Waking Up on the Emmaus Road


I remember how dark it looked inside. It was mid-morning. The sun was hot in the sky, and my skin felt it, but the tomb looked cold, robbed of its purpose. As my eyes adjusted, I saw the linens. And that was it. Nothing else. Were the women lying? I wasn't sure. I pursued truth for so many years—that's why I followed him—but now my heart felt as empty as the rock-cut tomb. He wasn’t here, that much was true. Where could he be?

I turned and walked away. No goodbyes. No farewells. Nothing but the turn of the heel and the open road. I somehow missed the joy the other women felt. Would I ever feel it? Not today, I thought. Maybe never. But perhaps soon? One can never be sure when it will come. Joy isn't ours to beckon; it's ours to receive.

I followed my husband. He kept replaying the events of the past few days. I wished he would stop talking about it. It wasn't helping me feel better, and it wasn't answering any of the questions I asked myself.

As we walked, I felt caught in a dream. It was a nightmare, and there was no one across the room to wake me from the dread. It was only he and I, walking.

In this nightmare, I could see hope. It had become a man. He wasn't transparent, but he wasn't solid, either. He was what you’d expect hope to be—able to be touched, yet somehow out of reach.

He was standing above, pouring something down on me. I couldn't feel it, and that made it a nightmare. I knew it must be something good, something to take the bad away. But I couldn't feel it no matter how hard I tried.

So I jumped as if jumping into the downpour would push me through it to the depths, like jumping into the sea. I wanted to drown myself in whatever it was, but I couldn't get to it. The pain of not feeling it was unbearable.

As I stood beneath the untouchable rain, I saw my husband in a worse position. The downpour wasn't flowing his way. I reached for his hand to bring him into the waterfall, but couldn't find it. So I gave up and turned my face to the dust swirling around my feet. The staleness of the world dried up the beauty of the rain.

Shaking myself awake, I heard a man’s voice. As he approached, he asked what we were discussing. Discussing was a strong word. Had I said anything yet?

I didn't see where he came from but supposed it to be our direction. My husband spoke first. I was grateful. My voice was hard in my throat, that feeling when you want to cry, need to cry, but try to resist. Nothing can go out, because as soon as the stone rolls away everything else inside will follow. And what’s inside on days like this can't be good.

My husband seemed to rebuke the man. I was surprised at his tone. But, then again, everything seemed surprising now.

“Are you the only one who hasn't heard of these things?”

The man pleaded ignorance: “What things?”

I drifted in and out of those first few sentences, and my nightmare returned. But this time it felt different. It wasn't really a nightmare. Something else was happening, though I couldn't recognize what.

The dust I saw before was lapping up the rain and becoming something fresh, something new. The words of the Psalmist rose to my mind from nowhere. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” Something was changing.

I awoke again, still on the road. How much time had passed? My husband was still rehearsing the days’ events.

“What things? I can't believe it! The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

The stranger’s disposition changed. He wasn't curious anymore. He looked at my husband, then at me, then back to my husband.

With pity in his voice, he said, “My dear Cleopas, how could you be so foolish and slow to believe the prophets? Were not all these things necessary? Was it not the plan of God? Did the Christ need not suffer these things and enter into his glory? Surely you do not fail to understand!”

We were stopped now. When did that happen? I felt something begin to rest, but it wasn't relief from walking. Something deep inside slowed to rest, like laying down after a hard day’s work.

The stranger continued talking, taking up each Scripture in turn, explaining things I never considered. I could see my husband was confused. He was trying, but something seemed out of reach. I realized my nightmare was his nightmare too. Something was pouring down, but he couldn’t feel it. Not yet, anyway. I could tell he wanted to, just as I did. But there was a veil.

We began walking again. And we came to the edge of town. It was getting dark. The stranger wanted to travel on, but neither I nor my husband could bear for him to go. We pleaded with him to stay, and when he agreed, found a friendly house and entered. Food was prepared and brought. We sat down to eat.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

His story began there. I remembered the way my heart ached before he came and that ache returned with a fury burning inside my breast. The untouchable rain was pouring now, but this time not in a dream. I could feel something bursting out of me. Or was it bursting out of him into me? I couldn’t tell. It felt so foreign yet so familiar. I wanted to hear more, even if the pain would only increase. There was something fresh in the story he told, as if it was all new, though I had heard the words before.

The meal was before us, and the stranger took the bread. I fixed my eyes on him now. I had seen him before. Why didn't I notice until now?

He took the bread, blessed it and broke it, gave it to us and we ate. Then our eyes were opened, and we knew He was in our presence—or were we in His?

I thought of the nightmare one final time and realized I was awake for the first time. The rain came, the harvest arrived, and it was of eternal abundance. I stepped inside and felt it. Hope.

David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.