Jesus Himself Drew Near
I’ve written on this story before, but it is so rich that I return to it often and always find something new.
Some years ago Arch Wiggins and George Marshall wrote a song for church choir titled Jesus Himself Drew Near. It began:
I set out a pilgrim sad at heart, to walk a lonely road;
Doubt had marred my simple trusting, doubt a future ill forbode.
And as I pondered o’er my grief, my shattered hope and unbelief,
A stranger to my soul’s relief drew near and walked with me
Jesus himself drew near, Jesus himself drew near;
When alone on the road, oppressed by my load,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with me.
The song is based on the story of the Emmaus walk, but with one difference. It comes from a theological base which emphasizes an individual relationship with Jesus Christ. While that is necessary—each of us must have our own spiritual journey—Luke tells a story about two disciples traveling the road together. We are told that one of them is named Cleopas. We do not know the name of the other disciple. There is speculation that this disciple could be Cleopas’ wife. There are many good reasons why this could be true.
We know from Luke’s gospel that many women followed Jesus, some of them all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. John (19:25) lists Mary the wife of Clopas as one of the women at the crucifixion. It would have been more likely that a husband and wife would have been living together than that two men would have been sharing a house. We can speculate all we want, of course, but we’ll never know for sure this side of the grave.
Let’s assume that this was a married couple, Cleopas and Mary, traveling home to Emmaus on the evening of the resurrection. They had been with the other disciples since the triumphal entry, had shared the joy of that occasion, the thrill of hearing their Master teach in the temple, the horror of Thursday and Friday, the depression of Saturday, and the uncertain joy of Sunday. Now, emotionally exhausted, they want nothing more than to be at home, where they can be in familiar surroundings.
As they walk they discuss the events, not only of the past week, but of their time with Jesus. They want to believe he is alive, but it doesn’t make sense. People don’t die and come back to life. Oh, yes, there are the stories of Elijah and Elisha raising people from the dead; but that was long ago. Jesus raised Lazarus and the young man from Nain, but that was Jesus. Who was there to raise him?
Then a stranger approaches them. He hears their conversation and joins in. Once he begins speaking he doesn’t stop, but cites familiar Scripture passages that show them how everything that happened was part of the prophecy which had long been part of their tradition. They understand now what happened to Jesus, why it had to happen, and that Jesus was indeed alive.
Arriving at their destination they invite him to share the evening meal with them. As an honored guest he is given the privilege of breaking the bread. And they know him. And he vanishes.
“Didn’t our hearts burn within us,” they say, remembering how they felt as this now-familiar figure spoke to them. They heard God’s truth, and their inner beings responded, reaching out to the words that changed their lives.
Jesus himself drew near to them, shared words of hope with them, broke bread with them; and now they couldn’t wait to share the good news. Jesus Christ is alive!