26th April 2020. Luke 24:13-35 The Road to Emmaus: from fear to faith

Saint Luke is a skilful story teller, who can grab our attention and draw us along with him through his often-breathless accounts of the adventures of the apostles in the book of Acts in our Bibles, but who equally depicted the episodes in the life of Jesus with such skill that we feel we are there with him. In fact, a long-established approach to meditating on the Scriptures encourages us to imagine that we are participating in the events we are reading about. The account of the experience of the two men on the road to Emmaus which we have just read presents a prime example of a suitable passage for just such an approach. Try accompanying them as we reflect further and examine your own feelings and reactions, using all of your senses as the story progresses.

Here we have two men who seem as if they have been followers of Jesus, but they are leaving Jerusalem, thoroughly disconsolate after the events of the preceding days. Clearly one of them at least has a home in the village of Emmaus, which is believed to have been about 7 miles NW of Jerusalem. They were in such a deep conversation about what had happened that when Jesus caught up with them they neither recognised him, nor understood why anyone who must have been in Jerusalem during the previous few days, would not have known at once what they were discussing. Where had he been for goodness’ sake?

They then pour out their tale of hopes and expectations of this man Jesus of Nazareth, all of which had come crashing down with the catastrophic ending of his life, reducing them to a state of total despondency. They obviously had known him well enough to know that he had spoken of rising again on the third day, yet this was the third day, and all that they had had to go on was that some women, whose testimony in the culture of the time would not have been acceptable in a court of law, had come back from the tomb where Jesus had been laid with some tale about it being empty. They were obviously not impressed with this and had not bothered to stay around in Jerusalem to see what other information might arise about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. And like Mary Magdalene, one of those women, who had not recognised the man who stood near the tomb until he spoke to her, these two men also had not realised who was walking with them.  We all know that when we are convinced of one “fact” our eyes are closed to the possibility that something different is the truth. And Jesus’ resurrection was not something which anyone could possibly have been expecting. Or maybe that is not quite correct….

Jesus does not become exasperated with them, but he does rebuke them gently for not having realised the full import of the Scriptures which they would have been very familiar with. Many of the prophets who had preceded him, and who had pointed to his coming, had also suffered rejection, suffering and death. As Jesus completes his explanation, the little party is approaching Emmaus. The two men have reached the goal of their journey. What will happen next?

It appears that Jesus is prepared to continue his journey onwards, but they point out that the day is drawing to a close, and they would like to offer him hospitality. Jesus accepts this, and they go in to the house for their evening meal.  It is at this point that an ordinary Sunday afternoon walk becomes something much more significant.

We might not recognise the importance of what Jesus does next, but in taking the bread and offering the customary prayer of thanks, Jesus has taken over the role of being the host, even though it is not his house, and he is not the one offering hospitality to the travellers. So that is the first jarring note. And then something in his manner opens the eyes of his companions. They might well have been with him on the occasion of the feeding of the 5,000, when Jesus acted in a similar manner. It might be stretching the facts to think that they might have been there at the Last Supper. Whatever it is that has alerted them, in the split second between recognising Jesus and his sudden disappearance, the two men have “seen the Lord”, and their faith has been restored.

Having persuaded Jesus to stay with them because the day was drawing to a close, they now throw caution to the winds and scurry back to Jerusalem to let the disciples know about their experience. So they were evidently close enough to the central group of disciples to know where they were staying, Where news of Jesus’ death had led to the potential splitting apart of the small community of followers, now they are reunited as the good news is shared amongst them. These two travellers would have been able to add two significant aspects to the disciples’ experience, which would become the guidelines for the early church as it developed. In reporting Jesus’ reflection on the Scriptures to explain what had happened to him, and in his revelation of himself through the breaking of the bread, we have the pattern for our services which has continued to this day. Stay with them for a while, as you reflect on their despair, and then their overwhelming joy, their journey from perplexity and doubt to joy and worship and give thanks for their sharing of their experience with those first disciples and the impact that has had on us.