I have just put the bread in the oven—four beautiful, fragrant loaves. Their scent is beginning to permeate the house. That smell… well, there’s nothing like it, is there? It’s the smell of nourishment, of care, it’s the smell of life! I have always loved this particular part of women’s work, baking the bread and bringing it to the table. But now… it always makes my heart burn with joy, as I remember the day we were on the road with Jesus.
It began as a day of confusion… three days, really. My husband Cleopas and I were staying in Jerusalem for the Passover and of course the news—the terrible news—spread like a raging fire over parched earth. We had learned within hours of the terrible event, of what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth—whom we had believed to be a prophet. Whom we had believed to be the Messiah. We had heard how our leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and how the Romans had crucified him.
And we had hoped… how can I even convey to you what we had hoped? We had hoped that he, who wandered Galilee free as a bird on the wing, would lead our people to a life of freedom. We had hoped that he, who spoke of putting away the sword, would lead our people to a life of peace. We had hoped that he, who healed every kind of disease and malady, would lead our people to a life of wholeness. And how our hopes were no more. They were nothing but foolish wishes. Those in power had shown us what happens to those with dreams of freedom, peace and wholeness.
And so we had planned, on the first day of the week, to leave Jerusalem, to return to our village, Emmaus. We couldn’t bear to stay in that place where our hopes and dreams had been killed. We needed to return to family, and familiarity. We needed to go home.
But then another story started to spread—and this one wasn’t fire, it was wind, it blew into the place we were staying early that morning. Some women of our group astounded us. They had gone to the tomb early that morning, and they did not find his body there. They came back and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.
Cleopas and I whispered together in a corner. “What shall we do?” I asked. “What can we do?” he said. “There’s nothing for us here. There’s nothing but cruel taunts, inviting us to hope again and be crushed again. There’s nothing to do except to go home.” And so that is what we did. On that day of confusion we set out for our home village.
I love to walk with my husband. He is unusual, I think, in that he likes to talk. And that is what we do, when we take a journey of several hours or more. We talk about all the things we don’t have time to talk about in the day-to-day busyness of our lives. We talk about what matters to us. That day, we talked only of Jesus.
We talked of the day Cleopas first saw him. He had been working with his brother hauling rocks from a quarry to build a pavilion for a wealthy man in our town. Emmaus is known for its hot springs, which means those with money travel here for their health. Cleopas and Markus paused in their work, in the heat of the day, and saw a man sitting by a well, surrounded by people who were jostling one another to get closer to him. When they too moved closer, they heard him tell the most remarkable tale—a tale about a Samaritan and some Jews and a man who had been beaten by robbers and left for dead, and how the Samaritan saved him, while the Jews did nothing. Markus scoffed and turned back to his work, but there was something in the words that captured my husband’s attention. “Is it possible?” he’d asked me that night, as we leaned together over our supper. “Is it possible that not all Samaritans are evil and godless? I’ve never thought about it before.” The next day Cleopas took me to see him. I was skeptical. But Cleopas was insistent. He had learned his name—Jesus, of Nazareth—and he had heard that, not only was he a teacher, but also a healer.
As Cleopas pulled me through the village, I felt my face burning with shame. I knew why he was taking me to see this healer. We had been married for more than three years, and I had yet to bring forth a child. The other women were starting to look at me with that terrible pity they get when they decide one of us is barren. A woman who is not a mother in my village—well, she may as well be dead. She has no value. Not to my Cleopas, though. I knew my husband treasured me. I knew that I had value to him. But it still pained me that he thought I needed to be healed.
When we arrived, there was a great commotion. The crowd gathered around Jesus was full of men shouting, and arguing. At the center of it all, a man sat on the ground at Jesus’ feet, talking quietly with him. But when we drew near enough to see who man that was—Cleopas and I clutched one another in shock. It was Jacob, the beggar. Jacob, cousin to my cousin. Jacob, who had never been able to utter a word. Jacob, who now was conversing with Jesus as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Jacob had been mute, and Jesus had opened his mouth.
Cleopas turned to me and said, “Mariam, what more evidence do we need? This man—he is the Messiah. He is the one who will save our people. I don’t understand everything he says, but the power of God is in him.” And that day we became his followers. We didn’t leave our home; we couldn’t. But we followed him from afar. We met others who believed he was the Messiah. We heard by word of mouth when he would be anywhere near, and we went to see him, as far as a two-day walk, just to be near him.
We talked of all these things as we walked toward our home. As we walked and talked, a stranger joined us on our journey. It was not such an unusual thing. Pilgrims were leaving Jerusalem, now that the great Sabbath of Passover was past. It is always safer to travel with company than to go alone on unknown paths.
As Cleopas and I paused in our conversation, the stranger asked what we were talking about. When I heard his voice, it struck me: there was something familiar about it, but I didn’t give it much thought. In our village, everybody was somebody’s relative. Cleopas asked him, incredulous, how it was he knew nothing about Jesus. But then the stranger began to talk, and it was clear: he knew everything.
He began to tell us about the Messiah, and how it was necessary—necessary—for him to suffer, and only by suffering would the glory of God truly be revealed. He explained that the Messiah had been foretold by the prophets—he reminded us of the words of Isaiah, “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases… by his bruises we are healed. [Isaiah 53:4-5].”
He told us how God was victorious over death, and that the Messiah truly lived, just as the women had said.
We were silent, and our hearts began to burn with something indefinable, something we would only understand much later. But it was as if we had been walking around in a fog—a cold cloud of misery and grief and crushed hopes—and now, the sun was coming out, on that dusty road, all because of the words of a stranger.
As we approached our village, the stranger bid us farewell, but we couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. Cleopas asked him, pleaded with him— “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” And so he entered our home.
Everything that followed was somehow familiar and brand new all at the same time. I ran to my sister’s house for some bread, and then we sat at table together. My sister had just taken the loaves from the oven for her own family’s meal. The smell of the good grain and the yeast filled our small room, and it was warm in my hands as I carried it home. The stranger took the bread in his hands and closed his eyes in prayer: “Baruch atah Adonai Eloheynu, melech ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz; Blessed are you, Lord God, king of all creation, who brings forth bread from the earth.” And he broke the bread and gave it to us.
That was the moment when we saw. That’s when the fog lifted. That’s when we understood, finally, that Jesus was with us. That’s when we knew him, when he broke the bread and shared it with us. That’s when we understood we had been on the road with Jesus all day long. As I took the bread from his hand, he looked into my eyes, and I knew that I was healed—but not in the way Cleopas had anticipated. I don’t have a child. But I knew in that moment that my value did not depend on being able to produce a child. I knew myself to be loved, by my Messiah and my God. That is how I was healed.
everlasting reminder. Every time that scent fills our little house, I know that he is with us still, and that we are taking the good bread from his hands.. Every time Cleopas and I walk together, I know that we are on the road with Jesus again. I know that he is, truly, leading us to freedom and peace and wholeness after all. Thanks be to God. Amen.