Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: The Road to Emmaus Under Fire

Looking Back

Friday April 27 2018

Looking Back: The Road to Emmaus Under Fire

From the April 1918 edition, a World War One chaplain reflects on travelling the road to Emmaus while under shell fire.

"A Village called Emmaus."


29th November 1917

THERE is many a beautiful passage in the Gospel of St. Luke, but none more beautiful than the story of Cleopas and his comrade on the road to Emmaus. The name Emmaus claims a deep and holy place in Christian hearts, as a symbol of the triumph over doubt, and of the joy springing radiant from sorrow, which faith in the risen, victorious Christ inspires.

It was by an old Roman road that I went to Emmaus – not from Jerusalem, which was still in Turkish hands, but from the lovely village of Kirjath Jearim. It was a crazy, winding, rocky road, steep and difficult, fringing the crest of a high ridge – the only road to Emmaus, and for an open stretch under close observation.

To the west, down across the rugged, stories hills and deep valleys of Benjamin, a white town, like a town of dreams, thrust its minarets and palm-trees through the haze hiding the Philistine Plain; and the Great Sea shone far beyond. To the east, Jerusalem lay hidden somewhere behind her encompassing hills, from which the Turkish batteries boomed and spat their death.

A Company of Pioneers, stout, cheery Lancashire men, were busy on the road. “You’ll get some stuff over on the top,” they told me merrily. A troop of Indian Cavalry had just passed ahead of me. Behind me came a convoy of camels, carrying rations – a fleet of ships of the desert, incongruously and painfully afloat upon the hill-tops! “I advise you to keep clear of the camels!” said the Pioneer. But we reached the cover of a steep shoulder of the hill, my horse and I, with never a shell over, and took our luncheon with the hospitable gunners of a mountain battery there.

During luncheon we watched the convoy passing nervously across the summit of the ridge; and no harm came to them with the shells that were sent them. But just as luncheon was finishing, another camel convoy met them carrying wounded in their lurching cacolets. They reached the open stretch of road; and we held our breath – Ah! if a shell strikes these! But they too passed in safety – hurrying, as camels hurry, in spite of the screams of the tortured wounded.

Later, there passed a party of stretcher-bearers, carrying for three rough miles their awful burden of serious cases which dared not be trusted to the cacolets.

So long as there had been personal risk, there had been exhilaration. But to sit in health and safety and watch the painful wounded pass that dangerous way, sickened and made fierce the heart. The road to Emmaus! This year of grace! Nineteen hundred years of – There was yet another Cleopas that day upon the road to Emmaus: “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed” us!

Emmaus, both by right of sacred association and from its natural seclusion, should be a lovely home of peace; and so must the Franciscans of the Convent find it in happier days. But as I passed in, the outskirts of the village were being pounded by every calibre of Turkish gun. It was the day of a heavy counter-attack on the hill called Neby Samwil; and I saw the minaret of the Mosque come tottering down under the blow of a Moslem shell.

Flying free above the Convent Tower, and bravely daring the blasphemy of the shells, flew the Red Cross of a Lowland Ambulance. Thank God for that brave, defiant Cross fluttering as if to shake its message wide over the land! The Unseen Comrade of the road seemed to steal by me, as on that day of old He stole to Cleopas. “O fools, and slow of heart to believe! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” Not in vain did He live and suffer; not in vain did He die. Boom guns, and rattle musketry – there flies, to defy your cruelty, the triumphing Cross.

Emmaus spoke, even on that bloody day, of peace – not “as the world giveth,” but of peace which must be won through pain and wounds; of the peace he giveth “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God.”

There were men on these hills of death who were sharing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings to the full of human sharing. For them, and for myself, I prayed, as I lay down to sleep that night before the flag, in the simple words of Cleopas – “Abide with us.”

Previous: A Dog with a Bank Account

Looking Back menu