This is the story that we often use to describe the Catechumenate process. I think that it was a description of that process for the early church as well. We, that is the current church, recognize its importance. We read it during every Eastertide.
There is one other reference to this day trip that the two disciples take. That is Mark 16: 12-13, part of the longer ending of Mark. When I hear the brief reference there, I often think that the story is much earlier than Luke until I realize that the longer ending of Mark was added, perhaps in the 2nd Century , perhaps even later, certainly after Luke was written. But all of this distracts from seeking the meaning of the story that Luke tells.
When I hear the story, I often wonder about the start of the disciples’ journey. They were already drawn to Jesus and were among his followers. But how did they get there? Is this an important question when hearing the story? I’m not sure. By the time we use the story to describe the catechumenate, our listeners are already disciples as well. They have, to some degree, already taken a step or two toward discipleship. And so the journey begins.
There is an assumption at the beginning that they are coming from Jerusalem. They are close to there, if the Emmaus referred to is a village within 7 miles of Jerusalem. To this day no such village has been found. There is an Emmaus in the Holy Land but it is much further away than 7 miles. Yet other verses lead us to believe that their journey that day began in Jerusalem. “Are you the one stranger in Jerusalem…?” The the phrase “they returned to Jerusalem” pretty much clinches this.
The story is very dynamic. They’re going to to Emmaus. They were talking with each other. Jesus came near and walked with them. Later, he walked ahead as if he were going on. They got up and returned to Jerusalem. The continuing movement is so descriptive of the continuous catechumenate journey. It begins in some mysterious place. Perhaps the traveler can identify that place. It does not have a definite. What happens to these disciples after they tell the eleven and their companions the story.
There are two travelers. One is Cleopas. “Cleopas” means “glory to the father” or “the whole glory”. Is he a guide or sponsor? If so, he has much to learn about Jesus as the other disciple. Jesus interprets the scriptures for both of them. Of course, sponsors also need to listen, not only to the other but also to the voice who guides them.
Who is the other? The only indication that he might have said anything is the use of the pronoun “they.” He may be the one who takes it all in, the one who is silent and listening, the catechumen.
That the “stranger” who may be someone more than a stranger comes to them while they are on the road listening to Jesus interpret the Law and the Prophets. It comes to them only through reflection after the meal when they were reflecting upon the entire experience (mystagogia). After this, they returned to Jerusalem.
The other part that always strikes me (any many others) is the phrase ‘he walked ahead as if he were going on.” Is there epiphany partly because they lived up to the test of hospitality? Is it as important as recognizing him in the breaking of the bread?
Finally, I often hear this reading as implying that they returned to Jerusalem on the same day. The interpretation that I often hear and have always accepted is that their return trip was the same day. All the passage says is that they got they started back to Jerusalem “that same hour.” Did they get all of the way there? Probably. According to scholars, it was dangerous to travel at night. But that is not what Luke emphasizes. He does not tell us when they return but that they did return and are part of the group that meets Jesus right after this. “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.'” (Luke 24: 36)
These are just a few scattered reflections. Much has been written about this story. We will continue to use it as a scriptural description of the catechumenate because it is a compact description. I often refer to the entire three year journey that Jesus takes with with his disciples as a description of the catechumenate. Both the story and the larger Gospel story are what the catechumenate is about. It is about journeying with Jesus, listening to his interpretation of how the Hebrew Scriptures tell us about him, realizing that our hearts are burning inside of us, recognizing Jesus in our communion with him and with members of the Church in the breaking of the bread, returning to other disciples who, like us, continue to try to figure out what this is all about.
The journey does not end but it is amazing.