13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then 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?’ 19He 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, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But 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. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and 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. 24Some 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.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.
When I am training people to read the scriptures in church services I like to use this passage as an example of where we must put in the context, because we need to read several verses leading up to this part to understand what is happening. I ask those whom I am training to listen to the story as someone who has never heard it before, while I read it with just one minor adjustment: replacing “Jesus himself” with “He”, and I ask them to put up a hand when they can identify the individuals. No-one has raised a hand yet, despite years of trainings. The problem, which is amplified if we read directly from a Bible, is that we have phrases like “the same day” – which begs the question “the same day as what?” – and “two of them” – whoever “them” is. Quite often, the compilers of a “Book of the Gospels” will adjust the text to include the continuity so that people new to the church will at least be able to understand the message, but we have no equivalent if we are reading from anything else in the Bible.
The story opens with two followers of Jesus – if we stick to the concept that ‘disciples’ and ‘apostles’ were almost interchangeable, then verse 33 tells us that these two were not in the group normally called ‘disciples’ – walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a couple of hours’ walk away, in the afternoon of the day of resurrection. In my reflection on the scene at the empty tomb, which you will find under “16th April 2017 – Easter Day”, I mentioned reasons why Mary, in that case, and subsequently the remaining eleven, might not have recognised Jesus when she met him in the garden. Having watched Jesus die on the Friday afternoon and be buried before sunset that day, could anyone expect to see Him in the flesh on Sunday morning? We might walk along the road with Jesus and think “Gee, he looks like Jesus, he walks like Jesus, he even sounds like Jesus, but he can’t be Jesus because Jesus died about 48 hours ago.”
These followers of Christ certainly knew what had happened, including the underhand way in which the religious leaders of the day had secured the execution and the vast array of good things which Jesus had been able to achieve in His ministry, but they hadn’t got the message about the death and resurrection. Again, I think we might be a bit unfair on these men because their own experiences of death would have been accompanied by a total absence of physical presence on the deceased person after that point, and the classical teaching of the day was that we would all be resurrected “on the last day”. This “first day of the week” didn’t seem any different from any other except that two women had told a group of followers what was considered an idle tale about the events at the tomb [Luke 24:11]. That, of course, contradicts what we read in John’s gospel, but here Luke is holding the Jewish line that a woman’s testimony is not worth anything, and when the men who went to check didn’t see Jesus the story was considered a fabrication or hallucination.
Our learned followers proved to be not as learned as they might have thought. Repeated reference to scripture to highlight where it referred to what Christ had to go through for the sake of the Good News might have opened their eyes to what had happened, and why it was important, but the penny finally dropped with breaking of bread. They had almost forced Jesus to stay with them as it was nearly evening, but once their eyes had been opened they travelled all the way back to Jerusalem, in double-quick time, to meet with “the eleven” and tell them what had happened that afternoon. Their expectations of Christ freeing the Jews from their bondage on the third day had not materialised because they had not seen Him personally, until that encounter at the table. How often do we look for signs of Christ’s presence only to miss them because we’re looking for the wrong thing?
When we are walking, or driving, or flying, and encounter someone who has a deep relationship with God, do we ignore the message which God is giving us through that person? Do we require the person to actually give thanks and break bread in front of us before we recognise that God is talking to us through that person? Malcolm Muggeridge, an English author and part-time theologian last century was once asked if he believed that Christ rose from the dead. He paused, said “No”, paused again, then added “I KNOW he rose from the dead.” We have the advantage of knowing, like Muggeridge, that Jesus rose from the dead; we have the advantage of knowing some of what He achieved in His lifetime; and we have the advantage of knowing that He calls on us today, even if we are not prepared to listen and act.
What isn’t included at the end of this passage is what happened in that upper room immediately after these two returned to “the eleven” and told their story. If you can’t remember, or just don’t know, then I suggest you read Luke 24:35-48.