world that ignores God, witnesses of truth in a world of propaganda and lies.

“We thank you who dare to be our accompaniers on the road.” (p. 35)

Bishop Younan”

Our God – Be with today as we reflect, share, break bread and continue to learn the meaning of accompaniment. – Amen

Steve Weaver is the Middle East Regional Coordinator for Church World Service, and the EAPPI National Coordinator in the USA.

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