On Sunday we will hear the story of the trip to Emmaus that Cleopas and a companion make in the hours after Jesus has died. We will listen as they walk along with the risen Lord and marvel that they can be so unaware that it is indeed Christ who walks beside them, opening their eyes to the creative forces of God and the transformation therein all around them.
When I traveled in Israel now ten years ago we took our own trip to Emmaus and as we went along the dusty road Father Kamal said to us, “it is said that this is the road to Emmaus” and then he would wonder off into some other story and we would arrive at some place not named Emmaus. Oft as not later that day or maybe the next day he would again say, “it is said that this is the road to Emmaus” and the same thing would happen again. In the nearly three weeks I spent with Father Kamal I traveled to Emmaus many, many times.
The word Emmaus means “warm spring” and it is believed to have been an ancient town about 7 miles from Jerusalem with most likely several ways to approach it. This story is recounted in the Bible in two places the one we hear on Sunday from the Gospel of Luke and a similar event is mentioned in the longer ending of the Gospel of Mark, but this is thought to have been a later version of this gospel and probably taken from Luke. So it seems that the author of Luke has given us a “parable” of sorts about another encounter with the risen Lord.
One of the oldest extant versions of the Gospel of Luke, preserved in the Codex Bezae, reads "Oulammaus" instead of Emmaus. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament scriptures, Oulammaus was the place where Jacob was visited by God in his dream, while sleeping on a rock. However, Oulammaus was not a real place name at all, but created only by an unfortunate translation mistake. The original name in Hebrew was "Luz". This mistake has long been corrected, but it was still there at the time when the Gospel was written around 100 AD. Thus, a theory has been put forward, that the story in the Gospel was merely symbolic, wanting to draw a parallel between Jacob being visited by God and the disciples being visited by Jesus.
At this point I think we need to do a little theological connecting of the dots. So the author of Luke has chosen to identify the place to which the disciples travel as Emmaus, “warm spring” or Oulammaus the place where Jacob was visited by God. We also know that when Jacob returned to Shechem from Padden Aram he camped before the city and bought the plot of land upon which he pitched his tent. Biblical scholars believe that this land is the site on which Jacob’s well was later built.
Now, Jacob's Well is mentioned by name in the New Testament (John 4:5-6) which says that Jesus "came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there." The Book of John goes on to describe a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman (called Photini in Orthodox tradition), that took place while Jesus was resting at the well. (John 4:7-15 )
We remember that Jesus offers the woman at the well living water and then interprets her life to her and we know also that this woman says to Jesus “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” And Jesus responds; “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
We know also that each of these people whether it be the Samaritan woman or Cleopas and his companion are changed by their encounter with the Messiah, no matter where that encounter occurs. It seems to be of little consequence the actual place but that in along the dusty and dry road ways of our life we allow ourselves to be opened by the one who comes to explain all things.
--The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis