Friday, April 13, 2018

The Road to Emmaus -- Sunday, April 15

Luke 24:13-35 
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed 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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

What is most striking to me in this story is the way Cleopas and his companion don’t recognize Jesus when they encounter him. They spend all afternoon with him, walking and talking, and yet somehow overlooking the identify of a man they presumably knew well. Admittedly, they weren’t expecting to run into Jesus on the road to Emmaus: Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, the last person you would expect to meet while traveling is the friend you had buried just three days earlier. 

It is fair, I think, to wonder why these disciples left Jerusalem before the question of Jesus death had been settled. Had the stress of not knowing what was going on just gotten to be too much for them? Did they have someone in Emmaus waiting for them, and they felt they just couldn’t delay any longer? Were they afraid that rumors of a risen Jesus would bring a crackdown from the authorities? The story doesn’t say. Whatever the reason, the encounter with the Risen Christ would change the calculus, and the pair hurried back to Jerusalem.

Most of Luke’s audience had never met the living Jesus, and wouldn’t have recognized him if they bumped into him walking along the road, either. I think this story is likely offered for their sake, the ones whose experience of the Risen Christ began with the breaking of the bread. This story validates that experience, assuring them that even if they never knew Jesus in life, their recognition of Christ in the Communion table is a true and valid way of knowing him. 

None of us has ever seen Jesus of Nazareth, either, despite all those lovely Renaissance paintings.  No one knows what the living Jesus looked like, which has sometimes led us to re-make him in our own image and made it harder to recognize the Risen Christ. I suspect most of us would not immediately know Jesus if he were seated next to us on an airplane. But this story suggests that doesn’t mean we cannot come to know Jesus. Indeed, it assures us we can. Even though the Risen Christ comes to us in places we don’t expect and in guises that are not readily recognizable to us, we can come to see him clearly by the ways he is revealed  to us—in Scripture, through acts of hospitality, and of course, in the breaking of the bread.

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