Photo: Mike Keneally (Unsplash.com)
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 recognising 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 recognised 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.
Luke 24:13-35 (NRSVA)
Conversation can be a eyeopener. It is one of the oldest and most widely employed methods of finding clarification.
Cleopas reminds us of the wide circle of people who followed Jesus. His name never appears in the lists of the inner twelve. He seems to be a follower who had simply, ‘…hoped that he (Jesus) was the one to redeem Israel.’
But before this seemingly chance conversation this hope is all but dashed. Perhaps this journey away from Jerusalem with his unnamed companion, holds an element of resignation. Is there any good reason to stay?
Of course, this is not to say there are no unanswered questions. From the beginning of this account these two are found rehearsing the story of ‘…all these things that had happened.’ As they walk they remember Jesus’ life, death, and the strange report of an empty tomb.
They are not alone. Everyone is talking about these things. Jesus remains such a widely considered topic that they are surprised to encounter one so uninformed: ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
It is a fair question. The arrival of Jesus sparked a level of interest that went beyond his humble entry into the Holy City. Crowds gathered for his trial as well as his arrival. His execution was a public, drawn-out event.
But these disciples are not asking about events. To be sure, their discussion, goes over the facts. At heart, however, theirs is an attempt to discover meaning.
And meaning can be illusive.
Perhaps this is why they find themselves embracing any opportunity to go over the story. They are even willing to open up to this sympathetic stranger.
How could they possibly do otherwise? Dashed hopes, grief, loss, and, since this morning, bewilderment. These mix into a cocktail of emotion that is not easily overcome. Cleopas and his companion are not rejoicing in the resurrection. They are searching for answers.
Their companion is not, however, as uninformed as they assume. We may be frustrated by Luke’s lack of detail, but this traveller interprets these last few days using the writings of Moses through to the prophets.
Impressive, but what is the question he seeks to answer? Luke is clear: the unveiled Jesus puts forward his conclusion even before offering his time-travelling analysis: ‘Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’
The companions are impressed: this mystery-man has kindled in them enough hope to inspire a longer conversation.
Our account reads as though Jesus also wants more. He is fishing for their invite. He acts as if he intends to go further. The effect is to empower them to articulate their desire for more: …they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’
And as Jesus blesses and brakes the bread they see more than they ever imagined: ‘…their eyes were opened, and they recognised him…’
Jesus’ vanishing at this crucial point highlights, I suggest, something of the purpose of this encounter. Upon their recognition the task is done. Jesus visited that these two might see ‘his glory’.
And their response: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ Perhaps they feel they should have identified him earlier. There is recognition in these burning hearts. They have been aflame before.
It is enough to get them straight back on the road to Jerusalem. They must tell the eleven.
They find the inner circle already aflame: ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Here is an intermingling of resurrection appearances that draw together disciples who are initially moving apart.
It is a regathering of the followers of Jesus around the resurrected Christ.
And all this is not merely an ancient gathering. Mysteriously this risen Jesus continues to be ‘made known’ in the gathering, conversing, sharing, proclaiming, and re-telling, that is the ‘breaking of the bread’.
Have you ever had an encounter that seemed random, but later made you wonder if it was somehow God-ordained? If so, how much did this change of heart have to do with the outcome?
In what ways do you relate to the ‘hearts burning within’ that Luke describes? In what way does this seem foreign and strange?
What do you think this story may be telling us about the nature of communion? What do you make of the direction change that Jesus’ breaking of the bread inspires?