From Jerusalem to Emmaus
By Rev. Dr. Noriel C. Capulong
Scripture Text: Luke 24:10-35
Let’s continue reflecting on this central event of the resurrection of Jesus and the stories that developed around this core incident. Based on all the four gospels, it is clear, the credit goes to the women as the first to discover the fact of the resurrection, the first to receive the news and the first to share and spread it to others although they at first were thought to be making idle talk only.
After the women’s discovery of the empty tomb, what follows here in Luke is the story of two men who discovered Jesus but only recognized him as the risen Lord much later. Here, we can feel the spirit of gloom within the circle of Jesus’ followers, something that is quite in contrast to the excitement and astonishment expressed by the women a few verses earlier.
As the women were running back to the place of the other disciples telling them excitedly what they saw at the empty tomb, here we see two men walking with very sad look in their eyes. They were walking slowly from Jerusalem to the small village of Emmaus not too far away and talking probably with heads bowed and shaking their heads over the events that had transpired in the city the past few days. They must be the picture of deep and bitter sorrow, utter disappointment, frustration and hopelessness.
They themselves were believers and disciples of Jesus. And they had put so much hope and trust in Jesus, as the messiah who was going to redeem them from their suffering from the oppressive control of the Roman empire. They were hoping he was really the one who would set them free as a people.
They were honestly expressing their feelings even to Jesus who had come and walked alongside them but whom they were not able to recognize. Come to think of it, but that walk of theirs on the road to Emmaus, filled with sadness and disappointment, with feelings of defeat and hopelessness, was actually a walk accompanied already by the risen Lord Jesus.
We may be too engrossed, too busy, expressing and talking about our pains and losses and deep frustrations, may be even anger, to discern the presence of one who was already walking with us, accompanying us along that difficult, even painful journey, listening well to us. Unrecognizable he may be but clearly, there is this someone who conquered death who is now walking in solidarity with those who bear the pain of what appears to be a lost cause, with those who are sorrowing in their life journey because of the failure to realize a long sought for change for the better.
The story becomes more interesting when Jesus, already walking with them, began to actively join in the conversation. He asked, rather innocently what were they talking about. They stopped upon hearing this question from this still unknown person, appearing so surprised, and said, “Are you the only one who has not heard of the things that have happened in Jerusalem these days?” What things? Jesus asked.
“Well, it’s about this Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. He was handed over to the authorities and sentenced to death and they crucified him, and really, we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel. And today, there was this news from the women that really amazed us who said that they went to the tomb but they did not find his body. They told us that they saw a vision of angels telling them that Jesus is alive and not dead. Some of us went to the tomb to see and found out just as the women had said, they did not see him.”
Jesus answered these men with a tone of exasperation. “Oh how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”// And then, beginning with the books of Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scripture. In effect, Jesus conducted a sweeping, comprehensive bible study with the two disciples while walking on the road, pointing out how the Scriptures (Old Testament) have actually anticipated his coming, his ministry, suffering, death and resurrection.
The road to Emmaus has become the scene of an intensive bible study seminar offered by Jesus to these two disciples. The road to Emmaus that was then full of the spirit of sorrow and defeat, of frustration and hopelessness, becomes a venue for a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. The road of deep sadness becomes a way towards a liberating, joyful consciousness. On that road, a new spirit came over the two disciples as they avidly listened to Jesus that they now refused to let go of their bible teacher even when they have already arrived at the village. They wanted to hear more from him, so they insisted that Jesus should just stay with them for the evening of that first Easter day.
So Jesus went with the two and stayed in their house. During supper however, they were caught by surprise when their guest, acted as if he is now the host. Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. Immediately with this act of Jesus, the eyes of the two were opened and they recognized Jesus as the risen Lord who had been with them all along. Then he vanished from their sight and then the two began to recall what had taken place earlier along the road to Emmaus. They realized how their hearts were burning within them while Jesus was explaining the Scriptures to them even while they were walking. It was Jesus who had been with them, keeping them company, teaching them all along!
Friends, we are here confronted with the mystery of the revelation of the risen Lord. Jesus as the risen Lord continues to reveal himself to us and to those who believe through two very distinct means- first, through serious study of the Scriptures that can keep our hearts burning and yearning for more. Through the Scriptures, we can have a grasp of the ways of God, how God has worked and revealed himself in history and among his people, how God has carried out his redemptive work for his people and for all who would follow him.
As far as Luke is concerned, the scriptures all point to Jesus as the culmination of God’s plan of redemption and that Jesus lived and died in accordance to what Scripture has mandated. We understand the meaning of God’s revelation because of the Scriptures. It is there for us to read, study and reflect upon in the same way as the disciples did.
The second means by which Jesus was revealed as the risen Lord was through the breaking of bread hosted by Jesus himself. That dinner meal with Jesus turned out to be a sacramental experience for the disciples. It became not just an ordinary meal, but a sacrament, becoming itself a channel of God’s gracious presence. As Jesus breaks and shares the bread with them, their eyes were opened and saw Jesus for who he really was, their Lord who just rose from the dead.
Our world these days have been filled with so much real hunger in the midst of the abundance enjoyed by so few, and a growing spirit of division and wall building by nations and communities to keep out the stranger, the unknown, the nobodies. But Jesus is telling us in this story, he himself is the stranger, and the moment we welcome the stranger, and the moment we share the bread with the hungry, that moment becomes sacramental, the moment when the Lord reveals himself to us purely as grace and love shared to each other.
We have here a very vivid testimony of how people of faith can actually experience the presence of a living God keeping them company in the midst of life’s struggles, walking in solidarity with them towards a better future, and making them even more rooted in Christ as we study the Scriptures and as we share the bread with those who have none at all.
Christ’s breaking and sharing the bread is an invitation for us to simply do the same- to break bread with the stranger, who may be different from us, and to share bread with the hungry and those who have nothing else for their sustenance. Only then can we ourselves become channel of God’s grace for others and arrive at our own Emmaus, an eye opening, life changing experience of the living Lord walking with us along the way. Amen.
NCC/ SU Church/ April 23, 2017/ Second Sunday in Eastertide