The Gospel Lesson of Luke 24:13-35 is a Post-Resurrectional account of two of Christ’s disciples encountering Christ as they walk to the village of Emmaus on Sunday late afternoon, just 3 days after Christ’s crucifixion. They are dejected by the crucifixion of their Lord, and confounded by stories of the women’s discovery of Christ’s tomb being empty. The disciples do not recognize Jesus as they walk and they explain to this “stranger” events that recently happened,
“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”
The disciples give a real brief synopsis of what has transpired in the last few days of Jesus’ life and show their own confusion as to how to understand the events. They acknowledge that Jesus was a mighty prophet. The problem is that the religious leaders rejected Him as such and had Him crucified. Crucifixion (hanging on a tree) was a punishment for criminals, and those who died such were considered cursed by Jewish thinking based on the Torah. So the disciples’ dejection includes the fact that they must consider whether they were duped into believing themselves. They “hoped” Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel,” but had they hoped in vain? They expected Christ’s life to end in glory, but instead it had ended in a cursed death.
Their reaction to the reports by the women of angels claiming Jesus was alive were amazing but really hadn’t changed anything. I find the lack of initial reaction to the resurrection to be historically believable because it indicates to me the story is not reporting how we Christians understand the resurrection after hundreds of years of hearing about it. Rather they don’t know what to make of such stories because it is something totally new to think about, and not a little bit unbelievable. Jesus may have given them clues about his death and resurrection but the dead coming back to life was not a common experience for these Jews. So they hear the story with some excitement and yet with great reservation. Even if Jesus were somehow alive “again,” what would it mean but that he would be hunted down again and executed again by the authorities – nothing really had changed in the world. In addition, if they began a manhunt for Jesus, the authorities would soon be tracking down His disciples!
What Jesus must have thought about His disciples as they laid out their understanding of recent events becomes clear in His rebuke of them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.
“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
Jesus sees in them despondency and disbelief because He had died on the cross. He upbraids them by saying “it was necessary” for the Christ to be crucified in order to enter into His glory. The necessity of it is not altogether clear in the context , however it is clear that Jesus is claiming this always was God’s plan and should not be seen as an unexpected turn in events which ended God’s plan. The humans as well as any evil forces involved have in fact played into God’s hands and done the very thing that was needed for the Christ to be glorified – they crucified Him. The resurrection of the Christ will now reveal His glory and that He was in fact favored by God.
The two disciples listen with rapt attention as Jesus explicates the scriptures which relate God’s plan including the central role of the suffering Messiah. Jesus speaks to them to fill in the apparent missing pieces in the disciples puzzled understanding of the Messiah. They find themselves comforted by the words of the unrecognized Christ – not only had the Jews in general not recognized God’s Messiah, at that very moment they didn’t recognize Him either! They beg their comforting stranger to stay with them. Even when they do not recognize Christ, they want Him to stay with them and be present to comfort them. Then they sit at table with their unknown comforter and share table fellowship with Him as they had with the Lord Jesus while he was with them.
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
What the disciples realized was that Christ was indeed still with them – the crucifixion had not changed that fact, had not ended anything. It has been the wish of disciples throughout the ages that Jesus would stay with us, and we often are at a loss as to how to account for His apparent absence and failure to return immediately to us. Yet the Gospel lesson on the road to Emmaus tells the disciples and us that Christ is with us and is in our midst. Our eyes may be kept from recognizing Him, yet He has not abandoned us. The astonishing fact is that the risen Lord is present with us, and in the very moment that we recognize that fact, He vanishes from our physical sight. Christ is with us now and is known to us now whenever the scriptures are opened to us and “in the breaking of the bread.” Both of these events happen within the fellowship of the Church, when we assemble as the Body of Christ, there Christ is in our midst (Matthew 28:20).
When the disciples realized Christ was with them, they didn’t stay where they were thinking Christ could only be with them in that spot at that moment. Rather they immediately get up and leave the very place where they encountered Christ and get on the road to share with other believers their experience of the risen Lord. They don’t create a shrine to their experience and sit and adore the place. Rather they embrace the universal truth of the Resurrected Christ, which is not limited to any one time or place but is accessible to believers throughout history and throughout the world. Wherever two or three of us gather in Christ’s Name, there He is in our midst (Matthew 18:20). Having Christ be present with us doesn’t mean hunkering down in some safe place alone with Jesus – it means going out into the world to seek fellowship with any who do or will believe. And when Christ is in our midst, we become connected with His very first apostles in the Church.
For another commentary on Luke 24:13-35 see my Reading the Old Testament with Jesus