I travelled the road to Emmaus as part of a learning tour in the Holy Land some time ago. Like the disciples in Luke 24, I too was confused and discouraged—in this case by the complexities of the deep fear, pain and suffering that fills the story of this land and its peoples.
At the ancient site of Emmaus is Ayalon, also called Canada Park, a new “heritage site” built with money that Canadians donated for the welfare of Israel. Ironically, this park covers up the ruins of Beit Nuba, Yalu, and Imwas (historic Emmaus), three Arab-Palestinian villages that were razed in the 1967 war.
The site recognizes and celebrates the old history of the village, such as the Roman bath house. But it does not acknowledge the much more recent and sad chapter, when Israeli soldiers occupied the village, expelled its residents and bulldozed the stone houses. Why? Tourist brochures say this park was built to redeem a landfill site. But piles of crushed stone walls and resilient cacti still cry out and share the story with those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
Why do the cacti tell a story? You see, cacti traditionally formed fences between properties in the former Palestinian villages of Beit Nuba, Yalu, and Imwas, and they continue to sprout up along former property lines among the ruins of Israeli Ayalon.
Hearing the story of the expulsion of the 14,000 Palestinians, who lived there until 1967 was heart-rending. However, the fact that our tour guide, Eitan, a secular Jew, was committed to teaching this story to us and his fellow citizens was a sign of hope and reconciliation. Was this a sighting of Jesus still walking the road to Emmaus?
The tour of Canada Park weighed heavily upon me as we entered the gates of a sixth century monastery. A friendly and humble monk appeared and offered us a tour. As tempted as I was to hear his explanations of this place, an inner voice nudged me to explore the grounds on my own.
As I did so, I encountered, as in many places on this journey, an old mosaic of a meal hosted by Jesus. I welcomed this sighting, and welcomed Jesus as my host and personal tour guide. I sensed his encouragement to enjoy the dwarf irises of his earthly homeland, thriving in the welcome spring rains. I meandered on; following a path that led me to a first-century tomb.
There, another surprise awaited me. The entrance to this tomb was no bigger than the entrance to a child’s snow fort! Is this what Jesus’ tomb had been like? If so, the women with their ointment, and Peter, coming to check out their report, would have had to crawl in on hands and knees to seek their loving Lord. Humility, as well as determination, would have been required of them as they sought to be near Jesus.
As I pondered this, Jesus gently reminded me that humility and determination are still required of those who seek the Way, the Truth and the Life. As with the Emmaus disciples, my heart burned within me as he opened the way toward deeper understanding and commitment. That commitment includes an openness to see God at work in and through those who don’t call him Lord.