GOSPEL: Luke 24:13-35
The colorful story of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus answers the question of how Jesus is to be recognized among us. Here, he is revealed through the scriptures and in the breaking of bread.
13Now on that same day [when Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene,] two [disciples] 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.
The story begins with past tense hope. We had hoped that that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. We had hoped. Now – that hope is gone. Despite the good news of the women, despite visions of angels and a message of resurrection – their hope remains in the past. This Jesus, this hope did not end up as they thought it would. He was not the messiah we were looking for. He didn’t save us like we thought he would. He died and the Romans are still running the show.
Remember on Easter – the women run with fear and great joy at the angels news that Jesus is alive. These disciples seem to be hopelessly journeying, till at last they meet a stranger. And then they stop. They stood still, looking sad.
Traveling on foot isn’t exactly safe. We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan and felt a twinge as a man is beaten and left for dead in a ditch by roadside bandits. And Jesus’ disciples were still very much in danger – other disciples are hiding out in locked rooms while these two are traveling on foot down a dusty dirt road. Judging by the news of gun violence we have heard this past two weeks directed towards innocent strangers, it’s a wonder they weren’t immediately defensive.
A reaction of violence toward the stranger is born out of fear, suspicion, and prejudice. And the word Cleopas uses isn’t just stranger, but more like foreigner. Like, “you’re not from around here, are you?” Jesus looks, and maybe acts, different, somehow, coming across as an unfamiliar outsider. Rather than defensiveness, they show vulnerability. Instead of suspicion, avoidance, or violence, they respond with curiosity and conversation. And wouldn’t you know it, Jesus shows up.
Of course, they don’t know it yet, but they go the extra mile to offer this stranger hospitality. Stay with us, traveling after dark is even less safe. Just stay and eat with us…. And they break bread together. And in sharing that meal, they see Jesus. And it’s not what you’d expect. Jesus shows up well outside the great city, on a dusty road to some now-forgotten village, alongside a couple of minor players in the story — one of whom Luke doesn’t even bother to name. In the face of an outsider. And they finally recognize him, not with fanfare or special glasses – but with bread to share.
Jesus had been with them the whole time. The Risen Christ was there in their hopeless walking, in their curiosity and conversation, and in the scriptures they discussed. He just wasn’t what they thought they were looking for – or their eyes were blinded by what they thought they were going to see.
They didn’t realize that Christ had been with them all along their hopeless journey. God is with us all the time. The risen Christ is alive in this world and in our hearts… but we don’t always. recognize him.
There is still a part of us that wants God to show up and “smash the patriarchy,” so to speak. Show up and heal everyone, set everyone free, make things equal and just for all. So we don’t recognize Jesus showing up, God at work, and present in the places we aren’t expecting. Not in the places in ways we had been hoping.
God has a tendency to reveal himself in the most unexpected places And I wonder if we don’t sometimes get so caught up in an image of how God should be, that we completely miss how God actually is. Perhaps when we act with curiosity and compassion, rather than suspicion and fear. When we are vulnerable with our hopelessness and seek conversation rather than avoidance. When we practice hospitality and share a meal. The blinders of our presumptions and prejudice are removed and we can see Jesus clearly in front of us – in the face of a stranger.
When they recognize Jesus with them, he disappears, but they remember the feeling of their hearts on fire…. With haste, they immediately return to Jerusalem — risking a dangerous journey after dark — to breathlessly tell the others “how he had been made known to them in the “breaking of the bread”. This is the choreography — taking-blessing-breaking-giving — through which the risen Jesus comes to us, again and again and again. It’s an echo of the Passover meal, which in Christian communities eventually becomes the Eucharist.
We look for the risen Jesus not in the form of a single figure, but rather in this act of love, acts of compassion, hospitality and hope, which can take all kinds of forms. After all, when the two disciples see Jesus along the road, they don’t recognize him; and when at last they do recognize him, they no longer see him (Luke 24:31).
“Jesus is leading them toward a more expansive way of seeing him, and a deeper form of life together: no longer dependent on his incarnate-in-a-single-figure presence with them, but rather focused on how he is incarnate in all kinds of ways, spiritually and tangibly present wherever bread is broken, wherever love is done, wherever captives are set free —
and wherever “our hearts are burning within us” along the way.” (Salt Lectionary Commentary)