“The Road to Emmaus” Colchester Federated Church, April 23, 2023, (Luke 24:13-35) Third Sunday of Easter

On the Third Sunday of Easter, we can explore another Resurrection appearance.  In this story, we turn to Luke’s Gospel.  Now Luke doesn’t talk about Mary Magdalene and the other Mary with the earthquake and the angel at the tomb like in Matthew’s Gospel.  (As an aside, I still feel bad for “the other Mary” being known as “the other Mary” for all time).  Anyway, nor does Luke talk about Jesus speaking extensively in the garden with Mary Magdalene or Jesus appearing before Thomas and compassionately meeting him with all those doubts like in John’s Gospel.  Nope, Luke’s famous Easter story is known as “The Walk to Emmaus” or the “Encounter on the Emmaus road.”[1]

Luke begins by telling us that two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus on that same day—Easter Sunday.  The women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women) had gone to the tomb that morning with fragrant spices they had prepared to anoint Jesus’ body.  The women discovered that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found.  The women encountered two men in gleaming bright clothing (probably angels, though Luke doesn’t explicitly share that they are angels).  Anyway, the angels tell the women that Jesus has been raised.  The women return from the tomb and report everything they saw to the other disciples.  Yet (this is Luke chapter 24 verse 11): “their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women.”[2]  (eyeroll)

Moving on, Peter (at least and to his credit) runs to the tomb after the women share their experience.  Peter bends over and looks inside, seeing only the linen cloth.  But Peter just returns home wondering what happened.  Then it’s as if the camera pans over to two disciples walking to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem.  The Risen Christ appears to these two disciples and joins them on the journey.  Except they have no idea that it’s Jesus.  We don’t know why.  Luke simply tells us, “They were prevented from recognizing him.”[3]  Jesus asks what they were talking about as they were walking along and Cleopas asks if he’s the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened over the last few days.  Jesus inquires, “What things?”[4]  And they launch into the events that just transpired.  Jesus himself explains why all of this had to come to pass, even interpreting everything written about him starting from Moses and going all the way through the prophets.  Yet, Cleopas and the other disciple still don’t recognize that this person walking alongside them and sharing some of the mysteries of the universe (if you will) is Jesus.

They all finally arrive at Emmaus and Cleopas and the other guy invite Jesus to stay with them because it was nearly evening.  Jesus agrees and takes a seat at the table.  Then “He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.”[5]  Only then do they realize that this person who they traveled with all day long was Jesus.  Only then do they acknowledge that their hearts were on fire when he spoke to them along the road and explained the scriptures.  Only then do they figure out the truth of the Resurrection.  And even though it’s now nearly dark (and it’s not as if people had cell phone flashlights let alone streetlights to guide them), Cleopas and the other guy (people should have really been better about remembering peoples’ names back then!) travel all the way back to Jerusalem. 

The men find the disciples and their companions and tell them, “The Lord really has risen!”[6]  Hopefully the disciples actually believe them!  And how did they know for sure that it was Jesus?  Through the blessing and breaking and sharing of the bread.

The Easter encounter on the Emmaus road inevitably makes modern Christians think about Communion—the sharing of the bread and the cup that we experience in worship services.  There are reasons why we do what we do in the Christian Church.  The walk to Emmaus can serve as a reminder. 

This story can also make us think about food in general because this mystical moment happened after Jesus took a seat at a table with these two men, presumably because they were about to eat dinner together at the end of a long day of traveling.  New Testament Professor Mark Allan Powell wrote that one of the characteristics of Luke’s Gospel is that it displays “an unusual interest in food.”[7]  I just love that, and maybe that’s part of the reason why Luke is my favorite Gospel.  There’s 24 chapters in the Gospel according to Luke and 19 meals are mentioned!  Luke’s interest in food is all over the pages of the Gospel he wrote.  Jesus appears to be eating all the time—Jesus talks about food, tells parables about banquets, and he even gets criticized for eating too much and eating with the wrong people.  Food may just be a metaphor for life.  When food is shared with one another that means that we are sharing our lives. 

Finally, this Gospel story can make us contemplate the Christian emphasis on incarnation (that Jesus is God-with-us in human form) and that our faith in and of itself is about embodiment.  For instance, Harvard Divinity School Professor Stephanie Paulsell has written about the Christian practice of honoring our bodies.  Paulsell shared: “The Christian emphasis on the incarnation of God’s presence in Jesus and the Christian understanding of community, which describes the church as the body of Christ, both put embodiment at the center of Christian meaning.  Jesus’ command that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves makes it clear that our faith has everything to do with how we live as embodied people.  And when we gather to worship, we do things together that bring this command to life: in the meal of communion, we eat and drink, gathered together by Christ’s own wounded body; in baptism, it is our bodies that are bathed in cleansing water, in the passing of the peace, we touch one another in love and hope.”[8]

The Road to Emmaus is one of those Gospel stories that helps us to remember that embodiment is at the center of Christian meaning.  Sometimes we long for mystical moments or significant religious experiences.  We may especially identify with Thomas as we explored his story last Sunday of that deep yearning for an authentic encounter with the Risen Christ.  On the surface, we have another example of a mystical moment with Cleopas and his friend this morning.  After all, Jesus walks with them for seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  Jesus sits down to eat with them.  At the table, Jesus takes the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, but he disappears from their sight.  This is another remarkable story of an encounter.

Though part of what makes this story so moving is that this holy moment happens over the simple sharing of a loaf of bread.  The men see and understand Jesus as the Resurrected Christ because of the familiarity of the outwardly simple act itself—sitting down at table, taking bread, blessing it and breaking it, giving it to them.  This act that Jesus must have invited them to be part of so many times before causes them to see him as the Risen Christ.  It’s beautiful in its familiarity and simplicity.  

When you and I gather to worship God as a Christian community, when we participate in the Sacraments like Communion and Baptism—we do so as people with minds and hearts and bodies.  We worship together as the gathered Body of Christ in this time and in this place in Colchester, Connecticut—in a real community.  Our time together may not always feel as miraculous as the Risen Christ sitting down at the table with us.  Yet we Christians dare to believe that Jesus is here in and among us.  In a way, every time we gather, we participate in something holy.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] The titles of Luke 24:13-35 in The HarperCollins Study Bible and The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha.
[2] Luke 24:11, CEB.
[3] Luke 24:16.
[4] Luke 24:19.
[5] Luke 24:30-31.
[6] Luke 24:34.
[7] Mark Allan Powell, Fortress Introduction to the Gospels, 92.
[8] Stephanie Pausell, “Honoring the Body” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, Dorothy C. Bass, Ed., pg. 16.

Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash