Luke 24:13-35 (Common English Bible)
Encounter on the Emmaus road
13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.
17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
19 He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together.34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
Thoughts on the passage:
Like most pastors I have more than one “favorite verse.” One of them is definitely verse 35. I love the idea of Christ being revealed in the breaking of the bread. It represents a deep sense of the incarnation, but also that Christ is made known to us first and foremost in everyday acts that remind of us God.
We are looking at what it takes to believe in the resurrection. Understanding what God is doing through the resurrection is hard enough, but then taking those theological ideas and moving them into our hearts is even harder. Believing in the resurrection is not a theoretical exercise, it is a practical question of what we have faith in.
As the two disciples in our story are walking down the road they encounter the risen Christ. For whatever reason they do not recognize him. Maybe it is because Jesus looked different to them, but I think also it is because we see in part what we expect to see. I remember when I went away to school I would have the interesting experience of seeing people around me who could not possible be there. I was so used to looking for people that I knew that I would find their faces in people who looked like them, even though the actual person was hundreds of miles away. We do it in reverse too. We might be really used to seeing each other here on a Sunday morning, but what we look like out in the community, in our work clothes, or at the gym is very different. We might walk right past each other because we are not expecting to see each other.
I wonder if this is what happened with the two disciples. They see a man who looks like most other Jewish men. Does this man look like Jesus? Yes, he does, but they know Jesus is dead so they are not looking for Jesus. Instead they assume he must be a stranger. They walk and talk with him and move into deep conversation, never suspecting it might be Jesus because if there is one thing they are sure of, it’s that Jesus is dead. It is not until he breaks the bread for them that they see Jesus in a context they recognize, the action of communion, the reminder of his sacrifice. In that moment they see him for who he is.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Once we know something we mentally close our doors to a lot of other things. Article after article has been written about confirmation bias, the idea that you tend to find what you are looking for. Article after article is also guilty of confirmation bias. More recently studies have been done to show that even when confronted with facts to the contrary, people tend to hold onto their convictions. Someone who does not believe in climate change might actually be more convinced than ever about their beliefs even when shown facts that contradict them. The disciples had real evidence that Jesus was not dead but alive when he walked and talked with them, and yet they were so sure of what they knew, they could not see him in their midst.
I am not saying we can trust nothing and we should ignore anything we know so that we stay open minded. What I am saying is that when it comes to God, are we guilty of closing our mind to what is possible? Do we put God in a box? Or a tomb? Believing in the resurrection requires us to set aside our certainty when it comes to God and believe that so much more is possible. Instead of trusting what we know about the world, we need to trust what we know about God.
What makes the resurrection real to the disciples? It is the breaking of the bread. When they are reminded of Christ’s love and Christ’s sacrifice, they are able to see in the person before them the face of God. When they remember how great God’s love for them is, then they are able to believe that God would overcome even death to keep on loving them.
When is God’s love real to us? Obviously I would hope it is real in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, but it might be real in other places for each of us. Our challenge is to seek out signs of God’s continuing love and presence in our lives. These experiences of God will help us overcome our doubts and our certainties about what is possible and open us up to what God is still doing. It will allow us to believe in resurrection.
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you have experienced God in your life?
What makes communion profound to you? What keeps it from being a sacred moment?
What helps you to believe in resurrection?
Prayer: God, we constantly box you in with our certainty and our doubts. Help us to see your work all around us. Help us to believe that you are making all things new. Open us up to the wonder of your unending love and grace. AMEN