This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke 24.13-35, the account of the conversation on the road to Emmaus.
These events, we are told in verse 13 took place on that first Easter Day. Cleopas and his friend have heard the testimony of the women who had visited the tomb and of Peter – all of whom, Luke records, had visited the tomb but had not (at that point) encountered the risen Jesus (though the women had spoken to an angel).
It is perhaps unsurprising that they apparently do not believe the message that Jesus was alive. As we have noted previously, dead people stay dead – and followers of people executed for sedition are likely to follow. So not only did Cleopas and colleague have every reason not to believe what they had been told (it was, after all, the testimony of mere women and when Peter had visited the tomb, he’d not even seen an angel!), they also had good reason to leave town.
Despite that, they take the chance of telling this stranger (see v. 16) who joins them on the road that they had been with Jesus, possibly trusting that if he did not know what events had taken place, he was unlikely to be an agent of the Romans or the Sanhedrin. Jesus’ response is just as sharp as he had often been with his followers prior to his death. He calls them foolish which is biting – in the Hebrew scriptures, foolishness is often linked to moral laxity. He then expounds the Hebrew scriptures regarding the Messiah as they continue along the road.
Luke does not tell his readers what Jesus said. To do that would require a whole other book, one suspects and in any case, his readers would either know at least some of the teaching of how Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, that he was the One God acting decisively in his world and how he fulfilled the promises and expectations of Israel or possibly even have access to some of the letters of Paul et al which contain that teaching.
When they reach Emmaus, the table-fellowship which was a part of Jesus’ ministry springs from Cleopas and his friend and they insist that this stranger stay with them. Verse 30 then is for me the key verse of this passage. Jesus does something that is both familiar and yet radical: he takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it and offers it. At that moment, the eyes of Cleopas and his friend are opened and they recognise Jesus for who he is. It is in the breaking of the bread that Jesus is still made known today. Paul tells the church in Corinth that whenever we share in the Lord’s supper, when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11.26). The act itself is an enacted declaration – both to those who are present and to the world in which we live – that God in Jesus has acted, that the Kingdom of God has come and that its fulfilment is guaranteed. It is for this reason that when we say the order of Compline on a night before celebrating Holy Communion, the final words before the blessing are
Come with the dawning of the day
and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread.
We are justified in expecting Jesus to be made known when bread is broken among sisters and brothers because when Jesus instructed his followers that that bread is to be to use his body, that we do it to remember him. The ultimate root of the Greek word anamnesis (remember) is meno, meaning to abide, to dwell, endure, be present. When we remember Jesus in breaking bread together as a community of faith, he is present among us – as he is whenever we gather in his name (Matthew 18.20) – and it is in his own presence that we proclaim his death and celebrate his resurrection.
How expectant are we that Jesus will indeed be among us when we break bread together? Do we believe that the same Jesus who healed the sick, walked on water, turned water into wine, spoke to outcasts, welcomed sinners, cleansed lepers and raised the dead is with us? Can we say with confidence the opening dialogue of the Eucharistic prayer?
The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.
If he is with us, are we confident that his ministry continues in us and through us? Are we daring to step out and do “even greater things” than he did during his earthly ministry (John 14.12)? Or are we content to play safe, avoid looking foolish and so both miss out on the full adventure of Kingdom life and withhold that Kingdom life from the world Jesus came to redeem?