Gospel Contemplation: The Road to Emmaus
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
The walk to Emmaus appears in the 24th and final chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. It’s the first post-resurrection appearance that Luke describes – Jesus has been found to be missing from the tomb and two angels have announced his resurrection. But, in Luke’s gospel, no one has actually seen him yet. The disciples walk to Emmaus on Easter Sunday itself, confused and dejected because the one whom they had loved and followed had been murdered in a disgraceful way. They had had a lot of hopes for what he would do – and now he was gone. They’d heard the stories of his resurrection, and so had much to discuss and debate with each other.
Who were these disciples? One is named and Cleopas, and this other is left unnamed. Many biblical scholars have suggested that the other was Mary, Cleopas’s wife, who the gospel of John states was present at the crucifixion.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the grace of joy in Christ's resurrection.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”
And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
Imagine the scene… imagine the two disciples walking along the road. What does it look like? Is the day dry and hot, or cooler, even damp? Is the road in good shape or in need of repair? What’s along the side of the road – crops, fallow fields, or even houses? Can you see any hills or villages in the distance? What do the disciples look like? How are they dressed?
Where are you in the scene? Perhaps you are one of the disciples, or maybe there are actually three disciples walking now, as you’ve joined the other two. Whichever it is, imagine yourself there, walking down the road to Emmaus, talking about Jesus – the horrible things that happened to him, the promises he made before it all started, what the women who went to the tomb said. What are you feeling about it all? Talk about what it could all mean.
Perhaps as you discuss the grief, loss, and disappointment over what happened to Jesus, some of your own current loss and disappointment comes up. You can mention that to the disciples as well if you like.
You begin to realize that there is someone approaching from behind – a man. What does he look like? He seems happy to join your group, and asks what you’ve been discussing.
Notice his astonishment at your confusion over recent events. Listen carefully as he explains the connections between what Moses and the prophets said and what happened to Jesus. How do you feel as you listen? What is your reaction? How does it touch on your own current experiences of loss and disappointment?
As you reach Emmaus, you urge him to stay with you dine with you.
Go in to the inn with him, and settle down at a table. Watch as the bread arrives – and he takes it. He blesses it. He breaks it. He gives it to you. What happens inside you as you watch him? How do you react as you realize it is Jesus? How do you feel?
He disappears. You turn to your companions – what do you say to each other?
Talk with the other disciple or disciples about what has just happened, and how you feel.
And as your conversation comes to a close, offer a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?