You know how it is when something momentous and unexpected happens. That feeling of devastation, the coming to terms with the fact that life will never be the same again. The worrying round and round. Speculation that never quite succeeds in throwing any light on exactly what happened, or why, or what it will mean for the future.

Well that was how it was that day as we travelled home from Jerusalem. We repeated the facts, such as we knew them, to each other over and over. We wondered aloud how everything could change in such a short time. Jesus was popular with the people; we loved to listen to his stories. They weren’t just idle tales; somehow he always left you looking at the world differently, questioning the most ordinary things, seeing something of worth in people you wouldn’t normally notice.

He was actually a man of deep peace so it is strange that he seemed to cause such violent feelings amongst the religious leaders. Perhaps there is some truth in the suggestion that he threatened their authority. Somehow these leaders managed to stir up the crowd to call for his death. Where were his friends while this happened? We liked to regard ourselves as his disciples but we weren’t part of the inner circle like Peter, John and the others. Was it true that one of them had betrayed him? It didn’t seem possible yet that’s what people were saying. Then there were rumours that some of the women claimed to have seen him alive. Or had seen angels who said he was alive. The stories varied.

We were just trying to fit the pieces together, settle it in our minds. We’d walk in silence for a while then one of us would come up with another question, another piece that didn’t fit. And round we’d go again.

I suppose we were too engrossed to notice much going on around us; I don’t know where he came from or how long he’d been there but when the third person asked a question it brought us up short; broke the repetitive circle and made us see things afresh. He wasn’t confused or devastated by the story we told. If anything, he seemed exasperated that it wasn’t all as clear to us as it was to him.

By the time we reached home we too could see all the little hints and pointers throughout history that said this was the way things had to be; it couldn’t happen any other way.

He showed us God’s hand at work, moulding, shaping human history, deftly weaving back in the broken, fraying threads; picking up the pieces of human folly; always bringing new life out of stricken ruins. Familiar words of the prophets took on new meaning as he said to us, see how God spoke to this situation, to that; see how God speaks to the redemption of the world.

Horizons enlarged as he spoke. Nothing was beyond God’s love for his people. History was unfolding and we were part of it. God watered the desert; it sprang to life. He touched my heart and it sang for joy. I could have walked forever in this stranger’s company. As my feet kept pace with his, my soul soared with the angel choirs of heaven.

But we came to our home and he would have walked on. He’d shared so much but wouldn’t impose. We had to ask. Please stay. An invitation? Or begging a favour. We were honoured and humbled that he would grace our board with his presence. He took his seat, said the blessing, broke the bread. As he placed it in my hand, my eyes met his. And I knew.

I glanced across at Cleopas; he knew too. We turned back to our guest but he was gone.

Gone from our sight, and yet not gone. His presence would be with us forever.

We’ve told our story many times since rushing back to Jerusalem with the news that first evening, yet seldom has anyone commented on the providence that made us prevail on him to turn aside with us. But as the years go by, I often wonder how different life would have been if we hadn’t. Occasionally we speak of it but speculation is useless and we are just so thankful that we did. And we tell people, as I’m telling you now, if he comes alongside you, if you sense his presence, your heart burns at his words, then be sure to invite him in. You might not see him as we did but once he comes to you, dwells within you then you are blessed indeed and he will never leave you.