Thought for the day
We come to Easter faith by acknowledging the hungers of the heart (“our own hope had been”), by searching the scriptures (“our hearts burning within us”), by holding on to the story of the first disciples and witness of the women, by the Eucharist (“the breaking of the bread”) and by sharing our faith (“they told their story”). Is there more? As the story starts, he stops them. Towards the end of the story, they stop him from walking out of their lives, perhaps for ever. The moment of desire leads to the moment of recognition and a life-changing encounter.
Open our ears, O Lord, to the words of Scripture, that our hearts may burn within us. Open our hearts to share with others the faith we have received, that “we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom 1:12).
The Walk to Emmaus
Luke 24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognising him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then 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?” 19 He 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and 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. 24 Some 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.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Luke 24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him, and he vanished from their sight. 32 They 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In all four gospels, there are two kinds of stories recounted regarding the resurrection. (i) Resurrection Proclamation stories and (ii) Resurrection Appearance narratives (none in the original Mark, which ended at 16:8). Each writer uses the tradition both to proclaim the resurrection and to show how we may arrive at Resurrection faith. This is very much the case in Luke 24:13-35.
Kind of writing
A story unique to Luke — the story of Philip and the Eunuch in Acts mirrors it. Both belong to a type of folktale in which the welcome to the unrecognised stranger turns out to be the decisive event of your life. In the Jewish tradition, there are stories of Elijah, interestingly, exactly in this role. The Lucan version exhibits the typical features of resurrection appearance stories: doubt, lack of recognition, revelation and mission. Notice that the reader knows more than the protagonists (with the exception of Jesus).
The narrative sequence: 1. Journey; 2 Jesus joins them; 3 recounting of events; 4 recounting of hope; 5 recounting of Easter; 6. Jesus’ reproof; 7. Jesus’ exegesis; 8. Meal; 9. realisation; 10. return to Jerusalem; 11. report of unreported previous appearance to Simon; 12. report of what happened at the breaking of the bread. In real time, the chronological sequence: 7-3-4-5-1-2-6-9-8-12-10-11. Although very smoothly told, this is a story of multiple stories, marvellously intercalated.
Notice the remarkable narrative skill in the manner in which the disparate stories are have woven into a single narrative. Thus Luke tells a story of men on the road, who tell what had happened in the city, who related what was related to them by women, who have a further experience of Jesus’ words and actions and who then report this to the assembled community which tells them in turn of further such events. Beneath the calm and almost matter-of-fact simplicity of this story, a complex process of narration is in process. You don’t feel jolted around. Notice the quantity of reported speech, when realisation comes later.
There is also a powerful concentric structure: slowness of heart is the centre.
Old Testament background
(i) There is reference to Moses (= the Pentateuch), the Prophets (meaning both historical books and prophets) and all the Scriptures (possibly meaning the last part of the OT, “the writings”). To find out which texts resonated with the early Christians, read Luke-Acts and see which texts are consistently referred to. E.g. Isaiah 53, Psalm 110, Psalm 118 etc.
(ii) In the programmatic scene in Nazareth, Luke 4:16-30 refers to Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6 as well as to 1 Kings 17:1, 8-16; 18:1; 2 Kings 5:1-14.
(iii) Perhaps the story nearest is that of Abraham’s hospitality to his three guests, unaware that they are “angels” (= God in reality). The Graeco-Roman reader would be familiar with such stories about the gods disguised.
New Testament foreground
Luke observes the “ingredients” of resurrection faith: my own hopes and longings; the Word of God (in this case the OT); the story of Jesus; the tradition of the women at the tomb; the recognition of hidden presence; the Eucharist; elusive “epiphanies”; checking my faith with the faith of the community. In a sense it means that we have to think of our story in the light of the Jesus story, and that in the light of the salvation history of the Hebrew Bible.
But such intellectual and personal synthesis does not suffice: the risen Lord himself discloses himself unexpectedly and elusively. The idea here is of an “objective” self-presentation, in the sense that it is not a metaphor for the synthesis of faith. Rather, Jesus takes the initiative. only after the encounter, however oblique, has happened can we recognise him in the breaking of the bread.
Then we retrace our steps to the community. Lastly, this discovery of faith needs to be tested against the community witness and remain always in communion with that in order to be “valid.” The story, then, provides a path of catechesis - while leaving the element of mystery intact.
Sometimes people feel it would be wonderful to know which texts of Scripture the Lord had in mind. But in Luke’s Gospel we do! Have a look at Luke 4:16-30.
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1Corinthians 15:1–11)
Verses 13f. This sets up the story, the characters and the situation. The reader knows it is Jesus and becomes an observer of the birth of faith.
Verse 17 He makes them stop.
Verses 18f Highly ironic that they should tell him, of all people, the story of his own death and resurrection!
Verses 25f. Luke makes Jesus do what the early Christians did: look to the scriptures to understand their astounding experiences.
Verses 28f. They make him stop. The scene does echo the Eucharist, but that is not the chief point: the Risen Lord comes into our lives when we desire him (cf. they urged him strongly).
Verse 33f. Mutual confirmation of faith stories.
Pointers for prayer
1. Jesus joined them and listened to them. “We had hoped....” They poured out to Jesus their disappointments. When you have been upset or disappointed who has joined you along the road? To whom have you been able to pour out your heart? Who was a ‘Jesus person’ to you, listening to you in respectful silence? To whom have you been a Jesus person?
2. Jesus then helps them to see things in another light by opening the scriptures to them. Have you had the experience of new hopes being formed after disappointment? When has your heart been burning within you? What helped you to form new hopes in the light of the new reality? Who was with you in this?
3. The disciples invite Jesus to join them at table - there follows a recognition of who he is. We meet many people on the road of life. Usually we meet and pass on. Occasionally we meet someone whom we invite into our homes, into our hearts, in a deeper way, and in a way that leads us to know people and to be known by them in a way we had not done before. With whom has this happened for you? Where in these relationships have you experienced the presence of God or of Jesus?
4. Jesus vanished but first he had given them life and they took up life in a new way. Can you name those moments of disclosure that enabled you to return to daily life renewed?
O God of mystery, out of death you delivered Christ Jesus, and he walked in hidden glory with his disciples. Stir up our faith, that our hearts may burn within us at the sound of his word, and our eyes be opened to recognise him in the breaking of the bread.
Grant this through Jesus Christ, the first-born from the dead, who lives with you now and always in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.