Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Friday, May 16, 2008

There's a Sermon in Here Somewhere

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth….

....Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Cleopus and the other disciple weren’t quite sure with whom they were talking when they were travelling on the road to Emmaus. All they know is that a stranger joined them who had no idea or clue what had just happened in Jerusalem…that is Jesus’ tomb was found empty! It got late, they arrived finally at Emmaus. They were hungry so the invited Jesus to join them. Still they didn’t who this person was who was walking with them. Then, Jesus broke bread in the same way that he had done before. It was then that the disciples realized who it was that was with them. But by then, Jesus vanished.

This story appears in Luke 24 and is the second appearance of Jesus after his resurrection. It’s a favorite story among Christians relating to the breaking of the bread and knowing at that point that they are in communion with the risen Christ.

On the road again, and again, and again to Emmaus.

Some friends and I thought it would be great to go to Emmaus. How difficult could that be? After all, the Bible says that it was only seven miles outside of Jerusalem. Geez, we could practically walk it….just like the disciples..yeah right!

The tourist guidebooks not only tell you about one Emmaus, but four sites where the Emmaus “event” could possibly have happened. Now what to do? We rented a car since this appeared to be more difficult than we had thought. We got out a touring map, put on our sunscreen and then headed out Route 1 the main road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. It wasn’t until the fourth century CE that these sites were suggested: Abu Ghosh, Latrun, el-Qubeibeh and Qalunieh.

I didn’t want to tell them that this was the first time that I had driven since last September. But, I couldn’t hide my joy at being behind the wheel again. Bliss. Ecstasy. And best of all, I remembered how to do it. Except that my left leg kept flying up in the air to depress the clutch like I was stomping grapes.

The first stop was Abu Ghosh a small Arab village north of Jerusalem. Aside from being a possible contender for Emmaus Abu Ghosh is known all over the country for their hummus, it’s the best. We stopped at one of the restaurants. We broke pita, ate hummus but our eyes were not opened. Neither were anyone else’s eyes in the restaurant opened for that matter.

We set out on our way and after circling the city several times we finally found a Crusader Church, the Church of Notre Dame de l’Arche de l’Alliance. We walked up to the gate, and of course, just our luck, it was closed. Sunday! Of course, what were we thinking? Even churches need a day of rest. We did sneak through an open gate and walk around the grounds, no one seemed to mind. There were only workers retiling the roof and climbing on the scaffolding that surrounded a very large Mary. Our eyes still were not opened.

Al Qubeibeh, which is closely located to Abu Ghosh also is a suggested sight. Both of these places are dated rather late during the Crusader Period. Again we took a very circuitous route trying to find Al Qubeibeh. Finally we found the road and we coming close to the area we ran up against a big, yellow, iron gate. We could no further. What we didn’t see on the map was that Al Qubeibeh is in the West Bank. In order to get there we would have had to drive about 45 minutes to the checkpoint where we could get in. We decided not to take our chances and figured our eyes wouldn’t be opened there either.

The next possible sight was in the area of Latrun Monastery. The identification of this area is fairly early and is mentioned in Eusebius’ Onomasticon around 330 CE. Pay dirt we thought! But no. The Trappist Monks are the caretakers of the Monastery and are known for their wine. Damn. The shop was closed…because it was Sunday. So was the church for that matter, but we were able to walk a short distance in their very beautiful gardens. Eyes – still shut.

Close by the Monastery in Latrun is a place where a church complex was excavated dated to the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE. The complex is called Churches of Emmaus – Nicopolis. Emmaus was granted the status of a city back in the day (218-222 CE) by Emperor Elagabalus and was subsequently known as Nicopolis. The Crusaders settled in the area in the 12th century CE and built a small church within the other complex. Even though this is called the Churches of Emmaus – Nicopolis it was not thought by the Crusaders as the gospel tradition of Emmaus. Of course it was closed.

Now what? Our energy was depleted. We hadn’t really seen anything nor could we confirm that we had had an eye opening experience in our search for Emmaus. We did have fun and enjoyed exploring the countryside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We figured out that you don’t really need to be certain where Emmaus was in order to have your eyes opened to the redemptive power of Christ.

At least I have photos of all of the Church signs.

1 comment:

Dina said...

Nice adventure. I totally agree with your conclusion. Emmaus is wherever you make it to be. And a lot depends on what companions you choose, for the Latin root of companion means "one with whom you would break bread."
Yeah, you're right: it will preach.