The gospel of Luke continues the story of Easter Sunday with a resurrection appearance unique to this gospel. Following the events of early morning that first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples decide to go home.
I wonder why? Is it just because this was their plan all along—to go home after the great Passover celebration and Sabbath?
Is it because they are still overwhelmed by the death of Jesus, and simply want to return to familiar surroundings?
Is it because they are frightened/ disturbed/ confused by the story that has been spreading like wildfire among the disciples, the story of the empty tomb, and need time at home to clear their heads?
The passage begins with the expression sometimes translated “Lo!” In Greek it is literally “Be perceiving.” We might say, “Now look,” or “You see,” or even, “Get a load of this…!” The story that follows is something Luke wants us to take note of. Maybe this is in response to the dismissal in verse 11 of the women’s as “an idle tale” (literally, “gushing oblivion”), as in, “You think that was an idle tale? Now hear this…”
The two disciples take to the road, headed for Emmaus, about seven miles away. They are joined by a man they don’t recognize—in itself, not unusual for a time of pilgrimage (as Passover was). Safer to travel together.
But we, the readers, know it’s Jesus, which makes us wonder: why don’t they recognize Jesus? They “were kept” from recognizing him, which means it was largely out of their control—other forces were at work.
Is it because, even though they’ve heard the women’s story, it still feels like “gushing oblivion” to them?
Is it because, even though they might hope for the women’s story to be true, they are still living in the world of his death?
Is it because it can be hard to recognize someone—even someone you know—where or when you don’t expect to see them?
They are talking about Jesus, though—about the astounding, crushing, confusing events of the week. And soon Jesus asks, What are you talking about? Someone in my Zoom bible study this week, imagining Cleopas’ response to Jesus, characterized it as, “What, did you just crawl out from under a rock or something?”
Cleopas and his companion—shall we imagine that it’s his wife, Mary? The Greek pronouns do not rule that possibility out, and blogger Victoria Emily Jones spells out the case for this being Mary, as well as providing numerous beautiful pieces of art depicting the walking disciples as a man and a woman. Cleopas and (let’s say, Mary) then give a lovely summary of their experience of Jesus—a kind of statement of disappointed faith. “We had hoped…” they say.
But then they share the strange, uncanny news—the astounding news of the women, that they had found the tomb empty that morning. Then some of the male disciples went, but they didn’t see him.
They didn’t see him! Neither do the two disciples.
Jesus tells them, they don’t understand. He says, their hearts are slow. And then, he conducts a walking bible study, interpreting everything in scripture that points to him, right up until the seventh mile. Then, Jesus seems to be walking on.
The couple “urge him” (in Greek the word means, “next to forcing”—they practically constrain him. “Stay with us,” they say, “for it is almost evening, and the day is now nearly over.”
Jesus comes to their house for dinner. Eric Barreto, in his Working Preacher article from 2017, describes it this way: “But when Jesus does the most Jesus thing of all, everything changes.” When the bread is placed on the table, Jesus takes over as host. He takes the bread, and blesses the bread, and breaks the bread, and shares the bread. And in doing that—those actions which, just days ago, Jesus performed while saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19b)—they do indeed remember. And now they see.
At the moment they see who Jesus is, he disappears. This makes me consider a fourth possibility for the initial question of why Cleopas and Mary didn’t recognize Jesus to begin with: the resurrection body.
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul describes it this way:
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:41-44
Resurrection is not resuscitation. The resurrection body, which Paul also calls the spiritual body, is different. It can appear and disappear. It can move through closed doors, as in the gospel for Easter 2. It is glorious, and powerful, and spiritual. It is no less real.
The story concludes with the couple hurrying back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples what they have seen (“Get a load of this!”).
Some seeds for preaching, several taken from that Eric Barreto article:
The Road: Luke places Jesus on the road many times throughout his ministry, including the second half of the gospel’s drive towards Jerusalem and the cross. At the same time, “the road” is a complicated image for these days of “safer at home” (or, as we are calling it in New York, “NY Pause”). But it can also evoke longing, particularly now. How does this image open up this resurrection story for you, for your faith community?
The Walk: The daily walk has been elevated as a life-and-sanity preserving essential during our time away from the normal routines of life. We can walk, even if it doesn’t particularly take us anywhere. In fact, the walk the couple from Emmaus takes leads them, eventually, back to the beginning—back to Jerusalem, from where they started. How might the walk help your community in taking in this story?
The Table: “But when Jesus does the most Jesus thing of all, everything changes.” The image of the table is also fraught these days, with worshiping communities and Christian denominations differing on whether virtual communion is “real.” There is no arguing its centrality in this story, however, and the power of breaking bread together to open our eyes to Christ’s presence at the table. Will this image empower or dispirit your faith community?
The Heart: Carolyn C. Brown’s “Worshiping With Children” blog offers the heart as a central image of this story—from the slowness of heart demonstrated by the two disciples, to the hearts on fire they acknowledge as a result of Jesus’ opening the scriptures to them. Go here for her suggestions for a children’s message, as well as an approach that might work just as powerfully in your meditation/ sermon.
The Home: Of course, this story begins with a journey towards home. All around the world, communities are at various stages of being urged to stay home to contain the spread of the coronavirus/ COVID-19. Here, home is the place of revelation. How might “home” be lifted up as a place where the holy might be made known?
How about you? What central images or themes are calling you into this powerful tale? As ever, all blessings upon your worship, whether it is by Zoom or Video, by conversation or proclamation, whether you broadcast from the sanctuary of your church or the sanctuary of your home. Blessings, prayers, love to all of you as you seek to faithfully share the Good News this week.
Pat Raube has served as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, New York since 2007. Pat is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (MDiv). She is currently observing “Pause NY” at home with her beloved partner and daughter, and missing her son, hunkered down in a COVID-19 hotspot. Her love for reading, writing, film, and good television is proving useful at this time. A native of the Jersey shore, and in love with the New England coastline, she prays she’ll be able to see the ocean this year.
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