Meeting Jesus on the Emmaus Road and the ocean floor

By Danielle Tumminio
Posted Apr 23, 2012
Danielle Tumminio

Danielle Tumminio

[Episcopal News Service] There’s a lot to worry about as a scuba diver: decompression sickness, burst lungs, limited air supplies, and inhospitable sea creatures. But none of this compares to the question most feared by a scuba diver: “Why did your buddy vanish?”

Staying with your buddy is the cardinal rule of diving: The buddy is a lifeline with extra air, an extra pair of eyes to spot danger, an extra body for protection. You place your trust, your safety, even your life, in that person.

Which explains why I panicked when—six years ago and 60 feet underwater—my scuba partner disappeared. He was staring at a particularly colorful anemone, but after I turned away for a second to grab for my oxygen gauge, he was gone.

I looked up. A school of fish passed, but not my buddy.
I looked to the right and saw a boulder.
I looked behind me, and there was nothing but dark blue water.
I thought he was gone, and I thought, in that moment, that I would never get over the loss.

But a few seconds later, just as I was about to return to the surface in hopes that he’d done the same, my buddy swam out from behind the large boulder, signaling that he’d lost his balance in a strong current, and landed on the ocean floor behind it. I couldn’t see him for the enormity of the stone, but he’d been there all along. As he grabbed my hand, my heart rate slowed, and we continued our journey together.

Although on a different scale, I imagine the disciples experienced those kinds of roller-coaster emotions around the time of Jesus’ death. They’d spent weeks traveling beside their teacher, their Savior, watching him heal the sick and preach the Gospel. And then in a matter of days, they saw him degraded, tortured, dead.

There was also, of course, the strange matter of his body’s disappearance.

In their shock and grief, one group of disciples walked along the Emmaus Road, telling this spiritual odyssey to a stranger. Then, in the sharing of a meal, something happened: Their eyes saw this stranger differently and they realized it was Jesus, and he’d been with them all along.

Just as fear and sadness blinded me from seeing my buddy, so the disciples were blinded from seeing theirs. (Gives a new meaning to the Buddy Christ, doesn’t it?)

But the disciples have one thing on me: they saw the resurrection miracle—they got to witness the real thing.

None of us are as lucky as those two disciples, who walked beside Jesus on the Emmaus Road and shared a meal with him. Without concrete evidence, it becomes easy for us to wonder if Jesus’ resurrection was just the elaborate prank of all time.

Maybe Peter convinced the other disciples to steal the body….
Maybe the women who discovered the empty tomb only said they saw an angel…
Maybe Jesus pretended to die on the cross…

When questions like these arise, it’s almost as if doubt becomes the huge underwater boulder that keeps us from seeing our buddy, and our faith isn’t strong enough to move it. I think God realized that this might happen, that belief without tangible proof is too much to ask of us, just as God knew the same about the disciples on the Emmaus Road.

I think God also knew that we like to eat.

Which perhaps is why the disciples’ eyes were only opened to Jesus’ true identity in the bread and wine. And that, I think, is where their story overlaps with ours. You see, biblical scholars believe that the disciples on the Emmaus Road weren’t the ones at the Last Supper. They hadn’t seen Jesus break bread before. Which means that these disciples weren’t remembering something they’d already seen; they were experiencing a new thing. Jesus gives us that same opportunity: In sharing that Holy Communion together, we meet the risen Christ. We are given evidence.

But we are also asked to believe that Christ will always be beside us, even when communion is complete, when only crumbs remain on the table and the wine goblet is empty. Having experienced communion, our faith becomes a little stronger. Knowing we can come back, reach out our hands and taste the bread and wine again, faith becomes stronger still, making it easier to believe that God is always there, even when evidence is not.

As we walk down the long Emmaus Road of our lives, Christ travels beside us on the straight-ways and on the windy switchbacks, on land and in the ocean depths. For that, I rejoice, because it means that even as we descend to the ocean’s depths and rise to its surface, we will always have a companion beside us.

– The Rev. Danielle Tumminio lectures at Yale University and is the author of God and Harry Potter at Yale. She currently serves as an interim associate at St. Anne in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Statements and opinions expressed in the articles and communications herein, are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Episcopal News Service or the Episcopal Church.

Comments (1)

  1. Don Minton says:

    Hi Rev. Tumminio, and thanks for your kind and informative words regarding your visit to the Temple open house and your visit to the Hill Cumorah Pageant in NY. It is good to see some one open minded enough to say what they think without prejudices or narrow mindedness. I am a convert 33 to the LDS Church/Faith, and I have seen so much criticism and misinformation published by those who do not take time to find out what is true and what are rumors. You are indeed a special person who demonstrates the love of our Savior Jesus Christ in your life. I have always been interested in different religions, and have investigated most of the major Christian religions, and I found wonderful and good people who love their fellows and our Savior. I appreciate and respect other religions and their quest for truth and love and a closer walk with God. I know that some religious leaders are not true to the precepts of Christ’s teachings, these are not among those I appreciate. Thank you again for your blog, I will tune in and read more from now on. Don Minton

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