Imagine that you are on a road leading away from a city and toward a town. Here on the road you are in neither place, neither city nor town, neither where you came from nor where you are going.
You are in between.
The road beneath your feet is made of packed dirt, the dust that you kick up from it is deep into your pores, it saturates your shirt and your shoes. You will be washing it out of your skin and your clothes for days to come.
Or maybe that’s not right.
Maybe the road is made of crushed gravel, each step a percussive crunch under your sandals, thousands of tiny pieces of rock shifting with your every step. Or maybe that’s not right either. Maybe the road is brick laid down by the Romans, or concrete poured by the Germans, or asphalt baked onto the earth by still someone else. Maybe your soles slap on it like anemic applause.
In the text that we have received, the city from which you walking is called Jerusalem. And the town towards which your feet carry you is called Emmaus.
But in your story, the city and the town are called by different names.
In the city whose name you know, you endured the greatest of hurts, the greatest of griefs. Something happened there that changed everything, that rocked everything, that destabilised and maybe even broke everything.
It has been only three days since the event. But it feels as though a chasm of time lies between you right here, right now on the road and who you were before the event happened.
You wonder if the person whom you were before is gone.
While the road is lonely – you haven’t seen anyone coming the other way in forever, you haven’t been overtaken by anyone running or riding a horse in just as long – you aren’t alone on it. A friend walks with you, a friend who was there with you in the city when the event happened. The two of you talk about the event and you and walk and the great earth rolls beneath your feet. As you travel, the two of you try on the word “trauma” to describe what you have experienced. It is not a word that either of you is accustomed to applying to yourselves, that either of you wants to apply to yourselves.
Do the two of you weep as you walk? Are your words interrupted by chest heaving sobs? Or are you out of tears? Do you speak to one another from a numb, flat place?
Abruptly a third person joins you. When you remember it later, you won’t be sure where he came from, how it is that he came to walk beside you on the road between the city and the town. It is like a dream. But it’s not a dream. He is as real as the sky above your head, the ground beneath your feet.
He asks you and your friend:
What are you guys talking about?
That simple question stops you like you have hit a wall.
How can anyone not know what happened? After what changed and got broken a few days ago, the idea that anyone wouldn’t know borders on the disrespectful, on the perverse. It borders on the disrespectful, on the perverse, that anyone’s life could continue as it did before, that after what happened people could be going to work or school or the grocery store as they did before, that birds could sing, that the sun could rise in the morning.
How can you not know?
But when you look at the man beside you on the road, your anger melts away. And so you tell him the story.
You have told this story more times that you can count over the past few days, you have spoken it out loud and replayed over and over in your head. This is the story that propels you down the lonely road. This is the story that keeps you awake in the night. But notwithstanding its the repetition, notwithstanding all the times that you have wished that the story were banished from your psyche, that it were not true, telling it to this person on the road feels…
Well, it feels like before. When you and your friends were travelling on other roads and the crowds traveled with you. It feels like freedom, like possibility. Like home.
Telling the story to him is like putting down a burden. Your step is lighter for the telling.
He listens without interrupting. And come the end, you are surprised to see that he is smiling.
How foolish you are, he says,
How slow to believe.
And as the three of you walk, he begins to explain. Everything.
When you get to the village at the end of your road, your companion makes like he is going to keep on going.
Wait. It is almost evening. Stay with us.
And so he stays.
The three of you sit down together for supper. The meal is simple. But it is enough. He takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to you.
And your eyes are opened.
Somehow, every meal that you ever shared with him is here in this instant. The meals on the mountainside, on the plain. The meals with the tax collectors and the sex trade workers and the priests. The meals where the wasn’t enough and then, somehow, there was abundance. The last meal with him in the room on the last day.
And then, as abruptly as he came, he is gone.
You and your friend look at one another in wild wonder. And while what you say next is framed as a question, it is actually something closer to a statement. It is the naming out loud of something that both of you know in your bones.
Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?
Are not our hearts burning still?
And so, even though it is almost dark, the two of you return to the road. This time you do not walk – you run. You run back across the road, back through the inbetween place, back from the town to the city whose name you know. You run back to the place where it happened. Back your friends. You burst into the room. And just as you are about to tell them the news, they tell it to you first.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
For the rest of the night, the room is filled with jubilant storytelling. Stories about the empty tomb, about his appearance to the women and then to Simon Peter, stories about him walking with you on the road, stories about how he has broken the bonds of death. Stories about how he was made known to you in the breaking of the bread.