Luke 24:13-35


Jesus is Risen – Present in Word and Sacrament

Luke 24:13-35  -  The Walk to Emmaus 

This incident does not figure in other Gospels. It is either unique to Luke’s special source, or a creative exercise by Luke himself.

13 On that same day, two of them were walking to a village
twelve kilometers from Jerusalem called Emmaus. 
14 They were talking to each other about all that had happened.

Consistently throughout his Gospel Luke’s interest had been with the disciples, rather than simply the twelve. This would be a story of disciples. Perhaps it would be easier for Luke’s readers to identify with disciples than with the twelve. The village may have been their home (in which case they would not have been disciples who had followed him in Galilee), or it may have been simply their first stop on their longer journey back.

15 While they were talking and discussing together,
Jesus drew near and walked with them. 
16 Their eyes were held so that they would not recognise him.

They did not recognise him. The risen Christ was the same but different (not like Lazarus who returned from death no different from what he had been before he died – except perhaps wiser [and puzzled!]). He was with them without their realising it.

The walk to Emmaus is every disciple’s walk into the disillusionment served up at times by life. Disciples are necessarily ones who hope, who believe that things will be better, who pour out their energies to bring justice and compassion to the world. They are the ones who can be so frequently disappointed. And they cannot shield themselves from disappointment, other than by no longer hoping. It was to such disciples that Jesus came, unrecognised, but powerfully at work.

17 He said to them, "What are the things that you are discussing
as you walk along?"  
They stood still, gloomy faced.
18 In answer one of them called Cleopas said to him,
"Are you the only person staying in Jerusalem
who does not know what has been going on there these days?"
19 He said, "What sort of things?"

While the reader was told that one of the disciples was Cleopas, the other remained unnamed. It may have been one of the women disciples. It may even have been Cleopas’ wife. Luke rarely named women.

Jesus feigned ignorance, perhaps so that they might have the opportunity to articulate their grief, and in the process touch into some of the deeper emotional currents that were blocking their creative response to the events of the day. 

They answered, "About Jesus of Nazareth,
who was a man, a prophet
powerful in deed and in word before God and the whole people, 
20 and how our high priests and authorities handed him over
to be sentenced to death,
and crucified him.
21 On our part we hoped that he was the one
who was going to liberate Israel.  
And now with all this, it is three days from when all this happened,

Their sense of Jesus was that he was a powerful prophet. Their hope had been that he might liberate Israel. Interestingly, Jesus had spoken only indirectly of his role as one of liberation/redemption (though he had made the point that with the coming of the Son of Man ... your redemption has come close. [21:27-28]). His call to people to honour God’s offer of the year of favour was basically a proclamation of God’s readiness to redeem from injustice and oppression. 

The disciples’ hopes had been shattered. They had moved into depression.

22 ... and some women from among us astounded us.  
They went early to the tomb;
23 but they did not find the body,
and they came away saying they saw a vision of angels
who told them he was alive.
24 Some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things as the woman had said –
but they did not see him."

The disciples recounted simply what Luke had already outlined, with a couple of minor differences:

  • the women’s experience of their informants was called a vision (though Luke had recounted it as an appearance)
  • the men in dazzling clothes had become identified as angels
  • those who went to the tomb to check the women’s story were more than one (not just Peter).

The witness of the women, and the fact of the empty tomb, from their point of view proved nothing.

25 Then he said to them
"O obtuse men, so slow to believe all that the prophets said.
26 Did not the Christ have to suffer
and enter into his glory?"

Luke referred to Jesus’ suffering as necessary. The necessity did not flow from fate or from any direct willing on God’s part. The necessity was more an inevitability, given the sin of the world. Structures of domination and control cannot cope with people who set others free and empower them to love in justice and non-violence. Such had been the experience of many of the prophets before Jesus. They had not spoken of any necessity for the Messiah to suffer, though they had witnessed to its inevitability in their own lives, and in some instances had assumed his rejection by the religious and political authorities.

A Suffering Messiah

Isaiah had spoken of a suffering servant, without explicitly identifying him with the coming Messiah. The figure may have been either a symbol of the prophet himself, or of the People, or possibly of a future undefined person who would secure the salvation of Israel. (The verse cited is taken from a much longer poem.)

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53:3)
Zechariah had spoken of the “one whom they had pierced”: 
And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication
on the house of David 
and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, 
so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, 
they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child....
On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David 
and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, 
to cleanse them from sin and impurity. (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1)

Daniel had spoken of the suffering, but eventually vindicated, “Son of Man” (whom he also tended to identify with the People of Israel as a whole).

27 And beginning with Moses and going through all the prophets,
he expounded everything about himself in all their writings.

The risen Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for the disciples. What Luke portrayed as happening on Easter day, during what was left of the two-hour walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, in fact had become clear during the sixty years that would elapse between Jesus’ resurrection and Luke’s writing - through the power of the risen Christ and his Spirit at work in the Christian community. 

For Luke the death and resurrection of Jesus allowed a whole new re-interpretation of the Hebrew scriptural tradition. Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ. But, contrary to what was commonly understood, his life, death and resurrection showed that the Christ/Messiah and his messianic Kingdom transcended political and nationalistic definitions. The imaginative language of the Scriptures expressing hopes for future national glory translated easily to the new reality of kingship embodied in Christ. Christ’s glory would be the practical realisation of God’s vision and God’s empowering, liberating energy of love, expressed in concrete human relationships and structures, but never fully realised in them.

Christ’s death validated the paradox of suffering as the way to glory and, indeed, the price of glory (human wholeness and justice). It permitted a wealth of scriptural references to suffering to be integrated into the vision of a radically reinterpreted Messiah and messianic Kingdom.

Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures

In Judaism. It is important for present readers to approach the Jewish Scriptures respectfully. In hindsight, it is easy to find precedents for the life of Jesus and his teachings. But that was not what the Hebrew Scriptures were directly concerned with. They recounted the long journey of Israel towards clearer faith and ever-deeper liberation. They were written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, and they expressed a growing confidence in God’s ultimate triumph in history. But they witnessed to no universally accepted expectation of a Messiah.

In the Church. Yet it remains fascinating for the Christian believer to discover just how much the Hebrew Scriptures help to open the mind and heart to the mind and heart of God. They were, after all, what had nourished Jesus, and his mother and father before him. Interpreting the Scriptures had been a constant thrust of the early Christian communities. It really must have been for them a revelation to notice how much of what was written there seemed to have anticipated the teaching and experience of Jesus.

28 They drew near to the village where they were going,
and he pretended that he was going further.
29 They prevailed upon him, saying, "Stay with us.  
It is nearly evening, and the day is drawing to its close."  
He went inside and stayed with them.

There was something delightfully warm about the invitation of the disciples. They had taken to heart at least some of the teachings of Jesus.

30 As he was reclining with them at table,
he took the loaf of bread,
said the blessing,
broke it
and gave it to them.
31 Their eyes were opened and they recognised him.  
Then he vanished from them.
32 They said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us,
as he was talking to us on the way,
and as he opened the Scriptures for us?"

Luke’s language describing the action of Jesus was clearly Eucharistic. Luke’s community gathered for Eucharist were like the two disciples who were able to recognise Jesus present with them then, and present with them before even when they were unaware of his identity. Luke may not have intended that the meal with the two disciples be seen as a formal celebration of Eucharist. The Eucharistic connotations were added for the benefit of his own community and of later readers.

The Jesus who came without notice vanished without notice. But he had truly been with them, and his presence was real. In the light of their insight, they were able to make sense of their earlier experience when their hearts were burning within them ... on the way. Jesus’ word had struck a deep chord, but Luke was making the point that they needed the experience of Eucharist to interpret it.

What was their experience? Was it excitement? insight (the “penny dropping”)? the rekindling of hope? admiration? the pain of recognising their own blindness? a deeper sense of their own abandonment of Jesus in his moment of trial? Luke did not elaborate further.

Luke wished to emphasise that:

  • the risen Christ was truly with disciples even when unrecognised;
  • he was present with them in the Eucharistic meal;
  • he was present with them in their reflection on Scripture;
  • the factor that made their final experience possible was their opening of their hearts in welcome.

Earlier in his ministry Jesus had expressed his hope: I came to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish that it catch fire! (12:49)  Hearts that had previously been so slow to believe, through the presence and enlightenment brought by Christ, had truly caught fire.

Noticing the Presence of God

The presence and action of God are most often recognised in hindsight. The touch of God is always transient. By the time it is recognised for what it is, it has passed. Direct experience cannot be looked at; it can only be experienced. That is why the task of remembering is so important. The remembering to some extent brings the past experience into the present. In the process it becomes inevitably interpreted, yet it often remains quite life-giving. 

Luke’s purpose in recounting the story was to throw light on the present experience of Theophilus and the Christian community. They had experienced the risen Jesus themselves in their own faith-guided ways. They believed.

For Theophilus and all other later disciples, Luke had taught that the risen Christ could be encountered

  • whenever they reflected on Moses and the prophets
  • whenever they shared with a stranger
  • or whenever they gathered for Eucharist.

Luke himself had obviously known the experience of his own heart burning within him as the Scriptures were opened to him. The Gospel that he wrote is itself testimony precisely to that.

33 And getting to their feet that very hour,
they returned to Jerusalem
and found the eleven and the others gathered together with them,
34 telling them that the Lord was truly risen,
and that he had appeared to Simon.

Luke had not told his readers the story of any such appearance of Jesus to Simon. He may have had no details. Or he may have been more concerned to relate the experiences of the broader group of disciples. Once turned back, Peter had strengthened his brothers (22:32). Apparently the disciples who were not prepared to take the word of the women were open to the testimony of Simon. Characteristic gender prejudices die hard.

The disciples referred to Jesus as the Lord. This was particularly the fruit of the insight brought about by resurrection.

35 And they related what had happened to them on the way,
and how they recognised him
in the breaking of the loaf of bread.

By the time Luke wrote his Gospel, the Eucharist had come to be known generally as the breaking of the bread. 

Luke did not explicitly mention any reaction of joy, but it can be supposed in their hasty return to Jerusalem and their excited sharing of their news. Their earlier journey to Jerusalem had led to breakdown, but through breakdown had come breakthrough. They were changed, and they would never be the same again.

Next >> Luke 24:36-49