Luke 24:13-35 NRSV
The Walk to Emmaus
13 Now on that same day two of them 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.
28 As 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.
I begin this week’s reflection with the aid of William Barclay and then will move on to other commentators as the week progresses.
This passage tells of the ability of Jesus to make sense of things when hopes and dreams have been shattered. Cleopas and his companion (many think it was his wife) were deeply disappointed: they thought that Jesus was the Messiah and that he was going to rescue Israel. Jesus walked with them. “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word” as we sing in this lovely him, so too can he make sense of things in our lives.
While on the journey, Jesus expounded the Scriptures to them. This has been central to my calling as a preacher because I do believe that the truth is to be found in a careful, prayerful study of God’s revelation to the world in the Bible. But we need to be cautious; as too often people tend to treat it literally when that is clearly not what the original authors intended. Careful, prayerful, study – even struggle – reaps rich dividends as God speaks to us through His Word today.
Notice also the courtesy of our Lord. He never presumed anything and waited to be invited to stay with them. Barclay writes: “God gave to men the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free will; we can use it to invite Christ to enter our lives or allow him to pass on.”
Jesus was made known also in the breaking of the bread. It is easy to think automatically that this is a reference to the Eucharist – and it probably is – but not only this special sacrament. The meal that Jesus was sharing with Cleopas and his wife was an ordinary meal in an ordinary home. Jesus is made known to us as we share ordinary fellowship as well as special occasions (sacraments) with others.
When they received the great joy, they were anxious to share it with others; they were eager to return the seven miles back to Jerusalem where they found others who had similar experiences. It is our joy that we share fellowship with others who have so much in common with us, we are always richly blessed. Barclay adds: “... true fellowship begins only when people share a common memory and can say to each other: ‘Do you remember?’”
Now I refer to the commentary by J C Ryle who points out the importance of spiritual conversation because it provides encouragement and that our Lord draws near to us in these times. Ryle writes: “Conference on spiritual matters is a most important means of Grace ... It brings special blessing on all who make practice of it.” When we do this our hearts, like those on the Road, will also be strangely warmed within us as we find encouragement.
It is also good to be reminded that Jesus never forces himself on anyone, but is always there when entreated. When they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus made as if he was going on. This is a special verse as it tells us so much about human free will. Scripture is full of references to this important feature in the human’s relationship with God: Jacob at Pniel, the Canaanite mother, the blind man at Jericho, the nobleman at Capernaum, the parable of the unjust judge and the friend at midnight – all these remind us of the need for persistence and to ask God for his blessing in our lives. Ryle comments: “All show that our Lord loves to be entreated and like importunity. When we pray ‘Let us ask much and ask often and lose nothing for want of asking.’”
How do we pray today? Do we miss out on God’s blessings because we never ask, or do we hold back when asking?
I am challenged by this thought ...
I now turn to the thoughts of G B Caird for inspiration ...
Jesus appeared to Cleopas and his partner ‘suddenly’. At the time they assumed that he was just another traveller. Later he disappeared – just as suddenly. This shows that Jesus was different – he was no longer bound by the rules of time and space. In retrospect Cleopas and his companion realised that they had been liberated when they came to understand the significance of the fact that Jesus has been resurrected. The dawning for them came in the experience of the breaking of bread – something so familiar – but now given special significance.
It took time. Like the modern day sceptic, they probably just thought that this sort of thing just never happened – could not happen. They were probably especially sceptical, because all their other dreams had also been shattered and – to begin with – Jesus had turned out to be a disappointment.
Jesus dealt with their disillusionment by expounding the Scriptures to them – not a selection of proof texts – but the essence of the message of all Scripture.
The joy of it all for me is this: that today we can (and do) have the same experience. As we spend time studying Scripture and as we break bread together, Jesus comes into our midst and is present with us.
I close this reflection with some thoughts from Tom Wright.
Jesus was not merely alive again – like Jairus’ daughter, the woman’s son at Nain or Lazarus – for they would still die again one day. Jesus had passed through death and had come out the other end a new, deathless creation ‘... still physical but somehow transformed ...’
When we realise that this same Jesus is with us in the Holy Spirit, and as he is present with us as we explore Scripture together with him, we too feel our hearts strangely warmed as we understand its truth. Study needs to bring together head and heart ‘... understanding and excited application.’
Jesus is the key to our understanding because Jesus is the focus of all Scripture.
We also recognise Jesus in the breaking of bread. Cleopas and Mary (his wife and probably companion) had not been present at the Last Supper and so what he did with them at this last meal, he probably had done with them countless other times. This was soon to become a defining feature of the early Christians. We too meet Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Take the Sacrament away and it becomes ‘... an intellectual and emotional exercise, detached from real life.’
Jesus journeys with us – and faith is our journey. We can face and overcome the challenges of the journey, because we do not travel alone. As Wright concludes:
“Hearing Jesus’ voice in Scripture, knowing him in the breaking of bread, is the way. Welcome to God’s new world.”