A road to Emmaus

Acts 2:14a, 36-41                 Ps 116:1-4, 12-19            1 Peter 1:13-25  Luke 24:13-35

I have spent so much time with these disciples on this road this week! I have walked with them and listened to them and wondered about them. They have been with me as I’ve worked and as I swam. They’ve been with me when I laid awake in the night and when I slept. And, as is sometimes the case, the more time I spent with them, the less I understand their story. I began the week going ‘oh the road to Emmaus! I love this one!’ and have reached Sunday going ‘I don’t think I get it!’

So, we join them on the first Easter Sunday, and these two disciples are going to Emmaus, a village seven miles from Jerusalem, and they’re talking about all the things that have happened. And as they are walking, Jesus himself came near and went with them. They don’t know it is him, because ‘their eyes were kept from recognising him’ and he asks them what they are talking about. They stood still, looking sad, and can’t understand how this man doesn’t know what’s been happening these past few days.

And then they say the saddest three words of the human heart – ‘we had hoped’, they say. We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. We had hoped that what he taught us was true. We had hoped this was the new way and the beginning of life. We had hoped for so much but now he’s dead and we are disappointed and sad. We had hope, but now it is gone.

And the women have told us he is alive, but we went to see, and saw nothing. And the unknown traveller calls them foolish and slow of heart and takes them on a guided tour of scripture. From the exodus, through the prophets, he interprets what had happened, to them. And they feel something, but they don’t know what. And still they don’t understand.

And I have more questions than answers.

I wonder, why were their eyes kept from recognising him?! And what did the risen Jesus look like?

Mary didn’t recognise him – she thought he was the gardener. But then he spoke her name, and she knew him, so his voice must have been familiar. Thomas knew it was him as soon as he saw him – he said he needed to put his finger in the holes and his hands in his side, but as soon as he saw him, he knew.

But these disciples don’t recognise him even though he walked with them – with holes in his hands and feet – and spoke with them. They didn’t recognise what he looked like, nor what he sounded like. Why couldn’t they tell it was him?!

And then they reach Emmaus and Jesus goes to walk on ahead, but they ask him to stay, so he went into the house. And I imagine they are still chatting and still looking at him – do they not notice the marks in his hands? Do they really not know who this stranger is? But they feel something in their hearts; something other than the deep weight of grief that has been theirs all week. There’s something else there; what is it?

And they prepare the dinner.

They bake bread – that takes time – the flour and the water and the kneading and the baking of it and all this time they still don’t know who he is. Really?!

And then, they sit down to eat, and their scripture-teaching visitor takes this freshly baked bread in his scar-marked hands, and he blesses it and breaks it and gives it to them. And suddenly it is as if their eyes are opened, and they recognise him… and THEN HE VANISHES!! He was there and then he isn’t, and their response is to say to each other ‘I thought something was up’, or rather, ‘I thought my heart was burning while he was talking to us’. Well, I’ll say!!

And they get up and run the 7 miles back to where their other friends are and tell them they met this man on the road who turned out to be Jesus and they know it because of the breaking of the bread.

And again, I have more questions than answers.

How did they not know who he was? How did they not hear his voice and recognise him, or see his hands and feet and not ask? What did he look like? What did he sound like? Did grief really blind them to that extent? Wasn’t it obvious before the breaking of the bread?

And then I realised how foolish I am and how slow of heart – just like those disciples.

How often is it that we encounter the risen Lord and have no idea either? How often are we given a glorious gift from the creator…but fail to notice? Isn’t it a foundational belief of our faith that God is with us always, until the end of time, and yet we might walk with God for days or weeks at a time and never even realise it?

And isn’t that why we gather here together, around this holy meal, around the breaking of the bread, so that we remember? Because how foolish we all are, how slow of heart humanity is! We need all of our senses to be engaged in order that we might have a fighting chance of hearing or seeing or receiving the message of love that God is communicating to us over and over, all of the time.

Sometimes, like Mary on that first dawn, we might hear our Lord’s voice and know it.

Sometimes, we might be sat in our room and be aware of the presence of God with us. But those times are rare, really. And that is why we have the gift of this bread and wine, which becomes for us the very presence of the risen Lord, because sometimes we need to see and touch and smell and hold and eat. It is real and tangible and present, so that we can recognise the one we are trying to follow, trying to know and love, but are often blind and deaf to.

So, as pilgrims on the road, we don’t always know or notice that Christ is right beside us. As fellow travellers who meet together here, we don’t always believe the testimony of others. Sometimes we need our own encounter, something that makes our hearts burn within us, something more than explanation of scripture, something more than words. So God gave us the mass.

Take and eat, God said, this is my body – drink this, it is my blood.

Every time that we do this, may we pause long enough to feel our hearts burn within us. May we know we have encountered the risen Christ – that this gospel message is true – and, every time, like these Emmaus pilgirms, may we get up from here and go and tell others: Jesus is Risen and he has been made known to me in the breaking of the bread. Come and see. Alleluia.


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