Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)
Miriam stole a look at Cleopas. His head was bent. He stared down at the dusty road and forced one foot ahead of the other. At this pace, it would be dark before they reached their home in Emmaus. Did her husband even notice the fresh crisp air that had replaced the moldy smells of winter?
She squeezed her eyes shut and fought tears. How could the sun still shine when their hopes for freedom had been ripped apart by the sharp metal points of the occupier’s whip? When their dreams of the future had been hung up for the ridicule of scoffers and buried in the darkness of a tomb?
Cleopas stumbled. Miriam reached an arm to steady him. After all, he wasn’t a young man. He didn’t shake her off with his usual stubbornness. Why, he barely seemed to notice her touch. She couldn’t blame him for ceasing to care. There was no other way to hold back the pain.
“If only...” she began. “If only it were true—what they said.”
Cleopas growled and spat into the pale green grass at the side of the road. “Foolish women! They know nothing.”
“But they were there.” She gathered her courage to go on. “When he was laid in the tomb, I mean. Surely...”
Her husband stopped and turned blazing eyes on her. “Miriam!” His voice was harsh with grief. “It does. Not. Happen! Men do not come back to life. Not after—” He stopped and swallowed hard. Then he turned and plodded silently down the road.
She was glad he didn’t finish. She didn’t need his words to remind her of the gruesome execution, the rabbi’s bloody face, his back....
No! She would not think of it! The words of the prophet Isaiah came to her mind. “Like one from whom men hide their faces.”
There on the road she covered her face with her hands as she had covered it on Skull Hill—Was it only three days past? Three days since she stood with the rabbi’s own mother, clinging to her and the other women and weeping. But she hadn’t dared to look. Not after that first glimpse of his broken body.
“This is my body,” he had said as he broke the matzah at the Passover meal the night before. His body? What had he meant?
Miriam hurried after her husband. She stayed a few steps behind as was fitting. At least, she could keep an eye on him better that way.
The rabbi had also given them the cup that night. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he had said.
Had he known? Had the rabbi known he would die? Miriam shuddered.
There were few people on the road this day, the day after the Sabbath. Most pilgrims were already in Jerusalem. The Feast of the Passover would last the whole week, celebrating their redemption from slavery in Egypt, remembering the night when the Angel of Death passed over the houses of the Israelites when he saw the blood of the sacrifice on the doorposts.
The blood of an innocent lamb.
The blood of the covenant.
Miriam shuddered again. “If only it were true.” The words came out in a sob. She sniffed quietly, not wanting her husband to hear.
Cleopas paused and looked back at her, apparently waiting for her to catch up. He had wanted to return home yesterday. He couldn’t bear to remain in Jerusalem after what they had done to the rabbi. But it was the Sabbath Day, and although Emmaus was not far from Jerusalem, the distance was greater than the law allowed for travel on the day of rest.
And so they had remained with the rabbi’s other disciples, shut in the upper room of Maria’s house—that same room where they had kept the feast two days before!—trembling at every sound, fearful that the authorities would break in at any moment and drag them all away to be crucified.
Cleopas took Miriam’s hand and pulled her beside him. He didn’t rebuke her for bringing up the women’s words again. He gazed beyond her. Miriam turned to see what had caught his eye.
A man came along the road behind them. He was some way back, but he walked at a jaunty clip and would soon catch up unless he turned aside. His head was thrown back to fill his lungs with the scent of the almond grove blooming on the hillside. He turned eagerly from side to side as if unwilling to miss a single thing that life might offer on this glorious afternoon.
Cleopas sighed. Slowly he laid a hand on Miriam’s back and guided her on toward Emmaus and the empty house they had left months ago when they followed the rabbi.
After a few minutes she got up the courage to speak again. “What about Lazarus?” she asked, but even as she said it, she knew Lazarus was different. Lazarus had not been tortured.
Cleopas drew in a ragged breath and let it out slowly. “The rabbi was there to call him from the tomb.” He shook his head. “Who has the power to call him forth?”
Miriam knew the answer. No one.
The power they had seen in the rabbi in these last months had been beyond mortal men—not merely his power to perform miracles, but the authority with which he spoke, his power to change people from the inside out.
But now he was gone.
“Shalom, my friends.”
Miriam turned with a start. The man who had been following had overtaken them. The setting sun behind him cast his face in shadow, and Miriam blinked, unable to make out his features. But his voice was gentle and pleasant. It touched her heart with the tenderness of an old friend.
“Peace,” she murmured in return, bowing her head respectfully.
Cleopas murmured something that might have been “peace” and returned to his slow plodding. He was clearly not in the mood for talk.
Instead of striding past them, the stranger slowed his pace to match theirs. “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” he asked. His voice held a note of compassion. Miriam flushed. Their sorrow must be obvious even from a distance.
Cleopas stopped so suddenly that Miriam stumbled into him and stepped on his heal. He turned to the stranger. “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened here in these days?” he demanded.
“What things?” the man asked.
Miriam almost laughed. Was there anyone in all Judea who hadn’t heard?
Cleopas shook his head in disbelief. He planted his staff in the dust and turned his face toward Emmaus. “About Yeshua of Nazareth,” he said, marching forward with determination. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.”
His voice took on more life than Miriam had seen in him since the rabbi’s arrest. She hurried after them.
The stranger bent his head attentively as Cleopas continued. “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death. And they…crucified him.” His voice broke.
When he had controlled his emotions enough to continue, he spoke so low Miriam barely heard him. “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Cleopas set his jaw. His eyes looked straight ahead, and he walked a little faster as if he would happily leave this ignorant stranger behind.
But the stranger kept pace beside him. His head nodded with understanding in a motion that seemed vaguely familiar to Miriam. Did she know this man from somewhere? Surely he had not been among the followers of the rabbi or he would have known what had occurred.
Cleopas said no more. But he had left out the most important part!
“And what’s more,” Miriam put in, heedless of being a woman among men, “it is the third day since all this took place.”
She refused to let her husband catch her eye. He would scowl at her to be silent, but she would not. She could not! “In addition, some of our women amazed us.” Her heart fluttered with excitement at their message.
The stranger turned an interested face toward her. She knew that face. Didn’t she?
She rushed on before Cleopas could silence her with his talk of the foolishness of women. “They went to the tomb early this morning, but they didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive!”
The stranger smiled encouragement.
Miriam smiled back, the joy of the women’s message pushing back the pain of loss. She pursed her lips. She mustn’t talk so fast, or she would only confirm Cleopas’ belief that women were not reliable witnesses.
“Then some of our companions went to the tomb,” she continued more slowly, “and found it just as the women had said.”
Now that she had finished, she looked at her husband. He leaned heavily on his staff. His shoulder’s slumped. His eyes never rose from the dust of the road. The heaviness returned to her own heart. She bowed her head until she saw little more than the frayed hem of her robe and the little puffs of dust kicked up by her sandals.
“But…him they did not see,” she murmured.
The stranger walked silently along. He nodded his head in that way that tugged at the edges of Miriam’s mind as if she should remember.
At last the man spoke. The words seemed harsh, but his tone was full of affection. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
Cleopas raised his head. His brow was furrowed in concentration at mention of the prophets.
The stranger smiled. He stretched out his arms and laid a hand on each of their shoulders. His touch was tender, and Miriam found herself standing a little straighter, her step a little more confident.
“Did not the Christ have to suffer these things?” the stranger said, “and then enter his glory?”
Hope dawned in Miriam’s heart like the rising sun on the first clear morning after winter’s rains. She scarcely breathed as the stranger spoke. He began at Moses and all the prophets, explaining that Messiah was meant to suffer and then...oh, then the glory!
His voice was strong. He spoke with authority. He knew the Scriptures like no one she had heard but Rabbi Yeshua.
Perhaps it is true then. Suffering. Then glory. A tiny spark of joy flamed in her heart.
The afternoon sun sent golden light over the pale green hills. Poppies bobbed their brilliant red heads in the sunshine, and pale purple cyclamen danced in the breeze as the stranger talked to them of things long foretold but never understood.
Even Cleopas’ step was quick and excited by the time the mud walls of their village came into view. The stranger paused outside the gate to finish what he was explaining, but he didn’t turn in.
Surely he’ll go no further tonight, Miriam thought.
“Stay with us,” Cleopas urged, “for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”
Miriam leaned forward on her toes, holding her breath for his answer. The stranger agreed.
The men talked in the sunshine on the roof of the small house while Miriam swept out the main room and hurried to the well to draw water. She was relieved to find no vermin had gotten into the grain she had left in tightly sealed clay jars. The raisin cakes were still dry, and not moldy.
She spread three portions of lentils in a flat basket to pick out the pebbles, rinsed them and set them on the fire to cook while she ground meal and prepared the bread. There was no leaven in the house, but of course, that didn’t matter—it was Passover! Her heart sang as she scrubbed the rough wooden table and dusted the stools.
When the supper was ready, she called the men from the roof. Cleopas’ face glowed like the sun setting behind the hills. Gone was the dejection that had hobbled his feet on the road.
Miriam stood in the corner ready to serve while the men pulled stools to the table. She bowed her head and waited for Cleopas to say the words of blessing. But it was the stranger who picked up the still-warm bread.
He raised his eyes to heaven. “Blessed are you, our God,” he began as if he, and not Cleopas, were the host. Somehow the familiar words seemed to Miriam less a formula for beginning the meal, and more an intimate conversation with the Creator. “Blessed are you, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
The stranger broke the bread in two pieces. He handed one to Cleopas and the other to Miriam. She almost shook her head—she would eat later, when the men had finished—but she couldn’t refuse bread from the hand extended to her.
It was then that she saw the mark on his wrist—a scar, tender and pink as if newly healed. Its ragged edges were exactly the size of the heavy nail of a Roman executioner.
Her heart stopped its beating and seemed to stick in her throat. She raised her eyes to his face. How could she not have noticed the tiny scars on his brow where that horrible crown of thorns had been forced down on his head? How could she not have recognized those eyes that looked deeply into her soul and knew her—and loved her anyway?
“Rabbi!” she gasped. And in that instant she was certain that she glimpsed a twinkle in his eye as if the One they loved above everything had shared a joke with them.
Then he was gone.
“Master?” The cry came from Cleopas. “Master?” His stool tumbled backward with a clatter as he leapt to his feet, looking wildly around. “He was here! He’s alive! It’s true what the women said.”
Miriam laughed for joy. “Yes! It’s true!” She closed her eyes and drank in the incredible awe of the miracle. “He’s alive.”
“Where’s my cloak?” Cleopas tossed items here and there until he found it. “We must return to Jerusalem.”
“Now?” she asked. “Tonight?”
Her husband bent to tighten the straps on his sandals. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Miriam nodded, too excited to speak.
“We must tell the others,” he said.
The sun had gone when the two stepped out of their little house, leaving the uneaten meal on the table. Stars began to show in the pale gray sky. The road before them shone in the light of the moon. Miriam hurried after her husband. She had a feeling they would be walking a lot faster than they had that afternoon.
This story is part of a collection I have been working on that together tells the story of Jesus.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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