The Road to Emmaus: Companionship

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.” A third reflection on the nature of friendship, looking at the importance of sharing our experiences.

One of the first things one learns when undertaking any pastoral training, is never to say “I know what you are feeling”. None of us know what someone else feels, particularly not when they have experienced something we have not. However, I suspect many of us have also been in situations when we did have the sense that the other knew what we felt, and were indeed much comforted by this experience.

Emmaus

In those conversations, our experience mirrors the encounter between Cleopas and the other disciple as they are on their way to the village called Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). It is the day of the Resurrection as they are discussing everything that has happened in the last few days. Presumably still scarred by the reality of the Crucifixion, the two disciples are trying to make sense of the events and seek their significance.

As Luke Timothy Johnson writes in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel

“Luke shows us narratively the process by which the first believers actually did learn to understand the significance of the events they had witnessed, and to dissolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their convictions. (…) Luke shows us how the process of telling and interpreting these diverse experiences begins not only to build a community narrative, but actually begins to create the community itself”.

At some point in our life, most of us will experience this dissonance between our experience and our convictions. How, for example, can we reconcile our faith in a loving God when we see a loved one suffering? Or how can we believe in justice when none of us have to look very far to see injustice both inflicted and condoned? How can we reconcile what we see with what we thought to be true; how do we hold together our beliefs and the reality we face?

The answer given to us by Luke is that we need to talk and discuss, just like those early disciples did on the day of the Resurrection. As we do so, we realise that there are people who share not necessarily our convictions, but the conflict between what we hold to be true and what is happening around us. In the talking, discussing and sharing, not only our understanding will increase, but even more importantly, the risen Christ will seek and find us, although we may not always notice straightaway. We cannot do this on our own, but we need others whom we can trust – friends, companions and listeners. In our conversations, we will gradually become aware of the presence of another person and we notice that we feel the need to explain to him the things that have taken place. Our conversation does not stop, but continues in prayer.

This process of sharing and interpreting brings us to a greater understanding, and a deeper relationship with those with whom we share, including Christ himself. Possibly disappointingly, this understanding will not resolve the conflict between our experience and our convictions. However, it will help us to use that conflict creatively by giving us a narrative that enables us create a community – as Johnson writes. Not a community founded on conflict, but a community founded on the hope and trust that Christ is present in that conflict, and that he will stay with us until we have recognised that; until we have recognised him.

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