‘Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus … Jesus himself came near and went 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 recognised him.’ from Luke 24.13-35
The pain, turmoil and tragedy of that whole weekend would have been overwhelming for Jesus’s followers. Someone has called this ‘Post Resurrection Stress Disorder’. It was too much for one couple. They were going home.
But this is precisely where the ministry of the risen Jesus is focused – among followers struggling with faith and understanding. He came to then individually and in groups wherever they were to be found.
He knows where to find us too.
‘That same day’ (13)
What day was that? The day the tomb was found empty, of strange witness reports of angels and the message ‘he is risen’.
Jesus draws near them on the road
‘But they were kept from recognizing him’ (16)
Jesus is present but there is a willed unknowing of him. They could only see a stranger. To recognise the risen Jesus and receive his new life is his gift alone. The resurrection meetings are all the free acts of Jesus. He is not on demand. He is only known when he chooses to reveal himself. He is beholden to no one.
Now it is gloriously true that Christian faith encourages us to believe that God is with us and committed to us; forgives us and hears and answer our prayers; loves to reveal his ways to us. But it can leave us perilously tempted to treat God as if he is at our command, our personal chaplain who only finds his purpose in the work of blessing and meeting our needs. ‘We are so preoccupied with God’s relatedness, God being for us, that we do not attend enough to God’s hiddenness’, wrote Walter Brueggemann.
There is a necessary loss of control in the journey of faith. Jesus is beyond our command. This is not ours to grasp. It is for him to reveal.
Perhaps, in order for the disciples to recognise the risen Jesus, they had to first suffer the loss of what they thought they knew about him. It may be that until that has happened Jesus is not just unrecognised, he is unrecognisable. It all has to go.
‘We had hoped ….’ (17)
Jesus, the stranger draws alongside them. ‘What are you discussing?’ he asks.
‘They stood still, looking sad’.
There is place in the risen life for standing still. Of course Jesus knows all this. But they must tell it for themselves. He draws out their story. It must be expressed.
‘We had hoped’. There is place too in this resurrection story for disappointment. I am thinking of the mystery and frustration when and where new life happens – or doesn’t. We are living in times of extraordinary hard work and imaginative faith in the church – strategies, mission initiatives, prayer, leadership all proliferate. But they continue to be times of disappointment, loss and exhaustion.
We too know what it is to come to a standstill, look sad and need to confess lost hopes. There is a place for such feelings. We must bring it all.
Jesus, the stranger, now responds.
‘How slow you are’! (25)
They are rebuked for their lack of grasp of scripture. He calls them ‘dull’ and ‘slow’ and the Greek here suggests he speaks with strong emotion. Well I never like being told off. But this rebuke does at least suggest there is another way of living in this story and of doing faith – and that Jesus believes we can do it. His divine frustration is good news, born out of loving belief in us and who we may become in the life he gives. So let’s be encouraged. He believes in us. This is something here our faith can yet grasp.
‘Was it not necessary?’ (26)
This is a characteristic stress in Luke’s gospel where he often speaks of what is ‘necessary’ and what ‘must be’. Easter completes what must take place – the cross and sufferings of Jesus.
‘in all the scriptures (27)
Here Luke lets us down completely. He tells us that Jesus went through the entire Hebrew scriptures showing how they spoke of him – but then omits to tell us what Jesus actually said! Most commentaries struggle to know how Jesus would have drawn on the Hebrew scriptures. There are no direct, predictive statements in the Old Testament that anticipate a Messiah entering glory through suffering in the way that Jesus does. For Luke it is enough to affirm that the whole witness of historic scripture points to this moment and is now fulfilled in its outcome.
By now they are approaching their home. It is evening.
‘Stay with us’ (29)
Jesus is apparently continuing his journey. But they urge him to come into their home.
‘Stay with us’.
This is the only prayer in the story.
‘Their eyes were opened’ (31)
They are at supper. Luke structures his gospel around meals. They are places of teaching and ministry, and where prevailing assumptions of power and prejudice are overturned and Kingdom life revealed.
As Jesus breaks bread there is a moment of startled recognition. Their eyes were opened. We usually assume they are remembering the last supper and there are clearly echoes of that. But where else in the bible do we read of food that opens eyes? It is the first meal in the bible when Adam and Eve eat the fruit (Gen 3.7). ‘Their eyes were opened’. But it led to catastrophic loss, disobedience and separation.
This is the eighth meal in Luke – on the first day of new creation.
This meal signifies that the long exile of the human race is over.
Oh, stay with us too, Lord Jesus.
Break bread with us.
That our eyes may be opened.