The image of this mosaic was sent to me me by a friend as an Easter greeting. It can be found in a small chapel in Ravenna in the North East of Italy. Amongst the post-resurrection stories the road to Emmaus captures our contemporary love affair with the metaphor of the journey.
Not that our fascination with the journey is particularly remarkable. From Abraham's travelling from Ur to the place God would take him, to Moses fleeing from, returning to, and fleeing from Egypt and leading the wandering of the people of Israel in the desert; from Naomi leaving Bethlehem for Moab to her bereavement and return with her daughter in law Ruth; from Elijah's 40 day scarper to mount Horeb, the long trek of the pilgrims in Psalm 121, and Jonah's failed attempt at giving God a body swerve to avoid Nineveh; from Israel's long forced march and exile in Babylon to the triumphant return through deserts that will blossom three generations later; from Joseph and Mary's slow progress to Bethlehem, and nocturnal flight to Egypt, to their son's 40 day walk in the wilderness, and from Jesus long walk to Jerusalem and death, to the disciples long walk to Emmaus and life, the biblical narrative is woven through with the metaphor and the story of people on a journey.
But the story of Emmaus retains its power and persuasion as a story of Christian experience. Confusion and fear, sadness and regret, broken dreams and emotional pain, minds closed to further hopefulness by the trauma of shattered hope. And yet they are travelling, as if movement at least had the impetus to get life going again. And talking as they go, because talking about things somehow eases the pressure of hurt, recognises and gives in to the human need to make sense, to put into words what can't ever be fully described. Communication, knowing another heart feels something similar, that the loss and hurt aren't borne alone, that by talking we try to salvage sense and purpose out of what has wrecked a hoped for future.
So they walk and talk, and are joined by a third. And their confusion and fear and pain blind them to the presence of one who understands more than they have ever known. No wonder they wanted him to stay over, to keep them company. Indeed this story is one of the great moments in the Bible when our need of others, their support and help, their strength and love, is most plainly stated and most fully understood. And then the moment of breaking bread, the lightning flasho insight and recognition, and the vanishing of the one who made it clear he would always be there.
It is a stunning story of those life-transforming moments of encounter, when Jesus is fully present to us, but we can be so inwardly focused we don't notice. And even if we never notice at the time, we look back and wonder how we got here, where the strength came from, how hope began to grow again, and our hearts burn within us, because he was there, and is here.
All of that, and so much more, is in that lovely mosaic, an art form in which thousands of tiny pieces are arranged into a completeness that requires skill, imagination, patience and planned purpose. Not a bad description of how God works on the mosaic of our circumstances and experiences.