Luke 24:13-35 On the Road to Emmaus
Audrey Hinger loves to tell a story about this Gospel reading. Some years ago one of our children’s ministry teachers was teaching this passage. After reading it, she asked the children how the disciples knew this stranger who had been walking, talking and eating with them was Jesus. One of the students who was only four or five at the time said right away, “The clue was in the bread.” That is the point, isn’t it? When Jesus sat at table with them, he took the bread, blessed, broke it and gave it to them. Those were the same actions he had done time and time again. At the last meal he ate with them, he said: “Whenever you do this, remember me,” and they did. When we share this Eucharist and truly when we share any meal in the spirit of Jesus, he is there among us.
This passage has many layers. At our lectio divina last night, Sister Joanne lifted up a second thing to notice that is often overlookes. Jesus says to the disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Even though Jesus had told them this all along, the disciples didn’t understand. It is still hard for us to face suffering and imagine that there could be anything redeeming in it. We more naturally see redemption and God’s blessing in success. The fact that Jesus suffered and died was one reason why many people did not recognize him as Messiah. It was certainly the reason why these disciples had lost hope. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they told him on the road. This leads us to consider that redemption, hope and even God’s presence is not removed from us when we suffer. Jesus is present to us in suffering through the support of prayer and of others who walk with us. The Christian message is not so much about success as it is about faithfulness.
Finally, there is that curious note that as soon as the disciples recognized Jesus, he vanished from their sight. That has always caught my attention. Why did he disappear? I would have expected that he would stay around. They would embrace him out of joy, and he would tell them about what happened. Why didn’t he stay around and they all rejoice together that he was alive again? Cynthia Bourgeaux offers some insight into this in her book, Wisdom Jesus. She says that in the post-resurrection appearances, Jesus is teaching the disciples to recognize him present with them in a new way. As soon as they learn to see him in their daily lives, they no longer need to have him physically present with them to know he is there.
So this passage and others teach us how to recognize Jesus’ presence with us: in the breaking of the bread at this table. Indeed at every table where we remember what Jesus has done among us, he is present. We learn to recognize Jesus in the stranger at table with us, in the person who brings us new insight into Scripture. We recognize Jesus in those who suffer, in the hungry and those who provide food. We see Jesus in the prisoner and those wrongly accused, in refugees, and in the people who are rejected among us. We learn to recognize Jesus in our own suffering and despair. When we are tempted to give up hope our prayer can be that he might open our eyes and hearts to perceive him in the people around us.
When we do recognize him, may we share the good news: “Jesus has risen indeed and has appeared to me.” As we share our own stories of encounters with Jesus, he will be present to others as well. Amen.