The resurrection account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is not so much about the resurrection, but about being disciples of the resurrected Jesus. Ours is a discipleship different to those who knew Jesus while he was physically present on earth, witnessed his crucifixion and experienced the risen Christ.
“On the same day…” this event is concerned with being in the shadow of the resurrection. Earlier in the day, the women had gone to the tomb and met with the risen Jesus. Others then went, hoping, perhaps, to meet with Jesus themselves, definitely to try and prove the claims of the women, but they did not meet with the risen Jesus then.
“Two [disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus.” These two are not identified at this point. Only Cleopas is identified later, but they are not of the eleven disciples who were with Jesus during his ministry. These are, then, perhaps, ordinary disciples, not ones identified also as apostles. This resurrection story is, then, about the faith life of ordinary disciples in the world of the resurrected Jesus.
This account of the interaction with the resurrected Jesus is about the disciples like me and you – those who were not with Jesus during his earthly ministry, did not look upon his crucifixion, and were not witnesses to the resurrection itself. But we can and do meet with the resurrected Jesus.
The resurrection appearance to Cleopas and the other disciple occurs while they are on their journey to Emmaus. Their journey was a physical and geographical one, from Jerusalem to Emmaus, from the place of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection to their home. Although, we create physical journeys, as pilgrimages, the journey of ordinary Christians today is a spiritual one. We will meet with the risen Christ as we go, as we get on with it. We are not called to stay in the same place, we do not arrive at a destination, we are not called out of the ordinary things of life, it is in the faith journey that we meet with the risen Jesus.
And what they were doing as they were journeying was “talking with one another about all these things that had happened.” While they are talking about these things, Jesus walks with them on the road. It is not clear how he comes to be with them: just appeared, walked toward them, or came up from behind and was passing them. This is not important. It is simply expressing the reality of his presence.
Jesus is present with them, “but their eyes were kept from recognising him.” This is quite strange; the sense the disciples had that someone was present in their midst but did not know that it was Jesus. This could, perhaps, mean one of two things. Perhaps these disciples were, themselves, not amongst the closest of disciples to Jesus; from the outer circle of disciples, they did not know Jesus all that well, they literally did not recognise him. The other possibility is that, although they sensed that someone was present with them, the resurrected Jesus was not visible, they did not recognise this presence as the risen Jesus.
So it is for us, post ascension disciples of the risen Jesus, when we come together, and the focus of our coming is the Christ who is risen, there he is in the midst of us. We feel envious of those who have experienced a vision of the risen Christ, but for most of us our meeting with the risen Christ is felt, not seen, at best, and, in the least, simply the promise of his presence.
The first interaction of Jesus with these disciples, as it is throughout the gospels, is a question, “What are you discussing with each other while you are walking along?” At this point the disciples stop – they stop walking. It is time to think about what is going on. It is time to take time out and consider where they are with all these things. They are sad because things have not come to pass as they expected them to. There response is so like ours at this time, “Lord, you just don’t understand my problem!” They say, “Are you a stranger who does not know the things that have taken place?” Jesus continues to question them to get to the root of the problem. Note that they go on to talk about the events, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet…” A prophet! Here is the problem. They are not wrong in their claim about Jesus, indeed he had a prophetic ministry. It was as a prophet that these disciples had a relationship with Jesus. But Jesus was more than a prophet and, perhaps, this is why they did not recognise him in their midst.
We all, as disciples, begin a relationship with Jesus with a limited understanding of who Jesus, and God, is. That is the reality of all relationships. But it is in journeying with that person that we grow in the relationship.
Jesus now puts them straight. In his love he finds out where they are at before he begins to preach to them. Now that he knows, he begins to reveal himself to them. The first revelation he makes is, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things…” Messiah, not prophet! And then he takes them through a Bible study.
As disciples the most important task we have is to grow in our relationship with Jesus, so that we will recognise him in our midst, we will recognise his will at work, and his will, will naturally, become our will. The Bible is not a book of Law, it is not a history book, and it is definitely not a science book. It may contain laws, poetry, history, biography, and philosophy, but its primary purpose is to reveal who God is. We need to take time, as a part of Christian journey, as a part of being disciples of Jesus, to read the Bible, primarily to discover how God is revealed through it. And Jesus is the revelation of God of the Bible in human flesh – which is why both Jesus and the Bible are called, The Word of God.
Now I don’t want to get into a discussion about the revelation of Jesus to these two disciples as Jesus broke bread, that is, is this Jesus presiding over an act of communion? Some commentators say no and some say yes. I continue where I began, to say that this story is about being disciples of Jesus after his resurrection. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that, in Jesus’ taking, blessing, breaking and giving of the bread, we have an image that we relate to the activity of the Church, the gathered disciples of Jesus.
This image, alongside the journey of the three to Emmaus, reveals that we will not receive a faithful revelation of Jesus without other disciples. We will often read our Bibles on our own, but this should not be the only context in which it is done. Let me not lose this gratuitous opportunity to press the importance of being a part of a House Group for this reason. Bible study cannot take place in the context of worship services alone. It is a work of discussion.
It is in this image of being church that the two disciples make a new recognition of Jesus. In the same language used of those healed by Jesus of their physical blindness, Cleopas and the other disciples find a new spiritual sight, “their eyes were opened,” and they recognised Jesus. Job done, Jesus immediately vanishes from their sight.
This is more than being able to see Jesus; this is knowing who Jesus is. Rather than living with an inadequate understanding of Jesus simply as a prophet, they now know him as the resurrected Messiah. They do not need to see him any more. They have experienced the journey of discipleship that belongs to us all. Having realised the revelation they are now able to look back over the day, “Were not our hearts burning within us while we were talking on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Let’s make it clear that heart burn is the result of eating the wrong kinds of food. This “hearts burning” is the experience that we post ascension disciples have when we experience the risen Lord Jesus. How do I know that the Lord is risen? It is not by the empty tomb, it is because my heart burns, because I meet with the risen Lord, from time to time as a part of my journey as a disciple of Jesus. Discipleship is a journey, meeting with the risen Lord, and growing in relationship, our knowledge and love of him who lived, died and rose again.