REFLECTION: Luke 24:13-35
Throughout the Easter Season we reflect on the meaning of the resurrection. Today, the third Sunday of Easter asks us to reflect on a very interesting account of the resurrection. It takes place on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, but it doesn’t take place at the tomb nor does it take place in Jerusalem. Jesus appears to two disciples who are fleeing Jerusalem. They’re walking along the road leading to Emmaus, a village, seven miles outside Jerusalem. They, like many of Jesus’ disciples, are fearful that the religious authorities will soon be seeking to arrest them.
They’re not walking along in silence. They’re engaged in deep and distressful conversation about what had happened to Jesus. He was a great prophet. He proved it in both his teaching, and in the wonderful acts he performed. So many people were hoping that he was the one who would redeem Israel making it an independent nation again. Ironically, their own chief priests had handed him over to the occupying authorities, demanding that he be crucified.
As was common in those days, another traveler walked up to them and joined them. It was always safer to travel in groups. When he asked what they had been discussing, they looked at him as if he were from another planet. Everybody knew what happened over the past few days. It was strange but, even though they were speaking with him, they didn’t recognize him. It was Jesus himself who was walking along with them.
So, they told him about Jesus the Nazarene and explained how he died. They added events that had just taken place. They told him of the report of some women who had gone to the tomb earlier in the day and had seen a vision of angels who announced that Jesus was alive. Others went to the tomb and found it just as the women had described, but the body of Jesus wasn’t there.
Here the account begins to move beyond mere reporting. The traveler took over the conversation with a bombshell of an announcement. “O how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and so enter into his glory?” Then, as they continued along the way, he taught them. “Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.”
Let’s take a moment to digest what the account has told us before we move on to its dramatic conclusion. This is an account of the resurrection. It involves two disciples who don’t yet know about, nor understand, the resurrection. Notice, there are two of them traveling together along the way. By noting that there are two, Luke is harkening back to another event in his Gospel: Jesus sending out seventy-two men, two by two, on a missionary excursion. He gives them clear instruction as to their mission. “Whenever you go into a town and are made welcome, eat what is set before you, heal the sick in that town, and say to the people there, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’”
These two people have abandoned the mission – they’re fleeing. They’ve forgotten all they’ve learned from Jesus. They’ve even forgotten their own scriptures – the books of Moses and the Prophets. Jesus reminds them of all they’ve forgotten. As he does so, we’re told at the end of this account, their hearts were burning! Remember that powerful comment Jesus had made: “I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49) Here it is! With their minds opened to the deepest meaning of the scriptures, Jesus, their companion and fellow traveler, set their hearts on fire! But the account isn’t over.
“As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”
These two disciples, enlightened by the scripture and their hearts aflame with the divine fire, are joined at table with this truly marvelous man. He assumes the role of the host. “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” This was what Jesus did with them many times. This is what he did with them the night before he died. They looked at each other. This is Jesus!
In that split-second it takes to catch each other’s eye, he had disappeared. “So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, ‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two recounted what had happened on the way, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
If you think this account is the end of the story, you’re so wrong. This is mystory. This is your story. The early Christians were called “the followers of the way.” We’re still walking along the way those two disciples traveled.
Maybe we’re fleeing because we fear the cross. Maybe we’re confused by the empty tomb. But the account is assuring us that he’s walking with us whether we recognize him or not. He’s with us when we venture into the empty tomb of our hearts. He’s with us when our hearts begin to burn with the divine flame.
But two things are for sure. We’re still discovering him in the scriptures. We’re still breaking the bread. The moment will come when our hearts will burn and we will recognize him, even for a brief moment, in the breaking of bread.