“The walk to Emmaus,” as this story is often called, is a wonderful story. If you like wrestling with Bible stories, this is a good one to grapple with. There are so many questions brought up in this text that I hardly know where to start. Although, I would add, it’s not hard to guess at answers for many of these questions; but still, there are a lot of them.
For example, who are these guys? Luke calls them “them,” so we can figure they are followers of Jesus, but ones outside the immediate twelve. Which only raises other questions like, “Why is Jesus showing himself to them? Why would Jesus choose to show himself first to a couple of guys who are minor characters in the Gospel narrative?”
Now, we’ve been hearing from John’s version of the events of Easter Sunday. John tells us that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Risen Jesus; Luke tells it differently. Luke records that, “On that same day,” the day of Resurrection, these two are the ones who first see Jesus. And by the way, this is also the first (and last) time we ever hear the name Cleopas.
But for that matter, where were these guys going? What’s in Emmaus that’s so important that Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple had to get back to on the day of resurrection? Again, it’s not too hard to speculate on why they were going: maybe they had jobs to get back to. Maybe Emmaus is where they were from. Maybe they were heading north to Galilee and Emmaus was just the first leg of their journey.
At any rate, although we’re not told why they were making this journey, we probably don’t need to guess much on what they weren’t doing: they weren’t on a mission trip. They weren’t heading off into the world to proclaim the Risen Christ because all they knew was that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Sure, there was that story that the women told about what some angel said, but you know how people get. They had not yet been commissioned and called to proclaim the news of the Risen Jesus so it could very well be that they weren’t going anywhere in particular; they were just going. And as it turns out, they were going in the wrong direction.
Probably one of the biggest questions of this text is, “Why don’t these disciples recognize Jesus?” I suppose, because they are not in the “inner circle,” we might speculate that there is the off-chance that they’ve never actually seen Jesus up close. But that doesn’t seem very likely. I have my own speculations as to why they don’t recognize him that I’ll get to in a little bit, but for now I just want to point out that it does lend itself to some good comedy. There’s this moment that happens, as these two disciples and Jesus walk along this road, that’s just hilarious. As the disciples walk and talk about their day—and remember, this is the very day of Resurrection—and Jesus shows up. And Jesus, who is also walking away from Jerusalem, pretends to know nothing about what their talking about. And of course, they look at him like he’s from outer space. “Are you the only person around here who hasn’t heard what’s been going on lately?”
It would be like sneezing in front of someone because your allergies are making your head explode and the person says something like, “Oh really, is it springtime already?”
“Really? You’re kidding, right? Have you not been outside?”
Our Scripture lesson tells us that the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus was about seven miles. Now, I hurt my foot a little while ago, so I haven’t been walking like I used to. It’s getting better, so I hope to get back into the swing of it again. But I was walking a lot there for a while. I can guess how long that would take. It takes me about 40 minutes to walk the two miles between my house and the church, but I move pretty quick. I’m guessing they were not making the walk for exercise; and I imagine it’s a bit slower in sandals; and certainly, if I were making the journey with someone else, having a conversation along the way, it would be even longer. This could have been as much as a four or five hour journey, maybe more. Needless to say, they spent hours with Jesus and they never figure out who he is; it doesn’t even seem as though they thought to ask him his name. They have this hours-long conversation with the Risen Jesus, where he explains to them things that they should have figured out before some stranger did, and still they don’t get it.
Now I can think of two reasons for why this is: either they’re not too bright—perhaps that’s the reason why these two are not in the inner circle of disciples, if you know what I mean—or Jesus doesn’t want to be recognized. Now I’m going to jump out and speculate, as many have before me, that it’s the latter: Jesus is somehow in disguise. They don’t recognize who Jesus is because Jesus doesn’t want them to recognize who he is. But the question is, why?
For me, that question is not so easy to guess at. Why would Jesus, the Risen Messiah, not want to be recognized for what he was? Isn’t that the point? I mean, what’s the point of conquering death for the sake of the world if you’re not just going to say, “Ta da!” Why keep that a secret even for a little while?
I do have a guess: I think Jesus is making a point. And I think that point has something to do with what would make two disciples just get up and head out of town on the very Day of Resurrection. I think, Jesus is doing to them what they are in the process of doing to the rest of the world. They don’t see Jesus for who he really was because until now, they really haven’t. They head off towards Emmaus in fear, confusion, and ignorance like they didn’t really know him; like they weren’t still called to follow him and bear witness to him to the ends of the earth. I think that by hiding his identity from these two disciples, Jesus makes a point to them that the rest of his disciples also need to hear.
Because, as it turns out, it’s actually rather easy (maybe too easy) for the Body of Christ to walk this earth like it’s just some guy. It is indeed far too easy, for those that Jesus called to be his body in this world, to head off aimlessly toward their own Emmaus. It is too easy for Resurrected Body of Christ to head out from the empty tomb and show no one the glory of God’s limitless love.
And I think that’s why it isn’t until late into the day that Jesus finally reveals the punch line. He doesn’t let them see him for who he truly is until it’s suppertime. And just like he did only days before, he serves them the bread; and their eyes are opened. And I suppose, it was in that act that they not only recognized him for who he really was, but perhaps they could also begin to understand what Jesus was getting at the last time he served a meal like that. Can you imagine hearing those words for the first time they had ever been spoken? “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.” But it gets worse: “Eat it; drink it, in remembrance of me.”
“Ew, Jesus; that’s gross!”
And Jesus might say, “Exactly.”
Perhaps my favorite part of this story is that it doesn’t end there. These semi-anonymous members of Christ’s Body are confronted by the formerly anonymous Jesus himself, but that’s not where the story ends. Although it’s getting late and Jerusalem is a long way off, they’ve got to go. I’m guessing it didn’t take as long to get back. They go, and this time we know exactly where they are going and why. Now they are headed in the right direction; now they are living out who they are meant to be as the Risen Body of Christ. And I’m struck by the fact that the first place they go to tell about the Living Jesus is the fellowship of the other members of the Body of Christ.
And perhaps that’s where we need to start as well; because it is too easy for us to travel this world in disguise, hiding our true identity from the world around us. And so, let us continue to remind one another of what we have seen; and may that testimony be an encouragement for all of us to proclaim who we are as Christ’s Risen Body in all that we do and say.