Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35 (Year A)

When you start paying attention, the Lectionary that we use is pretty interesting. We are now at Easter plus two weeks. Last week the lesson was Thomas' encounter with the risen Jesus which was eight days after Easter, so one day ahead of where we were. Today's lesson takes place back on Easter, two weeks ago. So close your eyes and take a deep breath. Whoosh! It's Easter Sunday again (does that mean we can sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" again).

While I encourage everyone to know the Bible, there are some cautions in learning ABOUT the Bible. One of those is that you get to "know" the authors and start looking for things that are not on the page. This can be stuff like what words they use in the Greek that may not translate well into English or that mean nothing to modern readers but may have been terribly significant back then. And, of course, we try to relate the passage to others so that we can put them into perspective.

And another caution is that you might want to preach.

We don't actually know who wrote the gospels, so I will follow tradition and refer to the author of today's lesson as "Luke." We are pretty much convinced this is the same person who wrote the companion book we call "The Acts of the Apostles," or simply "Acts."

Tradition has it that Luke was a physician, and some of his choices of words reflect that kind of background. And we also see that Luke was into details and facts, as best as could find them, some 40 to 50 years after Jesus' death.

But this passage seems to be rather unlike what we expect from Luke. There are details that are not in any other gospel; there is a character that is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible; and a location which, at best, cannot be confirmed by archeological evidence. So let's do a little digging here and see what we can find.

Some ancient texts say that Emmaus was roughly 60 stadia from Jerusalem; others use furlongs as the measure. And then other texts say 160 stadia. The early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea claimed that the town was renamed to Nicopolis, or Nicopolis Emmaus. Interestingly, Nicopolis is about 160 furlongs from Jerusalem. But we just don't have enough evidence to pinpoint the location. And, I don't think this is really important to our understanding.

In the spiritual meaning, the word Emmaus means "an earnest longing." Ah, now we may be getting somewhere! Perhaps Emmaus is a location known only to our hearts; a place where we want to be. And maybe Luke is borrowing Jesus' favorite story-telling tool, the parable.

We know from other writings, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, that Jesus' pre-Resurrection disciples had a typically Jewish view of what a Messiah is. Who can blame them? It's what the religious leaders of the time were teaching them. They expected a great philosopher / prophet king who would be mighty in battle and rid Israel of all its oppressors; and there has been a steady stream of those.

And then there were the Essenes – you know, the Dead Sea Scrolls people who hid out in the desert. They thought there would be two messiahs. One would be the spiritual leader and the other would be the great warrior.

But that's not what Jesus was trying to teach.

Who were these disciples? Well, if we back up a bit, to verse 9, we see that the women who had visited the tomb told their story to "the Eleven and the others." And here we have these two people saying that "some women … brought us astonishing news." So these two were obviously amongst "the others." Perhaps they were the "seventy" who were chosen to assist the Apostles. Or perhaps they were the 120 that were with Peter at Pentecost. Or perhaps they were the people in this room.

So let's take a quick look at some of Luke's words. The translation "kept from recognizing" is from the Greek (ekratounto) meaning "their eyes were held." I am inclined to picture the hands of the Holy Spirit covering my eyes. "Guess who it is?"

"Gosh I don't know."

And really, "What are you discussing?" Anyone here think Jesus didn't already know?

Well, we already suspect that Luke was a Greek, and this would be in keeping with conversational techniques of Plato and Socrates, which he would have studied.

The name Cleopas is an abbreviated form of "Cleopatros" (you might recognize the feminine version; Cleopatra), a Greek name meaning "glory of the father" or, to use the more inclusive language, the "glory of God." Cleopas was not, himself, the Glory; he's perhaps the vehicle through which we see that glory now, just as the blind man in John's gospel. We have no further information about him. Is it possible that Cleopatros is in this room right now?

In the Greek, "was the One who would set Israel free" is actually in the present tense. That is "Jesus is the One." Interesting.

Has Cleopas not accepted yet that Jesus is dead? Or has he somehow already appropriated the Resurrection only a few hours later? Or has the Holy Spirit put words in his mouth, as with Peter and the prophets before?

"What little sense you have!" Jesus had to go through most of the Scriptures to show them what a real Messiah was. I can see Jesus thumping on a Bible – except it didn't exist yet. Big elaborate scrolls did not travel well. Jesus did this all from memory; after all, Christ is "The Word." The disciples' hearts may have been burning, but their eyes were not yet open.

So Jesus pretends to be continuing on the way. We do this today: "I must be going." "Oh, do stay and have supper with us. We can enjoy each other's company!"

It was common practice then to let the guest say the blessing. Many people still do this today. So Jesus said a blessing and broke the bread, just as he had four days earlier.

Bells go off; sirens sound! "Congratulations, you just won the grand prize – a living Christ!" And then Jesus goes "poof." I don't think Scotty beamed him up.

The sudden disappearance was probably to show that Jesus was indeed divine. But this seems to have backfired a bit. In the passage following this one, Jesus suddenly appears to the apostles and "the others." And Jesus has to prove that he's not a ghost by eating and showing the wounds.

So these two go running back to Jerusalem. This wasn't easy; much of the trip is uphill.

And here we find another strange departure from Luke's normal writing. Jesus has appeared to Peter, but we have no details at all. One stinking little sentence! Come on, Luke, we want to know more! This is no time for the Cliff Notes version.

If you're a Fundamentalist, you might want to cover your ears now. But then maybe you're in the wrong church.

And so we come to another caution in learning about the Bible: We have to ask, did this story really happen?

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 15: 5-8), tells us that Jesus appeared to a lot of people. There were 500 people at one appearance.

Paper was pretty expensive in the first century. Writing all those stories would have cost a fortune. Most of the stories were probably fairly similar, so Luke probably condensed them all down into one. My pastor calls it "a representation of the communal experience of Jesus' risen and living presence now channeled as a specifically apostolic witness." Yeah! May I just say it is a composite story of many such similar appearances meant to inform the lives of all believers?

Please allow me to jump a few verses farther, as Jesus is with the believers. "45Then Jesus opened their minds to the understanding of the scriptures… 47In the Messiah's name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations… 48You are witnesses of all this."

We all have an Emmaus - that is "an earnest longing." For many of us in this room, perhaps it is to be walking with Jesus, having our eyes truly opened to the Word of God and our hearts opened to the needs of our neighbors.

This is what Jesus does for us. Our minds are opened to the meaning of the Word of God – all the prophecies have come true and have been laid out for us to understand. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is raised from the dead and shows us what awaits us. Our sins are and will be forgiven. We will dwell in the House of God forever.

All Jesus asks is that we are witnesses.

In a few minutes, Jesus will be breaking bread with us today. Come, let your eyes be opened and know Christ. And when you're on the road again, let Jesus walk with you.


Savior Jesus, as you met those disciples on that road, we invite you to accompany us on our journey. Open our eyes that we may see you in everyone we meet and love them as we would you.